Archive for November 1st, 2006

I see the Kerry brouhaha is spinning out of control. It’s sort of dispiriting, isn’t it? A lawmaker — who’s not up for election, by the way — botches the punch line of a joke, then is flamed far and wide by friends and enemies alike, spurring an intense focus while other, legitimate targets — like the President who started the war and bungled it, then implies anyone who dissents is a traitor — are portrayed by the media as the moral bastions in this argument.

Incidentally, Kerry’s initial reaction to the criticism was spot-on:

“If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they’re crazy,” he said. “No Democrat will be bullied by an administration that has a cut-and-run policy in Afghanistan and a stand-still-and-lose strategy in Iraq.”[snip]

“I’m sick and tired of a bunch of despicable Republicans who will not debate real policy, who won’t take responsibility for their own mistakes, standing up and trying to make other people the butt of those mistakes. I’m sick and tired of a whole bunch of Republican attacks most of which come from people who never wore the uniform and never had the courage to stand up and go to war themselves. Enough is enough. We’re not going to stand for this…. I’m not going to be lectured by a stuffed-suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium, or doughy Rush Limbaugh, who no doubt today will take a break from belittling Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease to start lying about me just as they have lied about Iraq. No way. It disgusts me.”

It was an excellent turnaround — and quite accurate. The issue isn’t John Kerry. And Kerry also set up the best possible spin for fellow Democrats to follow. We’re seeing a whole lot of bluster from the people who actually created the real problems. Forget Kerry, let’s talk about the war.

You know the rest: Democrats threw Kerry under a bus. And I think Jerome Armstrong pretty much summed it up my feelings:

Game over. So much for showing strength in the face of attack. Once again, we are weak, divided, and groveling for forgiveness from the unforgiving Republican Noise Machine. The triangle is officially closed on this now. Well done, Democrats. My only remaining hope is that this story goes away quickly.

Seems like a lot of Democrats, faced with a roaring blather from the right fell back on the tired routine of the establishment Democrats by running away from a fight. I guess it’s understandable, considering there’s less than a week before the elections and the first impulse is to play things safe and listen to your Democratic consultant — who, by the way, has lost more elections than he’s won.

You can almost understand the reasoning, can’t you? Ask Kerry for an apology, because it makes you look like you care about the troops, which makes you look strong on defense (goes the theory), and if everyone agrees that Kerry should apologize, then it’ll blow over quickly. Right?

Of course, as usual, the reverse has happened, and now people are jumping over themselves to say mean things about Kerry, and suddenly that’s the focus of all the news in the country. H*ll, it’s even being featured on Charlie Rose tonight. Six days before the election, and John Kerry is the headline! Oops.

In the end, and as usual, I’m with Digby. The media — and Democratic candidates looking to keep their base motivated with their GOTV efforts — should be focusing on stories that symbolize the actual issues of the day. You know, perhaps they should be examining the leadership of the country and the execution of presidential duties during an armed conflict. Like, for example, the President’s decision to surrender control of U.S. troops to a foreign leader and leave a man behind, in the hands of insurgents:

How very convenient for the administration that the press is concentrating on irrelevancies when a story like this breaks, eh?The Maliki government is playing Bush for the cowardly loser he is, apparently threatening him with more bad headlines, so the Americans backed off and left a soldier behind.

But look no further, citizens. John Kerry blew a punchline and that requires a full-on media frenzy. Nothing is more fun and exciting to the kewl kidz than going after a simple meaningless anti-Democrat story that pleases the GOP establishment. Everybody wins. Except the American people, of course. Or that abandoned soldier in Iraq.

So it’s not too late to actually make some good noise about this whole brouhaha, and to expose the weaknesses of the ruling party and its leadership. In fact, I urge the Democrats to seize the high ground here. You do have the truth on your side. Use it.

As for my hopeful brethren who wish to make real change in the country and are fighting to win back government from big money and the tepid, and who were understandably disgusted by your candidates’ reaction to the controversy, take heart. This is a small step backward. Remember, we’re building a movement. We weren’t even supposed to be in the position of threatening to take over both houses of Congress this year. We’re working long term, and we still need to pry the old, hesitant habits from the party.

It’s a learning process. And we’re still a helluva lot better off than we were, say, six months ago. Our candidates aren’t perfect, and they won’t always say the things we want them to. And they’ll make mistakes. So don’t lose faith, because it’s you we depend on, not just the candidates. So let’s keep this thing going.

Update: Kos has an excellent post up on this issue. Read it.

