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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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Wednesday, 6 October 2004

Topic: Election Notes

The Draw: The Debate of the Proxies

It is hard to return to commentary after three days off. Well, not three days "off" - as I started a fulltime job managing a small systems shop at a major corporation, and with more than eight hours a day there, and a thirty-minute commute there each morning and an hour commute home each evening (same route, but more people around in the afternoon for some reason), it has been hard to say on top of events. But I haven't had the long hours here to scan these current events and who is saying what about them in the press and on the blogs, here and in Europe, and add my observations.

What did I miss?

The former top American administrator in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, told a private audience that the United States did not send enough troops to Iraq to establish security after driving Saddam Hussein from power. Oops. Much has been said about that, and he's being publicly attacked now by the administration - something about sour grapes. Everyone knows we did the war just right. And too, Donald Rumsfeld appeared before the Council on Foreign Relations Monday and, during the question-and-answer period, acknowledged that he had seen no evidence showing a connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. The Pentagon later released a statement, claiming that Rumsfeld had been "misunderstood." He did not mean to deny the existence of "ties" between the two. Oops. And I see there is much commentary on that. And Charles A. Duelfer submitted the final official report on Iraq and WMD - all one thousand pages - there weren't any, and hadn't been any. Oops. But the war seemed like such a good idea at the time. Well, the latest Gallup poll shows that sixty-two percent of Republicans still believe that Saddam was behind 9/11. That will do to get Bush elected, for real this time. Then there's the price of oil, news of more planned layoffs than anyone has seen in quite a while, and everything else that calls for some thought.

I've missed quite a bit.

But the debate was the main event of the week - so far - and I missed that for a business meeting over dinner. Cheney versus Edwards. Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker. Montgomery Burns versus the Breck Girl. Whatever.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, did watch it and told me it was a draw.
That's what it was. Which means, since I was sure Cheney would win, I'm sort of pleased. (It's that old expectations game at work here.)

Nevertheless, I still found myself yelling at the TV, trying to tell Edwards what he should say. I swear sometimes, I'd be the better candidate than both these Democrats, although I wouldn't want either job, were I to win.

But still, as it turns out, they both did good.
Did they?

I didn't see it. I had a dinner with the folks from work in Pasadena and didn't get home until 11:30 Eastern Time. I take it Cheney didn't lean over and say, "I'm your father, Luke."

I just caught some clips on cable. Cheney was effectible in what I saw. MSNBC had a poll up a few hours later showing Cheney with thirty-two percent saying he "won" and Edwards sixty-eight, but that just half a million folks stuffing the web ballot box. Edwards seemed a lightweight, but far less light the GWB was back in 2000 - so who knows? I sipped some scotch and surf a bit for reaction.

CBS News tracked the reactions of a nationwide panel of 169 uncommitted voters - voters who could change their minds before Election Day. A "scientific" poll with a margin of error of plus or minus 7 percentage points - by 41% to 29% their "uncommitted" debate watchers say Edwards won the debate tonight.

ABC News poll, 509 interviews +/- 4.5
Who won?
Cheney 43%
Edwards 35%
Tie 19%

Vote preference among debate viewers
Before the debate vs. after the debate
Bush/Cheney 51% - 50%
Kerry/Edwards 48% - 49%
Nader/Camejo <1% - 0%

Not much shift.

Then there's Andrew Sullivan:
Boy was I ever wrong. If last Thursday night's debate was an assisted suicide for president Bush, this debate - just concluded - was a car wreck. And Cheney was road-kill. There were times when it was so overwhelming a debate victory for Edwards that I had to look away. I have to do C-SPAN now, but stay tuned for more post-debate blogging in a little while.

... My view is that Cheney undoubtedly fired up his base; but I doubt very much that he made any headway with swing voters, and may well have alienated many. Edwards helped Kerry tonight. I didn't expect it; but I'm sticking with my judgment. My view is that Republican bias is making many believe Cheney did much better than he actually did. I'd already discounted the Daddy factor. But we'll see, won't we?

... From the beginning of the debate, it seemed to me that the contrast was fundamental. Let's start with superficials - because they do matter in debates. The only way to describe Cheney's performance was exhausted. He looks drained. And you can see why. One of the least understood and reported aspects of the current administration is simply the enormous strain of the past four years. They have endured some of the most testing times any modern president and vice-president have had to encounter. And you can see the strain and exhaustion in both the two principals. I'm not criticizing; in fact, I'm empathizing. But the result is obvious: when confronted with the major issues they have been dealing with day in day out, issues they know intimately and have worked on endlessly, their response is simply what Cheney himself kept saying: "Where do I start?" They have become so enmeshed in running a war that they have become almost unable to articulate its goals and process - and at times seem resentful that they even have to. There was a tone of exasperation in much of Cheney's wooden and often technical responses to political and moral questions. I can't explain the incoherence except fatigue and an awareness deep inside that they have indeed screwed up in some critical respects, that it's obvious to them as well as everyone else, and that they have lost the energy required to brazen their way through it. What I saw last night was a vice-president crumpling under the weight of onerous responsibility. My human response was to hope he'll get some rest. My political response was to wonder why he simply couldn't or wouldn't answer the fundamental questions in front of him in ways that were easy to understand and redolent of conviction.

