Monthly Archives: October 2004

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Light over darkness 

The Financial Times’s Philip Stephens gets the idea (subscribers only):

  A few days before election day the polls show that Americans are still divided, pulled by fear towards Mr Bush’s conviction and by generosity of spirit towards Mr Kerry’s values. But amid the avalanche of polling data from every district and state in the Union, two messages stand out. The first is that a majority of Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction; the second that only a minority believe Mr Bush actually deserves a second term.
  My guess is that, when they come to look in the mirror next Tuesday, most Americans will prefer light over darkness — tough-minded realism abroad and tolerance at home over faith-based fundamentalism. I think Mr Kerry will win — comfortably. But, yes, hope mingles with expectation.

Why baseball? 

It may not count for much on the scale of anti-Americanism, but there was an interesting discussion on Radio 4′s Today Programme this morning about baseball.

Yesterday morning, the sports report on Today made brief mention of the Red Sox winning the World Series. Apparently this provoked a torrent of angry emails wondering why Radio 4 had bothered with something no one in Britain would be interested in.

I can’t imagine what provoked so many listeners, unless it was some deep-seated, boiling resentment that anything American would interrupt their morning ritual. Of course, it may just have been the legendary obsessiveness of some Radio 4 listeners.

To infuriate these listeners more, the programme indulged in an intelligent discourse about why baseball matters. To put it in perspective, sports announcer Gary Richardson noted that yesterday’s report had taken 52 seconds. Over a year Today does 55 hours of sports reports. You do the maths.

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More on the bumbling incompetents 

Barry Ritholtz echoes The Economist in wondering why big business has been largely silent in the presidential campaign, when you’d expect it to back Bush in a big way.

  Say what you will about the colder aspects of the markets, but at its heart, modern capitalism is a meritocracy. Why would the business community endorse an administration that by all measures appears to be bumbling incompetents?
  Maybe its the economy. After all, the recovery has been feeble, and executives are loathe to put their quarterly numbers at risk. But I doubt that’s it. Corporate America’s balance sheet is in the best condition it been for years. Debt has been refinanced, profitibility is very high.
  So what then? So far, we have heard that the new campaign finance rules have kept corporations sidelined to some extent. Others blame the trial lawyers, and even Eliot Spitzer (where are the Law & Order Republicans when you need them?)
  Perhaps there’s another reason: It’s just bad business publicly backing Bush.

That’s another one in the Kerry camp 

Wow. I did not expect The Economist to endorse Kerry for president (report via Brad DeLong). After all, the magazine supported the war and plumped for Bush in 2000. “In the end we felt he has been too incompetent to deserve re-election.” A truer word has rarely been written.

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Welcome to a newish CEO weblog 

I had to read The New York Times to discover a friend had started a weblog. I’m hurt.

Seriously, having Richard Edelman join the blogosphere is a wonderful development. Richard is one of the most thoughtful, insightful people I met through my involvement with Davos. Our friendship was joined when we sat next to each other during a dinner with former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir. Dr M was asked about his then recent comments about George Soros and financial speculators and he embarked on a tirade of anti-semitic invective. Richard and I walked out into the cold, snowy streets of Davos and took a long walk to cleanse ourselves.

I’ll hazard a guess that Richard leaps to the head of the small but growing class of CEO bloggers. His PR firm is in the world top ten by any measure.

The fatal brew 

Josh Marshall: “Given all that’s happened in Iraq, the potency of the al Qaqaa story was never that it was the worst thing that has happened in Iraq. It’s that it brings together in one package almost everything that’s gone wrong: incompetence, abetted by denial, covered up by dishonesty, and all in one fatal brew.”

Post-election speculation: the Republicans 

When Bush loses next Tuesday I have a fantasy that a marked improvement in the nature of US polity will come from the Republicans.

Of course there will be many Bush supporters who are bent on revenge, particularly if the result is closer than I increasingly think it will be. But a substantial part of the Republican party is also interested in winning elections, and some different attitudes may prevail.

Consider the Republican convention in early September. Who were the star speakers? Schwarzenegger and Giuliani. Both are decidedly on the moderate wing of the party. Who else qualifies as a national figure. McCain. Another moderate, in the context of the modern Republican party. For a party that’s only won one of the last four elections, having been accustomed to being (as the British phrase has it) the natural party of government, a change in direction would make a lot of sense.

The alternative is to continue down the intolerant, fear-mongering road of the Bush administration. Bush himself, of course, could run again in 2008. Teddy Roosevelt was the last former president to try for re-election, with his Progressive party run in 1912. I wouldn’t put it past Bush, but one of the striking aspects of the current campaign has been how tired, washed out, devoid of ideas the administration has been. Additionally, all of the staggering incompetence and failures of the administration will come flooding out in the media and in kiss-and-tell books once the Bush gang is out of power. It would make a re-run highly unlikely.

