John F. Kerry in 2004?

A skeptical blog examining John F. Kerry's candidacy for President in 2004.

"The longest journey begins with the first step. And that first step is electing John Kerry." -- Howard Dean, 3/25/04

Why Blog about Kerry?
The means influence the ends
Comparing Kerry and Bush's record from 1966 - 1973
Kerry's service record and biography
"I request duty in Vietnam."

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Friday, April 30, 2004


Lest you forget reading this blog, I was one of the original supporters of Howard Dean. By oriiginal, I mean with no false modesty that I started blogging about his before his own campaign did. And the reasons for which I supported him - and still would prefer to have had him as our nominee against George W. Bush - remain. Fundamentally two things made him my choice: his impulsive frankness about his opinions, and his commitment to principle, not ideology, in guiding those thoughts.

Since Dean's campaign's end, I have taken a new, and skeptical look at Kerry. And I have come away impressed. I did not know about Kerry's heroism in Vietnam, or his Silver Star and Bronze Star with Combat V. I had an impression of Kerry as a compulsive flip-flopper - but after examining his record I found that assessment to be unwarranted. Overall, I find Kerry to be authentically liberal (but not Progressive), neo-wilsonian rather than neo-conservaqtive in foreign policy, and a role model for combining a devout religious belief with the secular demands of public service (much like President Kennedy)[1].

I'm not drinking the Kool Aid, and my single biggest complaint about Kerry is his obsessive attention to his image - which has led him to make easily fact-checked mis-statements. Still, I have to concede that in general he has been better at keeping controversy down than Dean was, given that there's a fueled conservative media machine ready to pounce on every minor detail. And when it comes to Kerry's character, there isn't much truly substantive to the critiques of him.

This is why I am bothered by persistent Kerryphobia on the left. It's nearly impossible to find someone who hates Kerry who can rationally justify their hatred. The best example is Mickey Kaus, as Ted Barlow (himself a Clark supporter, with no deep afection for Kerry either) points out:

Kaus goes on to accuse Kerry of lying and conning reporters, based on his own misreading.

In an update, we lear that Anson personally called Kaus and corrected him. He told Kaus that he has no idea where Kerry slept. (I’d imagine that Anson pointed out that the story doesn’t say what Kaus claims it says, but that’s sheer conjecture on my part.)

After this call, Kaus now has no source to back up his accusation that Kerry didn’t sleep on the Mall. And he has no grounds whatsoever on which to contest Kerry’s description of the charge as unsubstantiated. He’s got nothing.

Roger Ailes notes that Kaus's obsessive attention to trivia about where Kerry slept during the Vietnam protests on the National Mall - ignoring important substantive debate on issues like the validity of the Vietnam war, the relevance of the draft to today, the tension between dissent and solidarity, etc - destroys Kaus's credibility as a serious analyst an pundit. As Eric Aletrman noted in What Liberal Media, it's this preening pundit-class trivialization of our national debate that is at the root of the failure of our media to serve the public interest.

The point here is that the obsession of Kerryphobes borders on the pathological. It's a fundamentally trivial game of gotcha rather than a serious attempt to criticize the candidate. The fact that even as determined a critic of Kerry as Kaus can still fail, despute years of trying. to actually pin anything of significance to the object of his love-hate proves in my mind, barring any real evidence, that there's nothing there.

[1]An interesting segment today on Morning Edition talks about how Kennedy had to convince voters he wasn't too Catholic, whereas Kerry is accused of not being Catholic enough. This is almost solely due to politicization of the abortion issue by the Religious Right.

posted by Aziz P. | 6:43 AM

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

"I request duty in Vietnam." 

The right-wing media is making hay of the Boston Globe's assertion (based on Kerry's former CO, who is a registered Republican now) that one of Kerry's three Purple Hearts was for a "minor wound". No word on whether they consider his Silver Star and Bronze Star with Combat V to be worthy of derision.

The fact that George W. Bush escaped Vietnam by assignment to a Champagne unit at Ellignton field - which he took time off for to run a campaign in Alabama - puts the sudden interest in the details of Kerry's medals by the GOP partisans in a self-mocking light.

Despite trottting out the occassional sock puppet, Kerry's military record is an example of true honor, something the President has never really risen to the challenge of. I wonder if Kerry's initial refusal to release the records amounted to a sucker-punch to the Bush campaign - after all, it virtually guaranteed that Kerry's service would get finely analyzed in the full public sphere.

And already we have calls by RNC Chair Gillespie that Kerry hasn't released "all" his records. Beautiful - shall we also point out that Bush has not released "all" his National Guard records as well? The service records issue is a tar pit for the Bush team. And Kerry comes out shining in comparison to his opponent - entirely without having to explicitly make the comparison himself.