Posted by touchstone

The Missoula City Local Government Study Commission–the woefully conflicted body elected to examine the forms and powers of the city government–has made its recommendations. (Read the insert in the Missoulian for the short, sweet version.) Several of those recomendations are on the ballot on November 7 although some of the most thoughtful and well-reasoned do not take the form of ballot questions, which is why it’s worth looking at the report.

However, with the election coming, the ballot questions are pressing. And the biggest question on the ballot is whether the city council ought to be made up of nine wards instead of six with a single representative from each each instead of the current scheme of double representation. I’m conflicted, but, ultimately, I am voting no.

The main reason is a feeling that we should be conservative in changing the structures of government, being reasonably sure that the consequences have been foreseen as well as possible. The deliberation over this proposal was not thorough; I watched much of it in person. While there was meeting after meeting, there was little actual listening going on. But that’s just process. More importantly, I’m not cure the costs are worth the benefits.

So what are supposed to be the benefits? The primary rationale seems to be that the ratio of citizens to representative will being lower under the new scheme. Doubtless, a lower ratio is preferable but I just don’t see how the difference between representing close to 11,000 and 7,000 people would really lend itself to a much more robust process.

Another advantage of a smaller number of council members relies on social science research to claim that a smaller body would have better group dynamics. I’m skeptical; it seems like the internal dynamics of any particular body has more to do with cohesion and congeniality than exogenous factors like the number of members. Certainly, the LGSC’s own experience as a woefully divided group of seven does not compare favorably with the less tense, though hardly rancorless) council of 12. Also, larger bodies are more likely to have members with some unusual and specific expertise to contribute to the whole. Considering how much work is done in committee, it seems like having a larger number of diverse skills would be an advantage.

Those arguments seem to me to be pretty easy to knock down. Can they really be the reason the LGSC has gone through so much to push the nine ward plan? As I see it, there is a real rationale that has not been plainly stated. Right now, Ward 2 contains both the Northside/Westside and Grant Creek. These are very different neighborhoods with very different needs. They need to be split from one another. Even the Ward 2 councilmen, both from Grant Creek, admit this. But rather than make a recommendation that Council reapportion the wards to account for this, the LGSC went for a wholesale change to the structure of government since this was the only way they could be certain their recommendations would amount to something. In the process, they have introduced features likely to have unintended consequences.

The unintended consequence that concerns me most centers on the enhanced advantage of incumbency in a single-representative system. One of the best things about double representation is that it offers an increased possibility for turnover. Incumbents have a huge advantage in almost any election, and, in municipal elections where name recognition is important, it’s magnified. With one representative per ward, the only way turnover is likely to occur is if the incumbent decides not to run again. With two per ward, there’s a chance every two years that one of the incumbents will let go of power. It is hard enough to get new blood in government; we shouldn’t make it harder without a good reason.

I just don’t see the good reason. And with the process having been such a poor one, making major changes can only serve to increase the bitterness and animosity that came into focus throughout the local government study process. Change should be taken slow, and I don’t see a reason to rush to nine wards.

I’m open to being convinced otherwise, but you’d better do it quick.

–posted by readbetween

Grr. The bitter infighting all around the country in the days leading up to the election is quite irritating, isn’t it? But let’s be honest with one another, shall we? In general, the Republican Party has embarrassed itself and the nation with its overwhelmingly negative slate of campaign strategies.

Take, for example, this Washington Post story: “The Year of Playing Dirtier”:

The result has been a carnival of ugly, especially on the GOP side, where operatives are trying to counter what polls show is a hostile political environment by casting opponents as fatally flawed characters. The National Republican Campaign Committee is spending more than 90 percent of its advertising budget on negative ads, according to GOP operatives, and the rest of the party seems to be following suit.

There are some doozies listed here, an accusation that a Democratic candidate used government phone to call a sex line (a misdial that cost $1.25), connecting a Wisconsin Democrat to a serial killer and rapist (the killer’s attorney also once did work for the candiate), the infamous race-baiting ad insinuating that African-American Democratic candidate Harold Ford has a thing for white women (that’s none of your d*mn business, actually, don’t you think?).

Remember, this report is coming from a traditional media source, which, given its mission to provide “balance” and “objectivity,” worked d*mn hard to come up with some comparable negative campaigning by Democratic candidates. And didn’t come up with much.