Of course, the Republicans could continue on the current path. I think that will lead them into a political cul de sac, but plenty of parties have mistakenly thought that’s the road to renewed power.

Post-election speculation: the Democrats 

Laura Rozen quotes at length from Carl Cannon’s National Journal round-up on the likely shape of a Kerry cabinet. It makes for fascinating reading for political obsessives.

Here’s his take on the economic policy team:

  Treasury Secretary — Most-often mentioned are Wall Street financiers and Kerry campaign advisers Steve Rattner and Roger Altman. Altman, who was deputy Treasury secretary under Clinton, is also mentioned as a possible White House chief of staff. So is James Johnson, another potential Treasury Secretary — although Democrats are talking about him as a possible White House chief of staff. Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin has influence with Kerry, although if Rubin takes a new job in government it might be an even higher one — say, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, should Fed Chairman-for-Life Alan Greenspan ever step down. “How do you not want to be God?” quipped Clinton Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, a Rubin fan.
  Rubin’s former partner at Goldman Sachs, Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., could land at Treasury — though Democrats believe he wants to run for governor of New Jersey. Laura D’Andrea Tyson, Clinton’s first national economic adviser, could also be considered for a range of jobs, including ambassador to Great Britain. Currently dean of the London Business School, Tyson has expressed interest in returning to Washington to lend her oar to a Kerry administration.
  Office of Management and Budget Director — One Clinton alumnus has floated the names of John Spratt of South Carolina, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee; and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Spratt’s counterpart in the Senate. Several other names have arisen as well, including that of Bruce Reed, Clinton’s domestic policy adviser and now president of the Democratic Leadership Council; and Gene Sperling, who, like Reed, served all eight years in the Clinton White House, the last four as director of the president’s National Economic Council. Sperling has clear qualifications for the job, is interested in it, and has Kerry’s trust.
  Rest of the Best — Kerry has the opportunity to build his own crew of economic advisers by filling other posts at the Treasury Department and OMB, as well as at the National Economic Council and the Council of Economic Advisers, both of which operate out of the White House.
  One Rubin protege who has had a meteoric career rise is Tim Geithner, who heads the New York Fed. W. Bowman Cutter, who served on Clinton’s NEC and in President Carter’s OMB, is mentioned by one former Clintonista as a likely pick. Another Rubin favorite is Tom Steyer, a Goldman Sachs alumnus who funded and runs the San Francisco-based Farallon Capital Management, a giant hedge fund for Ivy League universities. Steyer could be in line for a key Treasury post such as undersecretary for domestic finance. Brookings Institution senior fellow Peter Orszag also has impressive credentials. A former Clinton administration colleague mentions him in connection with the top Treasury tax post, or as head of the Council of Economic Advisers.
  Democrats think highly of Alan Blinder, a professor at Princeton University and a former Federal Reserve governor; and of Lael Brainard, a senior fellow at Brookings and a former deputy NEC adviser. Brainard is mentioned by one source specifically for U.S. Trade Representative, as is Bill Reinsch, who runs the National Foreign Trade Council. Gary Gensler, a former Treasury undersecretary, is yet another veteran of Goldman Sachs. If Kerry wants to dip into the expertise of the House, he could tap Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.

It really brings home how many hugely qualified people there are for a Kerry administration, and highlights how thin the talent in the Bush administration has been.

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The Republicans’ reprehensible ways 

Bob Herbert: “Voter suppression is a reprehensible practice. It’s a bullet aimed at the very heart of democracy. But the G.O.P. evidently considers it an essential strategy in an environment with so little positive news.”

Surely, surely the Financial Times can find a better columnist? 

The never-good Amity Shlaes really takes the biscuit in her column in today’s Financial Times (subscribers only). She rehearses the tired line about Kerry being the candidate of the out-of-touch eastern elites and Bush speaking for the earthy, common folk. That would be bad enough. But it’s the fantasy she indulges in that makes me wonder why it passes muster in the FT.

After slapping The Guardian for its woefully misconceived Clark County campaign, she moves on to her argument.

  Domestically, Mr Kerry represents the established order. He wants to return to a typical postwar tax structure. He signals that he will protect Social Security in its current form by assiduously avoiding the topic. These Kerry positions sit well with wealthier Americans, who have such a big stake in sustaining the established order that they will even forgo tax dollars to do so. Overall gross domestic product growth matters less to them because they are already wealthy. The very wealthiest of Mr Kerry’s supporters might not mind the fact that Mr Kerry’s income tax increases punish the upper-middle class most of all. After all, that means there will be less of a crunch for the super-rich at the top. And blocking Social Security privatisation ensures that lower earners will be denied an important chance to increase their net worth and narrow income gaps overall.