The first line in Kerry's service records is "I request duty in Vietnam." Bush checked the box "Do Not Volunteer" for overseas duty on his application to join the Texas Air National Guard. Enough said.

Here is the link for Kerry's service records.

posted by Aziz P. | 1:22 PM

Friday, April 16, 2004

The Dean legacy continues 

Netscape founder Marc Andreessen is a whiny CEO:

In the last two election cycles, Andreessen donated $350,000 to Democratic candidates, including a single $250,000 check to the Democratic National Committee during Al Gore's 2000 run for the White House. He even held a dinner at his home in Palo Alto, Calif., for John Kerry's Senate campaign in 2000.

But for now, he is sitting this one out. "If they're going to run on an anti-business message, forget me," he said.

Andreessen is angered by Kerry's position on outsourcing, the growing trend of farming out white-collar technical jobs to lower-wage countries like India and China. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, vows to remove tax incentives for businesses moving jobs overseas.

Andreessen said he thought outsourcing, by reducing costs, increased the productivity of American companies, created jobs here and contributed to the growth of other countries. His latest venture, Opsware, helps companies manage their outsourcing programs.

Not everyone in Silicon Valley views Kerry as anti-business, and many technology executives call his stand on outsourcing a balanced one.

As Liberal Oasis notes, however, the sound you don't hear is that of the Democratic Party rushing to kiss his rear. This is because Kerry's fundraising has been off the charts - heavily bouyed by the Howard Dean legacy of the $100 Revolution. Small donors are pouring money into Kerry's campaign, freeing him from having to tone down his message for corporate responsibility - exactly what spoiled business tycoons don't want to hear.

This is Howard Dean's legacy. And it's only just begun. Kerry would be wise not to forget it.

posted by Aziz P. | 7:56 AM

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Multiple PDBs warned the President 

The Washington Post has a must-read piece that reveals the Aug. 6th PDB, which preceded Bush's month-long Crawford vacaction, was just one in a series of warnings.

By the time a CIA briefer gave President Bush the Aug. 6, 2001, President's Daily Brief headlined "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US," the president had seen a stream of alarming reports on al Qaeda's intentions. So had Vice President Cheney and Bush's top national security team, according to newly declassified information released yesterday by the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In April and May 2001, for example, the intelligence community headlined some of those reports "Bin Laden planning multiple operations," "Bin Laden network's plans advancing" and "Bin Laden threats are real."

The intelligence included reports of a hostage plot against Americans. It noted that operatives might choose to hijack an aircraft or storm a U.S. embassy. Without knowing when, where or how the terrorists would strike, the CIA "consistently described the upcoming attacks as occurring on a catastrophic level, indicating that they would cause the world to be in turmoil," according to one of two staff reports released by the panel yesterday.

"Reports similar to these were made available to President Bush in the morning meetings with [Director of Central Intelligence George J.] Tenet," the commission staff said.

Remember that for an intelligence warning to make it all teh way upstream to a Presidential Daily Briefing, it must have already passed rigorous veting. They are designed to bring action items to the President's attention, not provide briefing filler.

posted by Aziz P. | 7:23 AM

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

W bumps American Idol and 24 

George W. Bush's planned press announcement this evening will bump American Idol and 24.

Did you know that over 24 million people voted to determine Clay vs Ruben?

Compare that to the fact that approximately 7 million people voted for Kerry in the Democratic primaries. Generously assuming that this represents only 51% of the total vote, the most we can extrapolate is about 15 million people total who were bothered to vote for democracy. And this was record turnout!

What Kerry needs to do is get on Idol and ask people to vote for him :) Maybe he can play hsis guitar - or sing the Star-Spangled Banner.

posted by Aziz P. | 7:27 AM

A Strategy for Iraq by John F. Kerry 

Glenn Reynolds argues that the Democrats don't have a plan for Iraq. Actually, they do - and Kerry's op-ed in the Washington Post today ties all the points together into a smart, focused argument.

To be successful in Iraq, and in any war for that matter, our use of force must be tied to a political objective more complete than the ouster of a regime. To date, that has not happened in Iraq. It is time it did.

In the past week the situation in Iraq has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. While we may have differed on how we went to war, Americans of all political persuasions are united in our determination to succeed. The extremists attacking our forces should know they will not succeed in dividing America, or in sapping American resolve, or in forcing the premature withdrawal of U.S. troops. Our country is committed to help the Iraqis build a stable, peaceful and pluralistic society. No matter who is elected president in November, we will persevere in that mission.

