January 15, 2005

B.D.'s Contradictions?

Are B.D.'s anti-Kerry musings vis-a-vis the candidate's meekness in taking on Dubya on Abu Ghraib contradictory and ultimately unpersuasive? So sayeth Mark K. But, deep down, he wanted to see more "guts" too.

Posted by Gregory at January 15, 2005 05:00 AM

So the only way you would respect Kerry is if he was stupid enough to commit political suicide? Nice standard.

If Kerry had chased this aggressively, the Bush team would have painted it as blaming the troops and not supporting the troops.

You would have never heard the end of this theme as it was repeated ENDLESSLY on Fox News, Limbaugh, and co.

And your STATED goal of denouncing torture would have been farther away as those you generally support made a joke of Kerrys stance.

Posted by: Mark-NC at January 16, 2005 03:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mark, that's kind of true.

But if nobody stands up for truth and justice because the bad guys will sneer at them, what happens then?

If Kerry had taken a moral stand he might have lost worse. But he lost anyway by being an echo and not a choice. And there a chance that if he stood up against the crawling evil there's a chance a majority of the public would join him. He was the one who could do it, and he didn't.

If he'd won and then set the Justice Department etc to uncovering the various criminal activities they could pin on the Bush administration and putting them in jail, I wouldn't so much have minded him being mealy-mouthed during the campaign. But he didn't win. Whether that was because there was more election fraud than he expected is irrelevant to it -- he lost.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 16, 2005 04:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Standing up for truth and justice is something presidents can do effectively and candidates can't.

A candidate has to reject 95% of the issues he might raise. He doesn't raise the ones that don't move his numbers the right way. That doesn't make him a liar, and it doesn't make him an opponent of truth and justice.

Further, if Kerry had imprtudently raised the issue of torture, and, as is most likely, still lost, then Bush either would have ignored the issue or made Gonsalez-like evasive responses, and the effect would have been to enable Bush to assert that his torture policy had been approved by the people just as he now says his Iraq policy has been.

Posted by: Not naive at January 16, 2005 05:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Doesn't Bush already say the people approve his torture policy?

It looks to me like Kerry had to win to make much difference. In hindsight, by losing he discredits all the weak compromises he made hoping to win.

If he'd won I wouldn't have begrudged him those.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 16, 2005 06:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As a last comment, I have to say I am truly saddened by this for our country.

Republicans have proven repeatedly that they simply don't care how this happened, who is responsible, or what it has done to the face of our great nation.

Just watch as they give praise to all involved, and highlight this by promoting Gonzales to Attorney General with a 100% vote.

Posted by: Mark-NC at January 17, 2005 01:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes, we all wished to have seen more "guts" -- from both candidates.

Of course, you tend to get all misty-eyed over the memory of Bush's shining moment with the bullhorn, but you also can somehow gloss over Bush's unconscionable dithering in the classroom for 7 minutes and then spending another 20 minutes figuring out what to say and not what to do during a national security crisis.

That was leadership?

But then, you also tend to think Michael Moore made Bush into a schlub rather than simply exposed it.

What if we had even worse threats coming on 9/11? Bush didn't know that we didn't. He just assumed the worst was over.

And so he sat on his ass thinking how he'd massage his message. That's your moral clarity?

No, that's a guy who chokes in a national security crisis.

The rest is just a hell of a speechwriter and a guy who is guaranteed to make any bad situation worse by bad judgment and mulish intractability.

Bush also might have shown a little "guts" in April in Fallujah, Gregory, but then, that would have cost him the election, right? So what's another 1 or 2 soldiers killed per day in the interim so he and Karl and the gang can wait out the election to do what they were going to do anyway, right?

Oh, and let's not hold anyone accountable for Abu Ghraib either. We've got a few low level scapegoats that'll suffice.

Wouldn't want anyone getting the wrong idea. Just ignore those torture memos. They weren't designed to cover some high-level asses, and it isn't troubling that our president has toadies surrounding him who encourage him to be above the law.

Posted by: Gregory is confused about "guts" at January 17, 2005 08:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mark has a point. If you subscribe to the Glenn Reynolds theory of keeping the torture discussion out of the public sphere, at least in a partisan setting, for fear that this could lead to the victory of the pro-torture camp, then it would appear spurious to criticize Kerry for not raising it more vociferously in the campaign.

Mind you, Reynolds' et al criticism of Democrats was in the context of the considerably less popular and less publicized Alberto Gonzales confirmation hearings. A presidential election (especially the last one) dwarfs that in comparison of coverage, viewership and attention. If the Dems making it an issue while Gonzales was before the Senate was the wrong course of action, then Kerry making it a campaign issue was many times more wrongheaded.

It's hard to argue both sides.

Posted by: Eric Martin at January 17, 2005 07:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Well I can argue both sides while talking out of both sides of my mouth, and often do:)

Glen's point is that the substance would get lost in a partisan bitchfest over Gonzales. It was not that the debate per se was the problem. Glen wants good policies in place and doesn't think watching Democrats going after Gonzales' scalp, and Republicans trying to protect him was going to get the job done. Given the pathetic show I saw, especially from what one would think are witnesses well qualified to debate the issue, I can't disagree with him. However, Kerry could have set the terms of the debate for himself and let everyone else run-over a cliff. How?

