This strikes me as unfortunate. Let's hope the Iraqis don't dwell too long on the meaning of the name.
For those who do it will surely occur to them that Plymouth Rock is where white Europeans landed on a "new" continent and settled there.
Aren't we supposed to be leaving the impression that we are NOT settling in Iraq?
A small matter perhaps. And probably nobody in the Pentagon saw the historical implications. Plymouth Rock just sounded homey and familiar.
But one day when this is all over and Iraqis are writing the history books--which Iraqis will be the victors to write the history books is still up in the air--some smart intellectual type will no doubt seize on Plymouth Rock as an ominous symbol of what was wrong with the American occupation.
Plymouth Rock of course can be seen as a happy event, and was for many years. Then revisionists got out their knives and suddenly the encounter between whites and Indians seemed less appealing. In no time whites were robbing the graves of Indians (see Jim Loewen's book, Lies My Teacher Told Me), and within a couple of generations whites and Indians were killing one another.
But the storybook image of Plymouth Rock remains in the national memory. No doubt that is what the Pentagon had in mind.
The number one question of course involved that woman. How would history judge Clinton given that he had sexual relations with Monica in the Oval Office?
It's been four years since the public gave any thought to this question. Funny, despite 9-11 and Iraq and everything else we've been through, people gave the same answers now that they gave before. When I got into an argument with a judge on Fox about Clinton's legacy I felt like I was trapped in some Groundhog Day Bill Murray nightmare. What, this again?
The anchor wanted to know if the library's take on the scandal--that it was a fight by the rightwing to overturn the election they lost at the ballot box--was what "history" would say. The judge answered that Clinton broke the law when he provided false testimony in the Paula Jones case and admitted he broke the law, which cost him his license to practice law in Arkansas for 5 years. Being careful not to make predictions--historians can't even agree on the past, let alone predict the future--I said I have no idea what "history" will say. But I went so far as to indicate that historians will want to discover whether impeachment so absorbed Clinton's time in 1998 that he was forced to neglect other serious business--like fighting terrorism, say. The judge of course disapproved of my approach. Clinton broke the law after all and he was the nation's top law enforcer ... and here we go again.
What I should have said is that we can probably safely say that the impeachment battle will be largely remembered as partisan. The voting in the House of Representatives was strictly along partisan lines. In the Senate nearly a dozen Republicans voted with the Democrats to oppose impeachment. Not only did the Republicans fail to win the necessary 2/3rds to convict Clinton, they coudn't even garner a simple majority. I wish I had said this and I was ready to say this. But when the anchor came back to me it was to say good-bye not to let me have one more bite. As we went to a commercial break I at last had the satisfaction of making my point to the anchorman. But that wasn't nearly as satisfying as it would have ben to parry the judge's line on live TV.
On another show the anchor asked if we don't already know everything there is to know about Clinton. I said no, we don't, despite the best efforts of Matt Drudge to drudge up the worst.
A common misperception is that because we know more about our presidents today than, say, 100 years ago, that therefore history's judgment is much more likely to reflect the judgment rendered by contemporaries. But this isn't true and betrays a misunderstanding of history. History isn't just about facts, it is about the sorting of facts--and knowing which facts to look for and emphasize.
On January 20, 2001 as Bill Clinton left the presidency no one assessing his legacy thought to comment on his attempts to fight terrorism. But within a week of 9-11 that was all a lot of people commenting on Clinton could think to do. Was Clinton to blame for 9-11 people wanted to know. Subsequent events in other words shaped the way we looked at the events with which we were already familiar--as they always do.
Lucky for Clinton, he wrote his memoirs after 9-11. Imagine if he had written them before. My guess is he hardly would have mentioned terrorism. That in itself would have been regarded as evidence that he had neglected the subject while president. (Note to Clinton historians: see if you can find an outline of his memoirs written before 9-11. It is vital to discover if it included a chapter on fighting terrorism.)