... But, in fact, it was worse than that. He went down snarling. His personal attacks on Edwards were so brutal and so personal and so direct that I cannot believe that anyone but die-hard partisans would have warmed to them. Edwards' criticisms, on the other hand, were tough but relatively indirect - he was always and constantly directing the answers to his own policies. Edwards, whom I'd thought would come of as a neophyte, was able to give answers that were clear and methodical and far better, in my view, than Kerry's attempts to explain himself last Thursday. On substance, Cheney clearly had the better of the debate on Afghanistan; his criticisms of Kerry's record were strong and detailed; his brutal assessment of Edwards' attendance record was sharp - but too direct and brutal to win over swing voters. But on domestic policy, he was terrible. Again, he used the term "fiscal restraint," but he gave no explanation for the unprecedented slide toward debt in the last four years. When asked to respond to a question about young black women with HIV, Cheney might as well have been asked about Martians. He had no response to the charges (largely new to me) about Halliburton. He had no solid response to the question of sufficient troops in Iraq or the capability of the coalition to guarantee national elections in January. He was weak on healthcare; and said that the Massachusetts Supreme Court had ordered the legislature to change the state constitution! Huh? And, of course, he cannot disguise that he supports a president who would remove any legal protections for his own daughter's relationship.
And Sullivan's complete reaction in the National Review is here.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, takes heart -
Once again, I may have underestimated the success of my side. Although I guess I do see a draw as favoring Edwards, I suppose time will tell us whether this Veep debate mattered either way.

The truth is, of course, that our side has truth on its side, while they have on their side the overwhelming power to condescend with so much self-confidence that many voters will be bamboozled into thinking those guys have truth on their side.

They will be home free for four more years if only they can just keep this pose up for one more month, surviving what Sullivan perceives as the "strain and exhaustion ... in running a war." (My immediate response to that is, "What war would that be?" But also, if they think they've been working under a strain this term, try conducting the nation's business while some gang of goofballs is trying to impeach you.)

While watching these debates, I keep wanting to wave a magic wand and jump inside the head of one of my guys and make him say what he should be saying. Last night, after Cheney told me the first time he met me was walking on this stage, I would have turned to him and laughed, saying "You're kidding! You don't remember me? We've met several times! I imagine there are even pictures out there of us shaking hands! Is it that I'm so unmemorable? Or could it be you are experiencing a 'senior moment'?"

(I might have added, "One reason you wouldn't remember meeting me has less to do with you being President of the Senate, as the fact that you mostly only showed up on Tuesdays, for the Republican lunch. Not many of us Democrats ever attend those.")

But in fairness, I suppose if I were to channel inside the skull of Cheney -- or maybe Bush, which I imagine has a bit more elbow room -- I'd have him be more honest about Iraq; which is that we could not have known back then everything we now know about the WMD, and the al Qaedda and 9/11 connections, and that Saddam was not such an imminent threat to the United States or anyone else; and that yes, it turns out that Clinton's containment policy and the UN sanctions, coupled with inspections, actually were working; and that yes, we have apparently caused a terrible mess in Iraq that wasn't there before, with the only small consolation being that a murderous dictator is no longer in power; but that simply because we didn't have good "actionable intelligence" on this back then means we had to take a chance and do what we did, because the cost of not doing it, and being wrong, was simply too great. So yes, knowing what we know now, we wouldn't do it again; but there was no way of knowing back then what we know now; so yes, we did the right thing.

I know it's too late for them to change to this approach without showing themselves to be major flip-floppers. Still, this would be the honest approach, one that I think might have cost them a few votes but made it up in confidence in them among not only citizens of this country but also the world. Then again, I get the feeling these people are just not into truth and honesty as much as I am.

But as for explaining why they've done virtually nothing on the so-called "War on Terror"? Hey, Cheney's on his own on that one! I can't be expected to do all this thinking for him!
Gee, I wish I had seen all this.

As for Rick's comment that these people are just not into truth and honesty, Cheney wasn't exactly honest, as you see from this table of lies. But people buy them.

Well, not everyone is buying everything. The top professors at the top business schools in the country Wednesday published an open letter to George Bush - and you can scroll down the list of signers, and see who they are - saying the administration is well on its way to destroying the economy, and ought to stop with the deficits and tax cuts for the wealthy and all that.

Less than thirty days to the elections, right? It's come down to the damn-the-facts true believers versus the damned-facts realists. The optimists with the good attitudes versus the realists with questions. And the hedgehog versus the fox (see this for that clich? - from December 21, 2003).

And I'd say more, but I have to get some sleep and go back to work tomorrow.