How about raising the issue in a way that acknowledged the problems, campaigned to work with the Congress to put in place a well thought out policy on how to treat prisoners and interrogation, recognizing the difficulty Bush was in formulating a policy given the conflicting priorities our nation faces and appearing like a grown up. It was not necessary to attack Bush to see that we need to openly discuss and formulate a set of appropriate policies. Plenty of others were ready to attack Bush for him.

Before everyone screams how bad Bush savaged Kerry, I don't care. You don't have to savage your opponent where it doesn't help you (as you are all correct that it wouldn't) and where it would impede the discussion more than move it forward. Act bipartisan, take it as a stain on all of us and promise to work on it in the senate or as President. Many people would have been reassured by that, I know I would have. It doesn't matter that many of you think the administration deserves to be savaged over the issue, it didn't make sense for the country since we would have the partisan hardening of lines we see now, and it would have hampered Kerry's election.

A good example of this was pulled off by Bush. With the swiftboat vets descending on Kerry, Bush went out of the way to be supportive of Kerry on the issue (and once again I don’t need anyone to tell me it was hypocritical and insincere, if so it reinforces my point) even though Kerry was often out in front fanning the National Guard story. Bush came off statesmanlike, Kerry petty. Kerry should have let MoveOn et al carry the National Guard banner and sided with Bush. Siding at least publicly with your opponent can make you look good and allow you to go and savage him elsewhere on more favorable ground. If some damning evidence had eventually turned up on the Guard story (say unforged documents proving Bush had gotten Colonel Staudt to let him in the ANG) then Kerry could have said he understood the pressures of the time and everyone had to make their own choices. It would have inoculated his own issues to an extent by giving the same cover to Bush and giving the story legs by implying something without actually saying it. Clinton was brilliant at that kind of thing. Bush studied hard.

Kerry could have sided with Bush on the issue of the abuses by being sympathetic to how the problems developed, insulating Bush from personal accountability by acknowledging the difficulty of knowing the ramifications of everything you authorize, the inevitability of mistakes and all the while arguing the administration was too recalcitrant in rethinking its policies for fear of admitting they needed rethinking. Many would have focused on the issue and flayed Bush anyway, Kerry would have come off as someone less interested in painting Bush as evil, than squarely facing an issue the President was ducking. The issue is what would have hurt Bush, not Kerry. Kerry wouldn’t be portrayed as attacking Bush, just facing thorny issues head on. Contrast works in politics, even when you don’t obviously try the to make the other guy look bad, maybe especially when you don’t try to make the other guy look bad and others are busy doing it for you. Michael Moore and Seymour Hersch would now be Kerry’s allies by being the radicals to Kerry’s centrist concern and Kerry wouldn’t necessarily have needed to pull off a Sister Souljah moment to make his point, thus keeping his base placated.

Most importantly, we might have actually gotten an intelligent set of policies in place instead of the mish mash of conflicting messages our troops have now regardless of who won. We might have a bipartisan chance to rethink things without the Republicans feeling the need to protect their own. This is a bipartisan sickness as we watch President after President screw up and be unable or unwilling to do anything to really address their own failings publicly because the other side will never let anything go. It doesn’t have to be that way, as Bush showed in the swift boat affair and Kerry could have set up either he or Bush (or at least the Republicans and Democrats in our legislature) to calmly deal with the issue. That Bush was possibly being coldly calculating only makes it all the more true.

Posted by: Lance at January 17, 2005 09:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lance, you live in a dream world.

The Bush team would have trashed Kerry regardless of his stance. And you would have said "I don't care" regardless of the result.

And, I find your Swift Boat example to be a sickening reminder of what the problem really is.

The Bush team sent out a team of lying scum to trash their opponent (just as they did against John McCain in 2000), and Bush stood in the background saying he was a saint and didn't approve. What bull!

Everyone in politics knows this filthy game in spades. And nothing about it will lead to trust and cooperation down the road.

Posted by: Mark-NC at January 18, 2005 01:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dream World!

Since we are talking about how Kerry could have picked up more support from people who were concerned about security and also concerned about Bush’s handling of it, I guess maybe that is dreaming. He was pathetic. It shouldn’t have even been hard, but for Kerry it was. No amount of fulminating about Bush’s and Rove’s evil will change that.

First of all I said I didn't care because it was irrelevant to my point, not because I endorse any of said savaging. I should say however that Kerry and his supporters were at least as savage, but I hardly expect partisans of either side to acknowledge that. Each feels their savagery is true (or justified by the other side’s mendacity) and thus exempt from condemnation. The point is not whether Bush would have savaged him, but that there is a way to appear statesmanlike on issues when it will hurt you to do otherwise. That you believe Bush is full of Bull doesn't change that it worked for Bush.