1998, the year of his impeachment, will always loom large, casting a shadow over his presidency. But suppose historians discover that the price of that partisan impeachment was Clinton's not acting to stem terrorism? That would make his partisan impeachment seem a lot worse than just comically inept and misguided, as it appeared to many at the time. It will instead be regarded as a damning diversion of the nation's attention from issues that may well have cost this country thousands of innocent lives.
I can remember in February 1999 when the Senate took up the impeachment case that a lot of people regarded it as opera bouffe since the result of the trial was foreordained. I never thought it was opera bouffe. Anytime you distract the presidency the costs will be high.
Clinton of course maintained at the time and maintains in his memoirs that he did not let impeachment distract him. But how could it not?
But neither Dick nor O'Reilly caught the slip-up.
And so now millions of Americans are wondering what services Donna Rice will be performing in the new Bush administration.
What if the Democrats had selected Wesley Clark to be their candidate instead of John Kerry. Would Clark be preparing to sit in the Oval Office now?
Looking back at campaign 2004 it's hard to conclude that he wouldn't have been a far superior candidate to Kerry. He is everything Kerry isn't: he is charming, he doesn't have a 20 year Senate career to explain away, he can't be accused of flip-flopping, he is strong on the military, he never testified before the congress about war crimes committed by Vietnam era soldiers.
These obvious strengths were obvious back in January. But the Democrats didn't stop to give him a long hard look.
Democrats need to ask themselves why.
Are they, as the Republicans like to argue, preternaturally anti-military? Is the only vet they like a vet who has railed on the military?
Clark is a dream candidate for Democrats. He is a liberal who also happens to have served in the military. His appeal is broad and would reach deep into the Red states.
Democrats should be haunted by their failure to give Clark a real hearing. We'll know they are serious about winning when they look back at 2004 and admit that hey, maybe Clark would have made a better candidate.
Or do Democrats prefer losing and whining to victory?
If you don't hear regrets about failing to seriously consider Clark, you'll know the answer.
The Democrats have to decide if this is 1928 or 1988. If they believe that the problem is the country rather than themselves, then it's 1928. That is, they basically believe what their leaders are saying about the social, political, military and economic issues and just have to live with the fact that the country doesn't at this moment. So like FDR in 1928 they have to simply hang on until the country comes around. (In 1928 FDR chose not to run for president because he believed it was impossible under the circumstances for him to win.)
If this is 1988 then the party needs to look inward and figure out what is wrong and how the problem can be fixed.
There's evidence to justify both positions.
If you believe it's 1928: Iraq is a mess but the country isn't yet willing to acknowledge that. If a year from now not much has changed there then the Democrats will be justified in waiting for the country to come around to their position. By then surely a majority will have done so even if Bush still looks strong as a leader against terrorism.
If you believe it's 1988: The Democrats have to figure out how to get back white men (whom they haven't had since 1964), or married women (whom they have now lost apparently).
This is not 1968, when the party rank and file revolted against the party bosses who had foisted Hubert Humphrey on them. No one thinks the Dems need a new McGovern commission to rewrite the rules governing party elections. Nor is it 1972 when the party decide to go with a left-winger with extreme views and then got punished for it. No, 2004 is 1984 and 1988 all over again. The party went with a northern liberal who lacked broad appeal in the South and lost.
The conclusion may be that the party has to find another third-way Clinton. Or, if the party thinks this is 1928, it just has to sit tight.
From our perspective it is laughable to think of Herbert Hoover winning re-election in 1932 after the Stock Market crash. But Hoover thought he would win.
Almost always incumbents have believed they would win. They are not deluded simpletons. Power hasn't corrupted them and turned their brains into mush. None as far as I know should have been committed.
But they are so used to winning -- they won the presidency after all, didn't they? -- that they find it hard to believe in their gut that they won't win.