But to maximize our chances for success, and to minimize the risk of failure, we must make full use of the assets we have. If our military commanders request more troops, we should deploy them. Progress is not possible in Iraq if people lack the security to go about the business of daily life. Yet the military alone cannot win the peace in Iraq. We need a political strategy that will work.

Over the past year the Bush administration has advanced several plans for a transition to democratic rule in Iraq. Each of those plans, after proving to be unworkable, was abandoned.

Kerry starts out strong, by reaffirming his commitment to see the Iraq reconstruction through. He hints at the rationales why Bush has failed, though this parallel WaPo article covers the critiques in more detail.

Kerry's solution is straightforward - involve the UN, maintain the US military presence with NATO in a support role, add more troops from other countries (under US command), and give reconstruction and civilian authority to the UN rather than the Pentagon. He notes pointedly that the Bush Administration has admitted failure in turning to U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi help shepherd the transition to self-rule, and calls on the Administration to publicly affirm their support for any plan that Brahimi proposes which gets support of Iraqi leaders.

But perhaps the most important change that needs to be made, Kerry argues, is leveling with the American people:

Increasingly, the American people are confused about our goals in Iraq, particularly why we are going it almost alone. The president must rally the country around a clear and credible goal. The challenges are significant and the costs are high. But the stakes are too great to lose the support of the American people.

That's far more important than I think even pro-war Bush supporters recognize. I myself was against war and pro-reconstruction, but I've had serious doubts that we can succeed, given how the President has seemed so completely clueless and unwilling to face responsibilities. We shall see what Bush says in his first-this-year press conference, though I fully expect more buck-passing and bland assuagements. The people need a leader who will tell them specifically what is at stake and be honest about the cost and the progress.

posted by Aziz P. | 6:32 AM

Monday, April 12, 2004

Kerry unplugged 

The GOP is winning the battle for "defining" Kerry. But there are some who rise to his defense - for example, this interesting profile on Kerry in the WaPo. It paints a picture of Kerry as a careful thinker who does not act until he sees it neccessary - and then, he makes swift decisions. I think it may beuseful in understanding his attitude towards the ongoing Iraq/PDB issues afflicting Bush. Here's one particularly telling anecdote:

John Kerry cliché No. 1: The single-engine plane plunged toward the Nevada desert. The pilot had tried a barrel roll and miscalculated. Ten thousand feet, six thousand feet, two thousand feet and falling. Young Kerry, sitting next to the pilot, reached for the controls. "Give it to me," Kerry said over the scream of the engine. He pulled the airplane out of the dive.

Kerry cliché No. 2: About 30 years later, in his office at 2 a.m., Sen. Kerry hovered over a dictionary, torn between two words: "Is it 'venal'? Or 'venial'?" Hours before he would deliver his Senate floor statement on President Bill Clinton's impeachment, Kerry was stuck in the V's, trying to decide.

Both stories, though cartoonish, actually happened. They are part of the lore that paints Kerry as alternately too rash or too cautious. Conventional wisdom has tried to reconcile the apparent contradiction with words such as "complex." But a closer examination of his style, based on dozens of interviews, shows that he makes decisions with simple consistency. He researches and analyzes aggressively before choosing. He always deliberates, even if only for a second. What differs in each case is how close he is to the ground.

"It's the deadline thing," said Cameron Kerry, his brother. "He's not going to act when he doesn't need to. He's incredibly decisive when he needs to be."

Charles Peters, founding editor of the Washington Monthly, also defends Kerry on this score, arguing in his Tilting at Windmills column:

Kerry is a relentless questioner, often playing devil's advocate with his staff--a quality especially esteemed by presidential historians, and the very opposite of George W. Bush, described in The Price of Loyalty, who dislikes arguing with himself, who is profoundly incurious, and who does not encourage his staff to provide him with carefully researched alternatives, disliking the kind of debate that would explore options.

Another op-ed appearing the same day as Marjorie's, Bruce Reed's in The New York Times, described how Kerry's apparent waffling can simply mean that he sees the merit in both sides and wants his decision to reflect those merits. In the case of welfare reform, for example, this meant voting in favor of reform while making sure the bill included more child-care money and other improvements that would make it more humane.

These are good defenses of Kerry and certainly provide some much-needed depth to the candidate. However, it is far easier to distort Kerry than to defend him, and the GOP's caricature is already entering the conventional wisdom.

I think that Kerry needs to do some direct ads where he puts himself on camera, with no backdrop or scenery, just a soundstage and a stool, and talks to the American people. He should directly address issues and concerns that many hae, for example such as the accusation of waffling as detailed above. He needs to show the public who he is, without handlers, without scripts, just him and us.

posted by Aziz P. | 11:38 AM

Kerry must articulate a neo-wilsonian foreign policy 

One of my concerns is that Kerry has not articulated his foreign policy vision in a concise way that clearly spells out the differences between him and Bush.