Posted by Alan at 21:04 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 7 October 2004 22:50 PDT home

Sunday, 3 October 2004

Topic: Photos

News - No News

For the next several days, and perhaps a bit longer, this web log, As Seen from Just Above Sunset will probably not be updated. The weekly Just Above Sunset will probably not publish next week as the editor of both is returning to the workplace full time - the morning of October 4. It will be some time before he works out how to juggle the new job with writing commentary, collecting the observations of friends from Atlanta to Paris to Montr?al, snapping odd photographs, and posting it all to the web. So the photo appended below is appropriate.

But the new Just Above Sunset - the parent publication of this web log - has just been posted. That would be Volume 2, Number 39 (Sunday, October 3, 2004) of course.

This week? The big event was the presidential debate, and all the coverage is here, with comments from readers, and some issues regarding logic. Report and commentary on the press - Fox News pulls a Dan Rather, sort of, and does it twice in two days. New data on what we specifically refuse to believe is true when it is. An item on whether outsourcing torture is necessary for homeland security. And a bit on Ohio and efforts there to limit the vote.

Ric Erickson reports on this weekend's nuit blanche in Paris and sends along a very odd photo....

Features? A dialog regarding God's wrath, or justice, between two fellows from Georgia and an American expatriate in Paris, which somehow touches on the nature of the American South, Canada and the topic of good manners. Notes on spiritual elevators and such things in Sedona, Arizona. And the usual funny quotes (John Cleese on businessmen).

The photos? Hollywood closes and the sadness of being hip....

Much appeared here in first draft, and is extended and expanded there. Ric Erickson's Paris notes, the photos and the quotes are all new.

Note: Bob Patterson, who goes by the moniker The World's Laziest Journalist, is on hiatus this week due to technical problems (his computer is down). His weekly columns will resume when that matter is resolved.

Quick links to the contents of this weekend's Just Above Sunset:

Current Events ________

The First Presidential Debate: "You forgot Poland."

Debate: The Day After

Logic Bombs: Why Bush Will (eventually) Win the Debates

Media Notes: Fair and Balanced, and Quite Often Mistaken

Facts: The Annuls of Cognitive Dissonance

Legislation: The guy who used to coach high school wresting has a modest proposal...

Ohio: Blackwell the Magician

Our Man in Paris ________

Paris: A quick note and photo from the City That Never Sleeps (at least for one night) regarding this year's nuit blanche...

Features ________

Theology: The Paris-Atlanta Dialogs

Travel: In the Land of Spiritual Elevators

Quotes: Useful Pithy Observations... Parting Shots

Photography ________

Photography: Signs and Portents


I'll be back. But for now...

Posted by Alan at 18:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 3 October 2004 20:04 PDT home

Saturday, 2 October 2004

Topic: The Media

Media Notes: Fair and Balanced, and Quite Often Mistaken

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been all over this story. It seems that Fox News on October 1 posted a retraction and apology for the piece with a whole bunch of fabricated Kerry quotes.
... posted an item purporting to contain quotations from Kerry. The item was based on a reporter's partial script that had been written in jest and should not have been posted or broadcast. We regret the error, which occurred because of fatigue and bad judgment, not malice.

Here's some of it -
Rallying supporters in Tampa Friday, Kerry played up his performance in Thursday night's debate, in which many observers agreed the Massachusetts senator outperformed the president.

"Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!" Kerry said Friday.

With the foreign-policy debate in the history books, Kerry hopes to keep the pressure on and the sense of traction going.

Aides say he will step up attacks on the president in the next few days, and pivot somewhat to the domestic agenda, with a focus on women and abortion rights.

"It's about the Supreme Court. Women should like me! I do manicures," Kerry said.

Kerry still trails in actual horse-race polls, but aides say his performance was strong enough to rally his base and further appeal to voters ready for a change.

"I'm metrosexual -- he's a cowboy," the Democratic candidate said of himself and his opponent.

A "metrosexual" is defined as an urbane male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle.
You get the idea.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, comments -
How odd. The quotes weren't all that funny, which may be why HQ didn't get the joke and passed it along as the real thing. This kind of thing is an old journalism taboo that this Fox reporter apparently never learned: Never create fake copy as a joke assuming it won't leave the newsroom, since too often it will do just that.

At NBC, I remember a few of us desk assistants typing up a fake wire story on multicopy wire paper, also retouching a photo that came off the photofax, and hanging it up on the main newsroom bulletin board. It was during the first orbit of the moon, with some photos being transmitted back from space. Our "story" quoted (I think) Frank Borman announcing that he and his fellow astronauts had noticed some odd space objects on the far side of the moon, one of which "appeared to be either a cow, or the carcass of one," and the other "looked to be a bathtub with three men sitting in it."

We were pretty sure everyone would get the joke, especially after they flipped the story up and looked at the photo underneath, with was an actual moon photo altered to show an upside down cartoon cow, with X's for eyes, and a cartoon bathtub with what looked sort of like Snap, Crackle and Pop, smiling and waving at the camera in unison. It was pretty funny.