Hoover had been a great success his whole life. An orphan, he had become a millionaire by the age of 30 (as he had intended) and then gone on to become the widely heralded hero of Belgium after he saved a generation from starvation at the end of World War I. In 1928 he swept to victory over the hapless Al Smith.
In 1932 he campaigned hard and went on an 11,000 train trip across the country to rally his supporters. Even on election day he campaigned.
That night, at his home near Stanford University, he retreated to a room to review the incoming telegrams providing news about the election. As Gene Smith tells the story in his fascinating book about Hoover, the president was devastated by the returns. He was losing in a landslide.
By the time he went downstairs to meet guests invited for a celebration with his old neighbors he was beside himself, so gaunt that he appeared to his old friends to be in a state of shock. They described his face as ashen and said that he seemed bewildered.
He went outside to greet a group of cheering students. He had to retreat quickly after he began to cry.
Bush I also was shocked to lose. He had believed in his heart that he would somehow pull out a victory. When the exit polls told a different story it was his eldest son, George W., who was sent in to tell the president he had lost.
As for the winners .... one imagines that they are delirious with joy. but few have been. More common was the reaction of FDR and Wilson. While others danced jigs in celebration, they wore stony faces as the sobering news settled in that they had become president.
FDR went over to see his mother, who declared that this was the happiest day of her life. But FDR was deeply troubled. That night as his son Jimmy helped him into bed, the president-elect mentioned that he had only had one fear in life: fire. As a polio victim he worried that he could not escape the flames should a conflagration occur. But as he lay down to sleep tonight he confessed that he felt a new fear. He worried that he did not have the strength to meet the challenge of being president.
It is strange to think of FDR as fearful. We remember him most perhaps for his clarion call to courage: "The only thing we have to fear is ... fear itself."
Hats off to him if he wins. But I am unlikely to conclude that his way was better.
With all that is going wrong on Bush's watch, shouldn't Kerry be far ahead in the polls?
HNN blogger Allan Lichtman thinks not. His model for predicting elections had this one close from the beginning.
But I remain unconvinced.
This works to the advantage of the Democrats. Four years ago one of the constraints Al Gore faced was that the public expected to know the result of the election swiftly. This expectation forced him to adopt a failing strategy. To get a quick result he at first asked for a recount only of the votes in 4 Democratic counties. This made it appear he was less interested in counting all the votes, as he claimed, and more interested simply in the outcome: his own election. This undermined his moral argument.
This time around the Democrats won't face that problem. When Republican attempts to block new voters materialize Democrats will be able to go to court to secure the suffrage rights of these citizens without fearing that the public demands instant action.
Republicans meanwhile will be robbed of the strategy employed by Jim Baker in Florida, which was to drag out the proceedings until the safe harbor date had been reached. To be sure, the Republicans will try to drag out the proceedings. But my guess is that they won't be able to get away with it this time because voters will be willing to let the process unfold.
So what if the safe harbor date is reached? At least half the country will say it is more important to get the duly elected president named president than to leave the outcome up to chance.
A strategy of delay will clearly be in the Republicans' interest because invariably it will be Democrats trying to get provisional ballots accepted, necessitating a resort to court action. But the Republicans won't succeed--not this time.
Forget everything you've been hearing the last few months from the campaigns. They're just trying to confuse you. Focus instead on the handful of permanent -- or near-permanent -- changes the next president will make and decide who you want that president to be.
1. The next president will surely appoint several justices of the Supreme Court. You want Bush or Kerry making those nominations? If you favor abortion rights, vote Kerry; if you oppose them, vote Bush. Remember: these are life-time appointments. Long after Bush and Kerry are gone from the political scene their justices would be shaping the jurispudence of the country. (Chief Justice Rehnquist, after all, was appointed by Nixon.)
2. The next president will have to decide on the course the country takes in Iraq and the war on Islamic terrorism. Do you want Bush making these decisions or Kerry? Death is pretty permanent, so I hear. Think hard about this choice.