True, there are some of the wealthiest Americans who support Kerry, but I hadn’t noticed that the Republican’s dominance of the allegiance of the very wealthiest had diminished in the Bush years. And Shlaes’s commitment to the wealth-creating potential of social security privatisation is touching but unsupported by evidence. It gets worse.

  To be sure, the Democrats still tend their reputation as a workers party, just as older Guardian readers still cherish their working-class credentials. But that does not mean their leaders are not from an elite. Mr Kerry may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars more than Antonia Fraser and John Le Carré, to name two authors who endorsed The Guardian’s campaign in Ohio. But all three are members of the Anglo-American nomenklatura.

Oh, and the Bush family are outsiders to the establishment. The career of the current president’s father could almost be a definition of nomenklatura.

It gets worse.

  The elite versus populist paradigm also helps to explain Mr Bush’s supporters. Lower earners will back a president who cuts taxes for rentiers because they know that rentiers’ fortunes sooner or later create jobs. These voters place more faith in the possibility of economic change than they do in the domestic status quo.

Um, doesn’t this administration have the worst job creation record in three-quarters of a century? What evidence does Shlaes give us for what lower earners “know”, or is it an article of faith that she expects them to hold?

One of the incidental benefits of getting rid of Bush is my hope that the Financial Times will axe Shlaes’s appalling column. I assume it’s there because the editors feel they need to reflect the view of the radical right in Washington. Maybe so, but there must be someone more acute than Shlaes to do this (although all of the intelligent right seem to be breaking to Kerry these days).

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Decisive victory 

I’m more and more convinced that Kerry is going to win decisively in 11 days. I have no hard evidence for this, but it’s my reading of the many straws in the wind.

Bush, from the power of the incumbency, has stubbornly failed to top 50% in recent memory. Undecideds usually vote 2:1 for the challenger. There’s an unprecedented number of newly registered voters. Pollsters don’t (in fact are prohibited by law) survey mobile phone users, who are disproportionately young. The number of traditional Republicans that are declaring for Kerry is becoming remarkable (even The New Republic endorsed Kerry!). The extraordinary energy I saw last February at the Democratic caucus in London hasn’t dissipated.

A lot of people will vote for Kerry, but far, far more people will vote to get rid of Bush.

This may just be the product of the echo chamber I inhabit: reading commentators that suit my opinions, sifting for every encouraging sign. But I really think it’s going to happen.

Cut out and keep 

Contrapositive has produced an incredibly helpful cut-out-and-keep guide to election night, looking at the likely events hour by hour and providing good counsel. A sample:

  CANARY IN THE COALMINE: 7PM
  58 Electoral Votes in play
  Polls close in Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia. (Some Florida and New Hampshire polling stations close as well.)
  ANALYSIS: If it takes more than a few minutes for the networks to call Indiana or Virginia for Bush, that may bode well for John Kerry.
  And if Daniel Mongianardo or Inez Tenenbaum are able to keep the numbers close in early returns from their respective Senate races in Kentucky and South Carolina, it means the Democrats have a chance of taking over the Senate.
  Having learned from past mistakes, the networks are unlikely to have much to say about the early returns from New Hampshire or Florida. And CONTRAPOSITIVE doesn’t expect any reputable news organizations to call the Sunshine State one way or the other till at least 8pm.
  But if word trickles out that John Kerry is ahead in New Hampshire, we may be in for a long evening. By contrast, if Bush pulls ahead in that state, Florida starts to look like a “must” for Kerry.

Leaping Salmon 

One of the joys of reading a really good history book is the little nuggets you discover. I loved this quote from Benjamin Wade about Salmon P Chase, Lincoln’s Treasury secretary and challenger for the Republican nomination in 1864: “Chase is a good man, but his theology is unsound. He thinks there is a fourth person in the Trinity.”

And when did you last meet someone named Salmon? (Topped for me, however, in the Civil War period by Ohio Democrat Clement L Vallandigham. That’s on a par with Hugo Z Hackenbush.)

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The perfect antidote to all that triumph of the right nonsense 

The best thing I’ve read recently on American political alignment is Mark Schmitt’s essay American Conservatism, RIP (with his also recent Can There Be a Progressive Movement Without Organized Labor at its Center? not far behind). It’s a wonderful antidote to the article I’ve read at least a dozen times by different authors on the absolute triumph of the right in America. I’ll quote at length, which is something I don’t usually do:

  Even if Bush is reelected by a sizable margin, the intellectual enterprise known as modern American conservatism has been utterly shattered and bankrupt. This is not Bush’s achievement alone, but the Republican Congress’s as well, the result of a long era of decadence and self-dealing that began with conservatism’s triumph in 1994.
  For the last several years, liberals have bemoaned the idea that conservatives seemed to have a coherent, relatively simple philosophy: small government, low taxes, free trade, strong defense but non-interventionist foreign policy. But what is left of conservatism now except tax cuts, especially tax cuts that benefit particular financial interests? Tax cuts are not conservatism. They are not a coherent worldview. They were a part of the conservative philosophy, but not an end in themselves. Stripped out of the larger framework of smaller government, of modesty about the possibilities of change, of respect for tradition and history, and of the sense that central government can be oppressive as easily as it can be liberating, tax cuts amount to nothing more than a material benefit for a few, and a long-term liability for everyone else. Put another way, imagine that the animating ideas of liberalism were reduced to this promise: “We will create a new cabinet-level agency every single year.” That’s not a vision that can attract deep loyalty, and neither is the promise of a tax cut every year.
  If Bush loses, serious conservatives, with the possible exception of extreme social conservatives, will have to ask themselves what they gained from four years of unfettered power, and ten years of domination of American politics. Government is “bigger” by every measure, and more intrusive. A pet idea, Social Security privatization, was actually discredited by their president’s incompetence. Younger voters are increasingly turned off by the social conservatism, so the movement is not expanding its base. A huge new entitlement was created. The federal role in education expanded. And poor planning and dishonesty over Iraq weakened our defense, our credibility, and made it impossible to set a clear standard for when we would intervene and when not.
  All the tax cuts have done is to postpone the day we pay for these things.
  And if Bush wins, all this will still be true. Especially after a vicious campaign that offered no clear and persuasive conservative vision, it will be no easier for Bush to enact a conservative mandate. The corrupt short-term political bargains will only continue. If Bush wins, Karl Rove may be deemed a tactical genius, but the chances of a significant ideological realignment of American politics are lower than at any time since 2000. A smart conservative would surely prefer Bush to lose, if only to get the long process of intellectual rebuilding started right away.

Very good news: Clinton to campaign 

BBC: “Former US President Bill Clinton will join White House hopeful John Kerry to campaign in Pennsylvania, aides say. The 58-year-old will appear at a rally on Monday, seven weeks after he had quadruple heart bypass surgery.”

This is just the shot in the arm that the Kerry campaign needs in the final days. Things are going in the right direction, but no one is better than Clinton at galvanising the supporters that will need to turn up on election day.

So where’s Bush going to be on Saturday?  

Matt Gross speculates:

  So Bush is returning to Crawford on Saturday, or so his schedule says. Atrios isn’t the only person who finds it odd that the President is taking a day off 9 days before the General Election. Speculation in the blogosphere leans toward:
  A) Bush’s health continues to deteriorate, and he needs rest/treatment, or
  B) This is the October surprise, and Bush will show up on Saturday in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Boris’s own version of eating humble pie 

Boris Johnson, MP, newspaper columnist and editor of The Spectator, has plenty of ways of getting his views out. But I don’t think you’ll read a better account of his mea culpa visit to Liverpool than on his own weblog:

  There are some who say that it was outrageous that Johnson the editor should have been ordered to eat humble pie by Michael Howard. But they miss the point, that I was already consuming large quantities of humble pie before Michael made his suggestion, that any editor would have felt obliged to make some amends for that article — in view of the outrage that was provoked — and that, in any event, Johnson the politician apologises for and refuses to apologise for exactly the same things as Johnson the editor.

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Let’s hope 

A Fistful of Euros:” While most observers still expect a compromise between incoming Commission president Barroso and those groups in the [European parliament] which threatened to block his entire team over the Buttiglione row… the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita reports that Rocco Buttiglione may ‘resign’ today and be ‘replaced by Italy’s highly regarded foreign minister Franco Frattini’.”

That would be good for Europe and good for democracy. It would be nice to see the wild-eyed right wing being rolled back somewhere.

Chalk another one up for the weblogs 

Chris Bowers has a devastating analysis of why he finds political weblogs so much more useful than television news channels in covering the election (via Matt Gross):

  How can a station operating on a ten digit budget possibly be so much worse at analyzing polls than hundreds of websites from all ideologies operating either for free or with a few thousand dollars? The answer isn’t just bias because, as I noted, there are many right-wing sites that would never have made such a pathetic gaffe as CNN did today. The answer has everything to do with how cable networks cover the election, and where they direct their energies.
  Instead of offering a wide survey of all polls, they tend to only show the polls they have commissioned. Instead of going over internals, they intentionally show the most dramatic top-sheet results. Instead of reporting on new voter registration numbers, they show campaign ads. Instead of regularly talking to election analysts such as Charlie Cook, they have a bobble-head anchor talk to one spokesperson from each campaign, as though that is going to offer us insight to anything except new talking points. Instead of fact-checking, they show sound bite excerpts from stump speeches. Instead of providing nuance, they cram everything into their overarching, simplistic narrative. Instead of covering issues, they report on personalities. In other words, in almost every possible circumstance, they favor entertainment about the election over news and analysis of the election.