Anyway, just to make it kosher, I first showed it to the news manager on duty (I'm pretty sure his name was [withheld]); he just quickly glanced at it and nodded me away. I was sort of disappointed that he didn't think it was funny. But about an hour later, while he was typing up his shift duty log, he called me over and asked if anything else had moved on the wires on that space object story! He was not at all amused when I told him the truth.

About a year later, at AP Photos, some of us typed up a phony caption, attached it to a real news photo, and put it on the supervisor's desk along with others being filed. A few minutes later, he came over and ripped us all new orifices and told us this sort of thing is NEVER done in a newsroom, since very now and then one moves on the wires, and even printed in newspapers, and supervisors lose jobs.

(By the way, his name was Spencer Jones, who later became AP's LA Bureau Chief; Bob Patterson worked with him and can probably tell you stories about him.)
Well, Fox News clearly has little use for John Kerry, and now you know that Carl Cameron, the reporter in question, according to Fox spokesman Paul Schur, Fox's "chief political correspondent" likes to make fun of him. Carl Cameron has been reprimanded, according to Fox, but will stay in place.

It does make you wonder about the objectivity of the nation's most popular cable news source. Now that the bias is even clearer, perhaps their ratings will soar even higher. Folks do love to hate John Kerry.

Rick and I have gone around a few times on this topic of objectivity and fairness in news reporting, most recently here in late August (see the section THE PRESS) - with additional comments from Ric Erickson in Paris, another who knows the details of being a working journalist. A lot of that discussion centered on the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth reporting.

So how does someone report objectivly, over and above avoiding filing stories that mock the candidate your employer despises (and you do too)?

Rick suggests I draw your attention to this short interview at "Campaign Desk" - the website of the Columbia Journalism Review. This is an interview with Michael Kinsley, the founder of SLATE.COM who this summer took over as the man in charge of the editorial pages of the local Los Angeles Times out here.

See The Water Cooler
October 01, 2004: Michael Kinsley on Slate vs. the L.A. Times, Calling a Lie a Lie, and Opinion Journalism as Indulgence

Excerpt -
... What's the biggest problem with campaign journalism right now - particularly what appears on page A1?

MK: The biggest problem is - and I don't know what the solution is, so it's not a criticism, as much as it is a puzzle - is that the conventions of objectivity make it very difficult to say that something is a lie. And they require balance, which is often just not justified by reality. The classic thing is the Swift Boats. If you follow what all the papers say, they inch close to saying what they really think by saying, "it's controversial," or "many have challenged it," euphemisms like that. And then they always need to pair it with something else. "Candidate X murdered three people at a rally yesterday, and candidate Y sneezed without using a Kleenex. This is why many people are saying this is the roughest campaign ever."
So Kinsley is puzzled. A group of people presents an array of outrageous bullshit denigrating a fellow who won lots of medals for valor and bravery and all that, and say, well, they weren't exactly there, but they don't believe any of that bravery stuff, even if the people who were actually there say it happened because those who were there actually saw it, and got to live another day because the guy was brave. So they say we have no direct knowledge of this stuff, but we believe everyone, including the Navy who awarded the medals, is probably lying. All you can report is that this is controversial? I guess. Be fair to both sides. Be balanced. As Rick said back in August, the real problem with "fair and balanced," of course, is that liars have an advantage.

But still, Fox News needs to tighten up just a bit, no matter how biased they want to be. You have to make at least some minimal gesture feigning objectivity. You have to at least pretend to be a news organization with reporters who dig up the facts about what's happening.

See this: Some Voters Still Flip-Flopping
Saturday, October 02, 2004
Jane Roh

If you scroll down in the Fox News story you'll find this on a group called Communists for Kerry - (my emphases)
Of course, there were some Kerry supporters in attendance who had no doubts whatever about their candidate.

"We're trying to get Comrade Kerry elected and get that capitalist enabler George Bush out of office," said 17-year-old Komoselutes Rob of Communists for Kerry.

"Even though he, too, is a capitalist, he supports my socialist values more than President Bush," Rob said, before assuring that his organization was not a parody group. When asked his thoughts on Washington's policy toward Communist holdout North Korea, Rob said: "The North Koreans are my comrades to a point, and I'm sure they support Comrade Kerry, too."

It is unclear whether the Kerry campaign has welcomed the Communists' endorsement.
So Fox breaks the news that there is a group of American communists for Kerry. Wow!

But before they went with the story Fox News actually could have done some basic research on these of folks, these Communists for Kerry, as Atrios did -
"Communists for Kerry" is a campaign of the Hellgate Republican Club, a tax exempt non-partisan public advocacy "527" organization that exists for the purpose of;

"Informing voters with satire and irony, how political candidates make decisions based on the failed social economic principles of socialism that punish the individual by preventing them from becoming their dream through proven ideas of entrepreneurship and freedom."