That's it. Don't worry about the economy. No president in 4 years can really make enough "permanent" changes to really harm or help the economy.
Mostly ignore them, she seems to suggest, because candidates end up breaking them, recalling that LBJ promised not to send American boys to Vietnam to do what Vietnamese boys should be doing and that Woodrow Wilson, in an earlier era, promised to keep the country out of war--and then plunged us into war.
So far so good.
But she then seems to draw the conclusion that the difficulty is that presidents have to break their promises because events change and they have to change with them. This is an obvious and not terribly fruitful observation.
And of course we shouldn't pay much attention to what they say on the campaign trail. They will say and do almost anything to win--and this has been true of presidents since the masses got the vote in the 1820s. Remember William Henry Harrison's lies about where he was born. He claimed to have been born in a log cabin. He actually grew up in a 3 story red-brick mansion on the James River in Virginia.
But then Bumiller goes on to say that what we should do therefore to correct for this inclination of presidents to lie is to look closely at their character.
She claims: "And character, historians say, is what voters should look for in a candidate as they engage in the act of casting their ballots for the nation's next president."
Well, this historian doesn’t tell voters to look at president's character.
Reading a person is difficult. Divining a person's character is next to impossible. One reason biographies are usually so long is that it takes hundreds and hundreds of pages to fully develop someone's character. And even then it's easy to go wrong. If Jefferson, for example, truly had a relationship with hi black slave, all the biographies ever written about him need to be rewritten in light of this astounding fact.
Besides, what is character? You want courage in a president? Ok. But what is courage? If a man exhibits physical courage, does that mean he will exhibit political courage? Even courage, so seemingly simple, is complicated.
Really, one reason we prefer to discuss character is because one doesn't need to know anything about anything to have an opinion about a president's character. It's an issue susceptible to public debate in a way, say, that Part A and Part B of the Medicare law are not because to discuss Part A and Part B you have to know some facts. And Americans simply do not know many facts.
And when they decide on a person's character it is apt to be on the basis of some foolish stereotype.
When party bosses used to pick presidents they would take into account the candidates' character. But the bosses' judgments were grounded in the experience that came from knowing and working with the individuals over a period of years, and often decades. Today the voters only have massaged images to go with. What kind of system puts a priority on images?
A deficient system, is the answer. And that I am afraid is the system we now have.
One thought occurs to me.
He will have a harder time cleaning up Bush's mess than Ike had with Truman's in Korea.
Ike was able to settle the Korean War in six months by threatening the use of nukes. His threats were taken seriously, even though he had personally opposed the dropping of the bomb on Japan.
Kerry cannot threaten to use nukes in the Iraq war, for many obvious reasons (#1: Where would he drop them? On Falluja? Say good-bye to Middle East oil. Say hello to the mother-of-all Clash of Civilizations.)
I just thought this was worth pointing out.
Now I happen to think Ike was the greatest post-war president. But the solution he employed in 1953 is not available in 2004.
So what would Ike do in these circumstances?
I have no idea.
Anybody out there think they know?
I've got my own suggestion of what Kerry should do. He should buy a half hour on prime time next week and talk to the nation the way FDR used to.
Focus on the war on terror. Tell us 1. why we should be worried. 2. what we can do about it.
Bush is so busy popping off like a rooster that he has left a wide opening for Kerry to fill as the reasonable, fatherly wise man. Think Ike talking about the military industrial complex.
Not a fancy speech. Just an honest one.
It should be on tape so he can practice.
For tips I'd have him look at Ross Perot's addresses using TV. They were very effective.
The 30 second spots have about run their course. Nobody's paying much attention anymore. But a plain spoken Kerry looking directly in the camera could be a powerful message that he is 1. presidential, 2. capable of talking plainly, 3. shares our sincere concerns about terrorism, 4. is willing to share with us his strategy for defeating terrorism.