I also disagree that Bush would have trashed Kerry regardless of his stance. On other issues he would have, but not necessarily on this. Trashing an opponent who is not attacking you where you are at least superficially vulnerable (at least appearing not to attack you) but forthrightly dealing with an issue is rather difficult. Especially if rhetorically he is supporting you. You are often forced to gratefully appreciate the support even as it shows a disagreeable contrast between the two of you. I can hear the Bush screams now "I appreciate your defense of me on these questions of my own culpability, but you have no right to ask for a public debate of policies on detainees, even though I am claiming to do that myself you vicious bastard!" No, when you call for everybody to come together in a way that doesn't attack your opponent it can be very effective in showing how you are different. It says to many when you do not attack on something that theoretically you could that you are more interested in our country than in defeating your opponent. Many politicians have done this in our history quite effectively. That you feel Bush hasn't done the same doesn't change that. In fact it shows how such tactics could have been a differentiator.

Kerry didn't lose by much. If Kerry had peeled off voters who distrusted him on security because he was seen as oppositional on reflex (regardless of the truth of that impression) or wafflers like Greg who were looking for areas where he was significantly better than Bush (in Greg's eyes, not yours) then maybe the outcome would have been different. A loyal or even sympathetic opposition can neutralize the disadvantage one faces during wartime and allow for a difficult war to be turned over to someone else. It also allows for less divisive attacks elsewhere. Kerry however never adopted either outright opposition or a constructive partnership on the war. He came off as opportunistic in his criticism. He could also have chosen to be a strong supporter who focused on a few key issues (such as on detainees) and his strong stance everywhere else could have made it seem a principled stand. Instead he was vicious in his attacks with no clear rationale or purpose. He attacked from the right, the left and on everything; giving the impression (possibly unfair, I could never get a handle on it, nor did Greg) that anything that went wrong was a sign of mismanagement, but no overarching narrative. The one example where he didn’t attack (except briefly in June) was on the treatment of detainees. If attacking directly was impossible as is being posited, an indirect approach is the only way. Of course it is dreaming as you say, because for those who supported the war he had squandered his credibility whatever the merits of what he actually would have done through his constant attempt to appear to be both a supporter and an opponent of the war at the same time. That he did that is shown by the many bright people who supported him claiming he meant different things as they parsed what the real policy he was espousing was. To read the liberal-left wing blogs was to see Kerry’s pronouncements as a Rorschach test.

So I guess I do live in a dream world where the standard bearer of the Democratic Party had a discernible foreign policy for him to articulate and manipulate to his advantage. Many may not have liked Dean’s message, I think he would have been clobbered, but we all knew where he stood by the time last summer started and at least people would have seen his criticism as more than opportunistic second guessing. Given Kerry’s pathetic campaign my strategy probably wouldn’t have worked. My comments were isolated on this issue; his other defects certainly would have made it problematic.

Instead Kerry was mealy mouthed across the board, and mealy mouthed in an unproductive way. I believe that Bill Clinton could have beaten Bush because he knew how to split the difference when appropriate, how to step into a vulnerable issue and achieve some consensus, and when appropriate to shove a wedge in. Bush is good at many of the same things. People can hate either one of the two if they wish, I don't find it very useful and it clouds political judgment. Neither was, or is, without virtues or flaws. Both however knew more often than not how to define an issue in ways that made themselves palatable enough to get elected. Kerry didn't.

If he was really horrified by these scandals, Kerry needed to find a way to bring them up. I can't see any other way other than being gracious (however feigned) and not risk a large backlash, but still attempting to make them important. Kerry could be as mild as he wanted; the issue hurts Bush all by itself. I know it helps many who voted for Kerry, or at least against Bush, feel superior to act as if Bush supporters are all close minded morons who couldn't be persuaded no matter how the other candidate acted. However Greg is proof that some could have had their mind changed (Andrew Sullivan being an example of one who was) and it wouldn't have taken many. Some judiciously applied courage could have been the difference.

You are also wrong about trust and cooperation. This filthy game is played in both parties, but it is not how everything is done. Nothing would be perfect, but I sense you are projecting. Maybe you can't come to trust and cooperate with those who believe differently than you because Bush is not just wrong and filled with human flaws, he is evil. Just as some Republicans and conservatives see liberals as nothing but immoral libertines sending us down a path to godless communism. However, many people (Greg for example) and even many politicians (Joe Lieberman) are able to, and they come from both parties.

Posted by: Lance at January 18, 2005 08:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lance, we certainly agree that Kerry was a lousy candidate, or more accurately - he ran a poor campaign. He ran without passion, and I do not believe he deserved to win.

I'll never agree on the nice thing. In the 2000 election Bush was in a tight race with McCain. The pigs came out and accused McCain of betraying those in captivity with him for favors - a lie, and they floated the rumor that he fathered a Black baby - he adopted a baby from Bangledesh.

Politics has never been a picnic, but some are nastier than others. I don't believe that you come out of the gutter the day of the inaugration after dwelling so comfortably there with a smile on.

Posted by: Mark-NC at January 19, 2005 04:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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