Our members help elect candidates who support economic growth through Entrepreneurship, limited government and lower taxes. Communists For Kerry is separate and distinct from the Communist party of America and any of its organization. None of it's members are members of any communist organizations.
That's from their website. Fox News took their assurance the organization was not a parody group, and didn't look them up. Oh well.

The story will no doubt be corrected later, and another apology offered.

Somewhere Dan Rather of CBS, his career in tatters now, is smiling grimly. And Fox is working up their position statement - Yes, we got caught twice, in the span of twenty-four hours, broadcasting outright lies undermining a presidential candidate, but at least we're not CBS.

Really. They are not.

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

Topic: Photos

Travel: In the Land of Spiritual Elevators

This is Sedona, Arizona the afternoon of October 1, 2004 in a photograph taken by a friend - with the camera built into his cell phone. He was impressed with the place. I was impressed with the phone.

The folks over at Lonely Planet have this to say about Sedona.
Nestled among crimson sandstone formations at the southern end of Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona benefits from one of the prettiest locations in Arizona. Sedona is the foremost New Age centre in the Southwest and one of the most 'important' anywhere.

In the 1960s and '70s, its surroundings began attracting retirees, artists and tourists in large numbers, but it wasn't until around 1980, when New Agers began touting Sedona's vortexes - points where the earth's energy is focused - that the free birds really started flocking in.

Today, Sedona's New Age Information Center offers lectures, seminars, psychic readings, massage healings and vortex information. Likewise, the Healing Center of Arizona offers anything from an hour in a sauna to several days of holistic healing, reasonably priced vegetarian meals and as much acupressure, massage, yoga, nutrition counseling, herbology, tai chi, meditation and psychic channeling as you can handle. Various other New Age outfits in town - look for the word 'crystal' in their names - distribute free maps showing the vortex sites and sell books, gems and other New Age paraphernalia.

... Sedona began as a quiet agricultural community near Phoenix. In the 1940s and '50s, Hollywood began using Sedona as a movie location, shooting such classics as Billy the Kid and Apache. In the 1960s and '70s the beauty of the surroundings started attracting retirees, artists and tourists in large numbers and the town experienced much growth.

Native American tribes have long regarded the area around Sedona as sacred, to be used only for special ceremonies. Around 1980 New Agers began finding vortexes - specially charged areas of energy - giving rise to a new and thriving spiritual industry in the area.

The Sedona Vortex Guide Book, edited by serial documenter of the metaphysical Robert Shapiro, discusses such wide-ranging phenomena as pink dolphins, spiritual elevators, energy grids and polar tunnels.
If you like that stuff, you can buy your very own copy of The Sedona Vortex Guide Book here at Amazon.

They show these two customer reviews -
One Star: If you are looking for information regarding vortexes from channeled sprits and aliens, then this is the book for you. Besides the channeled information on vortexes, the book discusses pink dolphins and crystal cities 450 under the ground with spiritual elevators that are not working right now, but will. If you find the X-Files fiction and not reality and are more of a Scully, then this book is not for you.

Five Stars: When I first read this book, I found it hard to believe and went searching for Portals. As an Engineer I figured I was pretty smart. Wow, was I in for a shock. I saw the Portal at the Chapel of the Holy Cross and it forever changed my life. My sighting and experience helped me to realize how little I really knew about the world I live in.
Yeah, yeah. I spent a day or two in Sedona once, with the British psychotherapist I was dating at the time, a stunning woman whose clientele was mostly Warner Brother executives and a few of the movie stars, a woman who when she first arrived in America found a job as the personal assistant to Orson Welles. Did that experience drive her to become a psychotherapist? Perhaps. We were with another couple - and as I recall that other woman was a vice president for Sony Pictures, in change of facilities planning.

Hell, if you find yourself in Hollywood for too many years you do risk turning into a cheap imitation of Aldous Huxley - and suddenly there you are standing in the desert chatting about psychology and mystical silliness with the earnest people from the dream factories. Spiritual elevators? I didn't see any, or sense any nearby, nor did I feel the vortexes all around me. Portals? Nope. But I was polite and said the appropriate things. Huxley had mescaline to make this all work. It was painful without that aid.

But as you see, Sedona is pretty.

Posted by Alan at 12:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 1 October 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Debate: The Day After

The major news event of the week seems to be the first presidential debate, and previously it was suggested that one wait a day or two for things to settle down, and then the press will tell us what to think.

So here it is.

A round-up of amusing reaction...