It's not enough to simply state that Bush is wrong, Bush is unilateral, etc because this opens Kerry to the counter-charge that he would "allow UN veto over US security". Never underestimate teh distortion capabilities of the opponent.

What he needs to do is talk about why we are in Iraq, so as to reassure those who want to see him finish the job. Kerry needs to talk about what is needed for the middle east in general, and what the metrics of a competent foreign policy in that region are.

Some examples:

Q. Why are we in Iraq?

A. JFK voted for the war because he thought there was a true threat from WMD. The President misled him. Now, however, we are there and we must remain as committed to rebuilding Iraq as a beacon of democracy for the middle east as we did Japan after world war II.

Q. What should our goals be in the middle east?

A. The middle east is ruled by tyrants. Some of these tyrants enjoyed support of our own government in the 1980s. We must seek to empower the people of the middle east, not their governments, by providing them the means to chart their own course. All people want liberty, and freedom must be a partnership between the free nations of the world and the people yearning for the same freedoms.

Q. How do you measure success in Iraq?

By whether the average Iraqi feels they have a stake in the outcome. By whether speech is truly protected. By whether the will of the majority is properly balanced with protection of th eminority. By whether women are respected and free. By whether religion is practiced without compulsion - just as the Holy Qur'an itself affirms.

posted by Aziz P. | 6:55 AM

Thursday, April 08, 2004

winning is half the battle 

But a Kerry Administration will find that governing in the wake of the Bush Administration's mess will be the harder task by far. This article in the Prospect lays out some of the major challenges that Kerry will face, and comments on how this should influence both his campaign and his first 100 days' priorities:

First, on the campaign trail, he should put forth a program and a governing philosophy that makes sense in its own terms -- one that he believes in, and that's starkly different from Bush's. Forget trimming for the sake of legislative compromise. The Republicans would try to block whatever he put forward in any case.

Second, if Kerry does get elected, just about everything would have to be directed toward winning a few big, early legislative fights (or losing them in a way that made clear who the obstructionists were), and then going for a true governing majority in 2006.

In 1993 and 1994, Clinton took too long to get his priorities clear. The Republicans smelled blood in the water, blocked everything, so that they could go into the 1994 mid-term election claiming that Clinton's was a failed presidency.
Kerry would need to focus intensely, press hard on a few key issues in his first hundred days, and then, if the Republicans blocked him, take the fight to the country.

posted by Aziz P. | 1:43 PM

Monday, April 05, 2004

unlink Kerry, save Kos 

My position on Kos: He said a dumb thing, then apologized. I think he deserves benefit of the doubt given his history. End of story. Kos most vocal critics are unwilling to grant him that benefit, but they do so from the cover of pseudonymity and thus are immune from being held accountable to the same standard. I, for one, welcome the implicit acknowledgement that the Left is held to a higher moral standard than the Right. We may, as a group, fail to meet it, but it speaks well of the expectations.

Like Kos himself, I can't fault the Kos advertisers for pulling their ads. Running for office is a complex political calculus, which it is pointless to pretend doesn't exist. As Kos keeps saying, don't punish those who withdraw, reward those who stay - such as Jeff Seeman. For the record, Dean Nation is ready to accept any ad from any candidate.

In fact I will make it a policy that Dean Nation will allow free advertising - from Democrats or Republicans alike - who also place a paid ad on Daily Kos AND link to Daily Kos from their blogroll section. (A link to us would also be nice, but not neccessary). I encourage all Dean Nationals to spread the word on the various other liberal blogs about this policy.

As Jerome points out, the Kerry weblog team has burdened themselves with the responsibility of policing every weblog on their blogroll for potential exploitation by the Right. They are welcome to their burden. I however suggest that the proper response is to de-link the Kerry blog from as many liberal blogrolls as possible - a slap on Kerry's wrist, so to speak.

Further I advise all blogs listed on the Kerry blogroll to write to the campaign and request that their link be removed, following Atrios's example.

Finally, I will continue to support Kerry by linking to his contribution page, but I will no longer use my Kerry Team link. The only Contribute link to Kerry's campaign that I will promote on my blogs is via Daily Kos. In my opinion, it would be best if ALL blogsphere donations to Kerry were done solely through the Kos link. I encourage any other liberal bloggers to add the following link to their pages if they agree:

Save Kos! Fund Kerry

posted by Aziz P. | 7:00 AM