If he can do this convincingly he'll be the next president. If he can't, maybe he shouldn't be.
A year ago I put myself in Karl Rove's shoes and came up with a crazy strategy for winning the election. It was to invade Cuba, take out Castro, and then sit back and watch the Democrats fume as American Marines marched victoriously on downtown Havana.
With two weeks to go before the election invading Cuba is no longer an option.
But I still think it must have occurred to Rove. If carried out successfully, it would have guaranteed a landslide for Bush.
Castro of course has no ties to international terrorism. But it would be easy to paint him as a ruthless dictator. And Bush could brag that he had liberated another country.
Now Rove is going to have to be content with letting Bush run on his sorry record.
Karl, if you're reading this, you have my sympathies.
I find this shocking. I found the debate boring and uneventful. Rather said the candidates both played it safe. He was right.
I thought Kerry the clear winner the first half hour not so much because he hit any homeruns as because Bush seemed to be stumbling badly. Bush appeared on the verge of going out of control. His facial grimaces were astonishing.
But he recovered and ended strongly.
Kerry's main hope has to be that most people found the debate so boring they tuned out after the first 30 minutes. If that happened, he may have picked up a lot of support.
But then again maybe CBS's sample is representative and voters really liked what Kerry had to say. If that is the case then Kerry may really have won the election tonight. This I find hard to believe, however.
I await the poll results with eagerness.
The other day the WSJ ran a piece saying that US voters have never defeated an incumbent during wartime. And then USA Today said the same thing in a piece we excerpted on HNN:
"Up to now, no American president who sought another term during a time of war has been defeated."
Is there a more useless observation?
No, wartime presidents haven't been voted out of office. When the wars were going badly they had the good sense not to run again. Truman in 1952 and Johnson in 1968 both knew their chances of victory were nil.
If Bush is counting on the fact that no incumbent has been voted out during wartime he better start preparing to return to Crawford for a long rest.
Yes, Americans are reluctant to swap horses in the middle of the stream. But they turn sour on bad wars fast and presidents know this.
But is it a good idea?
"I have drawn the conclusion that basically this destroys the [intelligence] network," said Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont), according to an account in the newsletter of the Project on Government Secrecy."And we wonder why we do not have human resources on the ground in some areas in the world and, yes, even in our own country. I will tell you, if this [budget information] is disclosed, this will be one of the main reasons that we will have."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a supporter of disclosure, responded:
The idea that our enemies can somehow determine something about our intelligence capability by knowing the total of what we spend is simply not accurate. Year-to-year changes in any specific program will not move the overall total number enough to give an adversary any indication of how that money is being spent
I am sure I would have agreed with Rockefeller a few months ago, but not after reading George Crile's CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, which tells the story of the CIA war to support the Afghan Mujahadeen.
According to Crile's impressive account, Congressman Wilson succeeded in raising so much money so quickly for the Afghans that it was doubling every year several years in a row, until it reached more than a billion dollars. At one point the little CIA team plotting the war--the CIA's largest war ever--was spending more than half the funds the agency was appropriated. Had the intelligence budget been disclosed in the 1980s as is now proposed, the Soviets surely would have wondered where the big increases in the budget were going. At the time they had little idea of the extent of the CIA war, which was largely conducted in secret, of course. If they even suspected the range of the CIA's efforts they may well have been able to sabotage the program before it had a chance to see results.
Further, the Saudis, who had agreed to match every dollar the Congress appropriated, may well have worried that their own contributions would have become known if Congress disclosed the budget. Imagine how things might have worked. A big increase in the budget is disclosed. Members of Congress who aren't on the intelligence committee wonder is going on. Critics cry out that the CIA must be up to something nasty. So the members began holding news conferences to demand to know where the money is going. The CIA can't say; it's secret. But that doesn't stop the members from investigating on their own. As happened in the 1980s the agency could silence its critics with facts if it could get around the problem of protecting the secrecy of the operation, but it can't. The operation has to remain secret. Worried that the enemy may figure out that the money is being used against them, the CIA then puts out a cover story deflecting attention to something else, claiming, perhaps, that the money is going for a new satellite. Under these circumstances in effect the agency would be lying to our own Congress (at least those members not in the loop).