James Wolcott suggests that what many noted, how defensive, angry (peevish), petulant and, as mentioned above, that how whiny the president seemed as he had to listen to his challenger, may be the natural result of the world he has carefully created for himself.
... Bush has been wheeled out into forums where no one can dare question or contradict his majesty, where he can lean forward and repeat ad nauseam his patented soundbites. Last night I believe we saw the ugly comeback of the private face of Bush - the irritable expressions he flashes subordinates when he's presented with information he doesn't like or feels someone's taken up too much of his time or is pressed to explain himself to people he shouldn't have to explain himself to because he's the president and fuck you. The notion that Bush is "likeable" has always been laughable. It takes a Washington pundit to be that dumb. He's an angry, spoiled, resentful little big man - I use "little big man" in the Reichian sense of a small personality who puffs himself up to look big through bluster and swagger but remains a scheming coward inside - and next to a genuinely big man like Kerry, shrunk before the camera's eyes.

Kerry achieved a lot of things last night, and one of them was shifting the focus for future debates. In the two debates to come, political junkies and media analysts aren't going to be measuring Kerry to see if he's "up for the job." He proved that he was last night. No, they're going be trained like birders on Bush's demeanor and body language to see if we get another outbreak of the peevish twitchies.

Frankly, I'm amazed by this reversal of fortune. Bush let Kerry get to him. I truly thought Bush would stick to the Reagan playbook and genially shrug off Kerry's criticisms with a grin and a quip, but he's a greater mass of insecurities and arrogant entitlements than even I imagined. I pity the fools who have to prep Bush for the next debate. Because they're sure going to have one pissy pupil on their hands.
Well, yes. The Bush leadership style was discussed here: May 9, 2004 - The CEO President (folks are getting nervous) - and he did once say when you're president you don't owe anyone explanations. "I'm the President of the United States," Bush told a reporter last year. "I don't feel like I have to explain myself to anybody."

Well, sometimes you do.

Ciro Scotti, in Business Week of all places, thinks so -
Besides that, he's the President and has led the nation at a time of enormous peril and uncertainty (some of it, arguably, of his own making). Love him or detest him, he sits at the desk where the buck makes its last stop.

But in Coral Gables, Fla., last night, Bush looked -- at least for the first half of the debate -- like Elmer Befuddled, a commander-in-chief not in command.

Perhaps what was so unnerving was that Bush found himself in a foreign-policy debate with a seasoned politician who was espousing the same sort of measured, internationalist approach to a dangerous world that was the hallmark of his father's Presidency. Debating the security and future of the nation on live national television isn't easy -- but debating your Dad is downright scary.

... When Kerry, methodically making his case like the prosecutor he once was, said, "This President has made a colossal error of judgment" by invading Iraq, Bush looked like a 1960s teenager called on the carpet for cracking up the family Oldsmobile. At that moment, it was hard not to get the impression that young George wanted to be anyplace but where he found himself.
The poignancy of a man ill-prepared for and overwhelmed by his job was never more apparent than when Bush said, "I never wanted to commit troops. When we were debating in 2000, I never dreamed I'd have to do that."

The message that Kerry hammered home was that, in fact, Bush did not have to "do that," did not have to send our soldiers -- at least not to Iraq.

But Bush, the onetime black sheep of his family, wanted to wipe away the "wimp factor" stain that his old man had left on the Bush clan. And so he rebelled against the family mantra of prudence in all things. Last night, he looked for all the world like a sputtering screwup -- again.
Okay, the terms shifted. Scotti casts this not as the problems of an isolated executive, or monarch, but as the problem of an errant kid caught red-handed by the stern father.

The family metaphor? Paul Brownfield is the Los Angeles Times spins that a different way in In a Rigid Setting, Two Projections of the Father Image as he argues these two guys are each trying to become want Americans want in a president - a father figure.
Who's the daddy, at a time when the electorate is having nightmares about unseen, vaguely understood enemies? Is it President Bush, with his look-straight-into-the-camera, folksy masculinity, the daddy who pats you on the head, gives you a slogan that isn't terribly helpful and keeps saying, though you're not sure why, that life is "hard work"?

"I just know how this world works!" Bush said at one point, like a TV dad cutting off discussion at a dinner table.

Or is it the patrician-looking Kerry, who during this campaign has suffered from an innate reserve and the withering spin of the Bush people that he's a waffler? Standing next to, or at least 10 feet from, Bush, he actually came across on TV as with-it, engaged and informed -- a father who might actually know best.

... Bush came across as suddenly less qualified to be Daddy than he has been.

Bush did look into the camera as much as he did at moderator Jim Lehrer, which reinforced his personableness in contrast to Kerry's more studied manner.

But words continually fail Bush. Mostly because he doesn't try very many. With the TV cameras trained on the stripped-down debate stage, his bare-bones communication style sometimes played as monotonous rather than resolute. He repeatedly said the situation in Iraq was "hard work." He said it 10 times, until it no longer seemed like anything so much as a network time-killer. He said this: "I wake up every day thinking about how best to protect us. There's a lot of people working hard."
Yep, pretty lame. But I'm not sure we all see ourselves as frightened children who need a good daddy to make things all better. Still, it is an interesting take. And the late Robert Young in the fifties television series "Father Knows Best" was a pleasant symbol of reassurance. John Kerry channeling Robert Young? No, that's just too silly.

Eleanor Clift at Newsweek is less prone to such flights of fancy and offers this more basic take on matters -
Republicans thought they had the race wrapped up. All their candidate had to do was repeat his road-tested slogans. But 90 minutes of Bush is a long time. There's a reason why he has held fewer press conferences than any other modern president. He is incapable of conceptual thinking, and he came across as agitated and annoyed that more was expected of him now that he's the self-styled "war president." He repeatedly said he is "working hard" and "it's hard work," as though that alone should silence his critics.

If Republicans were overconfident going into the debate, Democrats had begun preparing themselves for defeat. Kerry had given up so much ground that he was close to being written out of the race. Voters had absorbed the image of Kerry as a flip-flopper without core convictions. A very different Kerry showed up in the debate hall. He was calm and disciplined while Bush was "slouching and praying for the light to go on so he wouldn't have to think of anything else to repeat," said a Democratic strategist.
He is incapable of conceptual thinking? That's tad harsh, but Amy Sullivan, like Wolcott, agrees he was agitated and annoyed, because the man is just used to having his way -
... people are all atwitter about Bush's twitchy and grouchy demeanor while he listened to Kerry. I didn't think it was all that surprising--it's the real George W. Bush. But I think his tendency to become annoyed when challenged has been made much much worse by the bubble he's been kept in for the past four years. No one on his staff talks to him like that. He's just not used to direct verbal pounding. Even his campaign appearances out among "real Americans" are so carefully controlled that if someone gets through the loyalty pledge to actually step up and challenge him, they're tackled and dragged away in a matter of seconds. Bill Clinton--who used to encounter all manner of hecklers on the campaign trail--was a master at sparring with protesters and putting them in their place while defending himself. Maybe that kind of practice would have been good for Bush.
Too late now. And frankly, no matter how much practice one gets, this is a matter of character, of innate temperament, of how one most naturally responds to being challenged. No amount of practical experience would make a difference. There is a whole body of medical literature on how temperament, in this sense, is something you are born with, and it cannot easily be changed. Of course there are some psychotropic medications that could be useful here - and someone should tell Karl Rove that Prozac might be useful now, for the boss. But Prozac won't turn Bush into a relaxed, glib and feisty Bill Clinton of the right. You need the raw material to work with. And it's not there.

What about the right?

Jay Nordlinger at the National Review - one MAJOR Bush fan, is pretty unhappy as he reports back to the neoconservatives on what happened this week.

See Don't Shoot the Messenger...
... 'cause this assessment's grim.

This is a long analysis, but note these excerpts:
I thought Kerry did very, very well; and I thought Bush did poorly -- much worse than he is capable of doing. Listen: If I were just a normal guy -- not Joe Political Junkie -- I would vote for Kerry. On the basis of that debate, I would. If I were just a normal, fairly conservative, war-supporting guy: I would vote for Kerry. On the basis of that debate.

And I promise you that no one wants this president reelected more than I. I think that he may want it less.

Let me phrase one more time what I wish to say: If I didn't know anything -- were a political na?f, being introduced to the two candidates for the first time -- I would vote for Kerry. Based on that infernal debate.

... The senator seemed to rattle the president, about 15 minutes in -- and he stayed rattled. Also, the president was on the defensive almost all the time. Rarely did he put Kerry on the defensive. Kerry could relax, and press.

I was hoping that Bush would put Kerry on trial -- make him the issue. Sure, Bush is the incumbent. But it can be done.

... Friends, I have no doubt that this little reaction column of mine will disappoint many of you. I'm sorry. I have called George W. Bush a Rushmore-level president. I believe history will bear that out; and if it doesn't, history will be wrong. I think that Bush's reelection is crucial not only to this country but to the world at large. I not only think that Bush is the right man for the job; I have a deep fondness -- love, really -- for the man, though I don't know him.

But tonight (I am writing immediately post-debate) did not show him at his best. Not at all. He will do better -- I feel certain -- in subsequent debates. I also worry that they count less.
Even for those of us who do not think Bush is a "Rushmore-level president" and don't love the man, this assessment is startling.

Sidney Blumenthal, on the left, oddly enough has an analysis that doesn't invoke Mount Rushmore or "Father Knows Best" or metaphors of dysfunctional families. Of Bush he says skepticism, pragmatism and empiricism are his enemies. The argument is, really, that Bush's epistemology is faulty. Say what? Yep, this is a deconstruction of underlying philosophic assumptions. If that's your thing, you might read his analysis Faith vs. reason, which has the subtitle "Kerry gains the upper hand in a debate as significant for its substance as for what it revealed about Bush."

Here are some excerpts: (my emphases)
After months of flawless execution in a well-orchestrated campaign, President Bush had to stand alone in an unpredictable debate. He had traveled the country, appearing before adoring preselected crowds; delivered a carefully crafted acceptance speech at his convention; and approved tens of millions of dollars in TV attack commercials to belittle his opponent. His much-touted charisma was a reflection of the anxiety and wishful thinking of the people since Sept. 11. In the lead, Bush believed he had only to assert his superiority to end the contest once and for all.