You see where this is going? It's a mess.
And because the agency can't protect itself given the necessity of protecting its secret operations, it could get battered needlessly, s happened during the 1980s when conservatives went after the CIA for supposedly ignoring he Mujahadeen. The CIA wanted to let them know that the agency in fact was providing hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance. But it simply could not. So the conservatives wailed on the agency in ignorance of the facts.
Like I said, I wouldn't have taken a position against disclosure a few months ago. But I read Crile's account and now can't pretend that I didn't.
Response from Steven Aftergood, who puts out the newsletter of the Project on Government Secrecy
I don't buy it, for several reasons. One is that today we are not facing a peer superpower like the Soviet Union. Nobody else would be in a position to draw meaningful inferences from the release of a single aggregate figure. Second, you presume that the Soviets had no idea of the role of US intelligence in Afghanistan.
Even before the use of Stingers announced covert US aid, I doubt that that was correct. Recall that the 1980s were"the decade of the spy" and that Aldrich Ames, for one, was at his peak"productivity" at the time. U.S. budget secrecy, at the aggregate level, was never a problem for the Soviet Union. It was irrelevant.
Nor did Kerry by taking a hard line suddenly become the pro-war candidate, as Safire claims.
But Safire is onto something.
Kerry brilliantly succeeded in the debate in reaching out to two audiences simultaneously. 1. He scored points with the anti-war crowd by calling this war a colossal mistake.
That shored up his support among Deaniacs and other anti-war Democrats.
2. He succeeded in reassuring the Patriotic crowd that a Kerry presidency would see to it that the Iraq war is won. That helped him win over swing voters, who don't want to face the consequences of Bush's bumble headed war.
That Kerry succeeded in satisfying both groups without apparently alienating either was a remarkable testament to his political skills. It's the first time in this race he has achieved such success.
Of course, there's a paradox here. He accused Bush of living in a world of fantasy. But Kerry's policy is built on a fantasy. He won't get the Allies to share our military responsibilities. If we do go into Falluja guns ablazin' we will alienate the very people whose support we need.
Kerry's loophole may be that he didn't say how he defines success. Maybe we can get out quickly be turning affairs there over to a strongman government, as Daniel Pipes recommends.
But for now Kerry is having his political cake and eating it too.
This augers well for the Kerry campaign. In every one of the 9 past elections in which presidential debates were held the perceived winner of the debates went on to win the election. (Reagan lost the first debate with Mondale in 1984 but won a smashing victory in the second debate, overshadowing his earlier loss.)
Further, two candidates who had been ahead in the polls before the debates--Nixon in 1960 and Carter in 1980--fell back in the polls following their sorry performances and ended up losing.
Given this history Kerry is well-positioned to turn the race around.
Republicans inadvertently contributed to Kerry's victory.
For months they have been creating cartoonish caricatures of Kerry. Since most Americans didn't know Kerry these mindless images of him as a French/over-educated/snobby/wind-surfing/military-bashing/prig took hold. But the images were so beyond the truth that when Americans watched Kerry last night and were impressed the case the Republicans have been building against Kerry suddenly became untenable. I like Kerry and I was shocked how good he was. To those who had bought into the stereotypes they must have nearly fallen out of their chairs.
In other words, as so often happens in politics, the Republicans had overreached. If they had been a bit more subtle maybe voters wouldn't have been so unprepared for the real human being who graced their screens last night.
Now the Democrats have also been overreaching, creating cartoonish images of Bush. But we already know Bush. When he stood up there and was able to hold his own and not appear stupid e weren't really surprised. We've seen this Bush before. So the Michael Moore simpleton stereotypes of Bush didn't have the same unfortunate affect on the audience as the Republican simpleton stereotypes of Kerry.