But onstage the incumbent president ran out of programmed talking points. Unable to explain the logic for his policies, or think on his feet, he was thrown back on the raw elements of his personality and leadership, and he revealed even more profound issues than the policies being debated.

Every time he was confronted with ambivalence, his impulse was to sweep it aside. He claimed he must be followed because he is the leader. Fate in the form of Sept. 11 had placed authority in his hands as a man of destiny.

Skepticism, pragmatism and empiricism are his enemies. Absolute faith prevails over open-ended reason, subjectivity over fact. Those who do not pray at his altar of certainty are betrayers of the faith, not to mention the troops. Belief in belief is the ultimate sacrament of his political legitimacy.

... Bush's face was a transparent mirror of his emotions. His grimaces exposed his irritation, frustration and anger at being challenged. Lacking intellectual stamina and repeating his talking points as though on a feedback loop, he tried to close argument by blind assertion. With no one interrupting him, he protested, "Let me finish" -- a phrase he occasionally deploys to great effect before the cowed White House press corps.

... For Bush, certainty equals strength. His facial expressions exposed his exasperation at having to hear an opposing view. As he accused Kerry of being contradictory, it was obvious that he was peeved at being contradicted.

Kerry responded with a devastating deconstruction of Bush's epistemology. Nothing like this critique of pure reason has ever been heard in a presidential debate. "It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong," said Kerry. "It's another to be certain and be right, or to be certain and be moving in the right direction, or be certain about a principle and then learn new facts and take those new facts and put them to use in order to change and get your policy right. What I worry about with the president is that he's not acknowledging what's on the ground, he's not acknowledging the realities of North Korea, he's not acknowledging the truth of the science of stem cell research or of global warming and other issues. And certainty sometimes can get you in trouble."

... Bush lost more than control in the first debate. He lost the plot.
And what plot would that be? The narrative where we all agree to follow a leader because he must always be right, because he is, after all, our leader, and if he weren't right he wouldn't be our leader would he? Tautology can be fun.

And if certainty equals strength, then someone should have told the captain of the unsinkable Titanic. Reduce speed in a field of icebergs? Only a wimp and waffler would do that - you know, someone with a bad attitude.

So on we steam at full speed, happily accepting the tautology of power, in the fog, in the dark, but always making progress.

Don't you sometimes just hate metaphors?


Footnote on Metaphors:

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, likes them.
"Don't you sometimes just hate metaphors?"

Hell, no! I live for them! The older I get, the more I realize that the sublime appreciation of earthly metaphor may be the closest any of us are likely to come to spending eternity with 72 virgins! (Why anyone would want to do that is beyond me; but hey, it's just a metaphor!)

And I do especially like that Titanic one you conjured up. Was it the Titanic's captain or was it someone else that announced just before the maiden voyage, something to the effect that "not even God can sink this ship"?

This was obviously before anyone had perfected the fine art of those "lowered expectations" we've been hearing so much about lately. Had that guy been better at it, his ship would today be a hotel in some exotic port, just as if the Bush campaign were better at it, their spin doctors would not have spent all day Friday spinning out of control.

But I'm surprised I haven't yet heard the metaphor that says, the more the emperor insists on holding court with citizens vetted for their loyalty, the more humongous a letdown it will be when he is forced to grant an audience to some guy who very publicly informs him, in front of all his subjects, that he's wearing no clothes!

I'm sure it's wishful thinking, but I do also hope in a few weeks to hear the one about the "Humpty Dumpty" campaign, what with him in a failed attempt at "reinvention" ("They told me I looked annoyed in the first debate, and that I kept repeating myself, so I guess I just have to stop that"), but after being cast as a "flip-flopper" by one and all, none of his horses and men will be able to get the campaign train off the ground again. (Don't you sometimes just love mixed-metaphors?)

Which reminds me about one of those tiny but precious moments in last night's debate, when Bush said something about how a commander-in-chief shouldn't send out "mexed messages", then corrected it quickly to "mixed messages."

I'm starting to think there may be a God after all, and that maybe He really isn't very fond of George W. Bush.
Nope, no God out there. Just balance - as there seems to be some reciprocity in the universe after all. Things eventually fall back to their most natural state - probably entropy or something at work, as the energy needed to maintain any artifice finally flags. In this case, the artificial construct - Swagger Man keeps us safe with his steely gaze and the French hang their heads in abject shame at themselves - is collapsing under its own weight, and everyone sees it. And this, oddly enough, may be a relief to the president, as hyper-manly posing for so long is, of course, hard work. You could ask Arnold Shwarzenegger about that. Arnold knows.

The president's burden may soon be lifted - and he can then return to being a smirking prankster, mostly harmless, the family goofball, but at least comfortable with himself.

Posted by Alan at 17:38 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 2 October 2004 11:49 PDT home

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