Immediate poll results from CBS indicated that the public indeed as willing to give Kerry a good hard second look. A clear majority of swing voters said Kerry won the debate. A small minority (under 30%) thought Bush had won.
There will be 2 more debates, but this was the big one. It may well have decided the election. At the least it's a key turning point in the election thus far.
In retrospect the Bush people must be kicking themselves for making foreign policy the topic of the first debate. They agreed to this because they believe that the public thinks well of Bush's handling of the war on terrorism. But the public also agrees by some 60 percent that the war in Iraq is going badly. This gave Kerry the opening he needed to hammer Bush relentlessly. He did so deftly and at the end made Bush so angry he appeared petulant. Bush even did something I hadn't seen him do since 2000 when he seemed scared of the camera. He finished a few answers by pecking at it like a bird. For a guy who is supposed to seem at ease with himself, he looked decidedly nervous.
If you didn't know which man was president would you have thought it was Bush or Kerry?
Of course, debates always give challengers an opportunity to appear presidential merely by appearing on the same stage with the incumbent. Mondale failed to take advantage of that opportunity in 1984. Last night Kerry did.
My guess is that after the debate not only swing voters gave him a second look but even his own supporters. Many have admitted they were less Kerry-supporters than Bush-haters. After the debate many are probably thinking they'll vote for Kerry enthusiastically.
Guess what? The American people know very little about where the candidates stand on the very issues the candidates have spent the last year talking about:
*More than half of those polled by the National Annenberg Election Survey didn't know President Bush alone favors allowing private investments of some Social Security money.
*Nearly as many didn't know that only Democratic candidate John Kerry proposes getting rid of tax breaks for the overseas profits of U.S. companies.
*Importing drugs from Canada? That's a Kerry issue, but nearly half either didn't know or thought Bush also supported changing federal law to allow for drug imports from Canada.
*Making abortions more difficult to obtain? Nearly one-third of those surveyed didn't know Bush alone supports more restrictions on abortion.
*Eliminating the tax on estates? Two-thirds didn't know that's a Bush proposal. [Associated Press, Sept. 29, 2004.]
Blame the media? Sure. Blame the voters themselves? Sure. Our democracy is on autopilot. People don't vote. They don't take the time to find out what the candidates stand for. They sound plain dumb a lot of the time.
But the real problem is our system. No one designed it. And it shows. Who could design such a system?
The culprit of course is television more than anything else. It personalizes politics. Issues be damned. We ask ouselves if we'd like to go to a barbecue with the candidate, not what they believe. To alk abou the issues requires real knowledge. To have an opinion about someone's personality requires no knowledge.
Want to change the system? Two suggestions. 1. Restore the two-party system so the parties can once again perform the vital function of educating voters about issues. 2. Restore unions, which also used to engage in a vast voter education project every election.
That would be a start.
Fact of the Day: According to the NYT, since the end of the primaries local TV stations have run half a million political spots.
A bright college student I met last week is typical of many voters, I am afraid. When I asked her what she thought of the Republican convention, she was surprised to learn that there had been one.
Only if something is covered extensively on TV does it seem to make an impression on people.
If something happens and it's not on TV, is it real? For millions the sad answer is no.
So even though the debates may be dull, as Gil Troy says in a piece we just posted: http://hnn.us/articles/7636.html. And the candidates will be mouthing lines from a script prepared by advisors. The debates will perform a valuable function by getting people to tune in to politics.
In modern America this is a measure of success.
But then we'll have to live with the aftermath when voters are asked what they thought of the debate. And invariably they will say they like so-and-so and would like to go to a barbecue with them.
I have one question for such people. Do you think you would have liked to go to a barbecue with George Washington? Not bloody likely. But some say he was a pretty good president.