One of the more recent attempts was an attempt to smear Virginia Senatorial Democrat Jim Webb by sending salacious excerpts from his novels to GOP lapdog and errand boy, Matt Drudge. Untangling an author from his work is tricky business and reminds me of an old adage circling the writing world (mangled in paraphrase): “Readers think everything is a lie in a book of nonfiction; and in fiction, that everything is true.” Bottom line: the events depicted happened only in the imagination of Jim Webb.

That’s actually an important distinction, because George Allen’s team is trying to “balance” or counter all the bad press that their own candidate has encountered. Judging by the glee that those passages were met with by conservatives, they think they succeeded. Me:

What’s most odd in my opinion about this scandal is that Republicans and their supporters view the passages from Webb’s novel to balance out actual racist misconduct from Senator Allen or actual sexual misconduct from Representative Mark Foley, as if thought should be subject to the same rules, laws, and propriety as action.

Here are some of the allegations against George Allen: He spit on his ex-wife. He threw his brother through a sliding-glass door and dragged his sister up the stairs by her hair. He used a racial epithet against a Webb staffer. He used the word “nigger” frequently in college. He stuffed a severed deer’s head into the mailbox of an African-American family. His campaign staff assaulted a blogger.

You see what I mean? The accusations – some or many perhaps untrue – are all about things Allen actually did. The accusations against Webb are for what he thought — and taken out of context from the setting of novel. (Should George Lucas be held accountable for imaging a dark helmeted intergalactic killer who could strangle people with his mind? Should JRR Tolkien be outcast for conjuring up the eye Mordor?)

It’s funny how much play conservatives get out of the terms “thought police” or “PC,” when it’s more often they who attack unfettered imagination. It’s not just with Jim Webb, it’s in the movement to censor or ban books, film, television, art, even certain political discussion. Basically anything that challenges the conservative ideology.

And you see it in what Dave Neiwert calls “eliminationist rhetoric,” the right-based movement to eliminate all traces of left-leaning activity, presence, or thought from society through shame, legislation, even violence.

But see what happens? If you’re a conservative and you disagree or get disillusioned, you get thrown under the bus and subjected to the same vitriol you helped dish out.

No wonder Montanans are considering Jon Tester for Senator. Many reasonable people think Iraq was a mistake, or has been bungled beyond repair. Many of those people have consistently voted the Republican ticket. And what does the President and his Burnsian lapdog say about these people? They’re traitors.

Here’s a novelty: vote based on the candidates’ actions, not on their rhetoric. I dare you.

Posted by touchstone

I’ll be appearing on Radio Open Source on a show about the Montana Senate race today at 5pm. Other guests include writer Thomas McGuane, University of Montana’s Dennis Swibold, state house Republican leader Michael Lange, and Western Democrat Kari Chisolm:

Just how liberal is Tester, really? He’s pro-choice and pro-environment, but he’s also pro-gun. Definitely not East Coast liberal. But are he and Schweitzer a new breed — “Western Democrats” — or are they just dyed-in-the-wool Montanans? In other words: populists, because Montana Democrats were born in opposition to the the Anaconda Copper Company that controlled Montana — its newspapers, its politics, its industry — for years; and libertarian, because although Montana’s no longer a frontier, it’s still faaaaar away from any kind of big city? You could also imagine, though, that Tester and Schweitzer are bellwethers for the “purpling” of other Western states (the result of big demographic changes).

I don’t believe Radio Open Source is carried by Montana Public Radio, but you can listen to it live at WGBH in Boston.

Update: Ugh. Not my finest hour. I guess it wasn’t bad for my first ever live interview, but it wasn’t until the show was 2/3 over before I figured out I need snappy, short answers to allow the host to ask more questions. Oh well. I was pretty nervous, too.

 Update: The show is archived at Radio Open Source’s website.

Posted by touchstone


Montana kids don Jack Abramoff costumes for Halloween. In other news, Senator Conrad Burns reportedly had his front porch light turned off.

New West’s photo-essay, “A Day with Jon Tester.” Apparently the Burns campaign turned down like exposure. I guess lobbyists don’t photograph too well.

Shane comments on the kind of rhetoric we can expect to hear from President Bush in Billings on Friday.

David Crisp was push-polled by the Burns campaign.

Craig urges to vote against a minimum-wage increase, implying the raise will impact local business and lead to higher unemployment. A quick Google, however, will show that there’s plenty of theory and some evidence to the contrary.

Hello! Even conservative Idaho newspapers are picking the Democratic candidates, Larry Grant and Jerry Brady!

Did Republican candidate for Idaho’s 1st District seat, Bill Sali, fake health symptoms after an accident to pad a lawsuit? His doctor thought so.

And Bill Sali supports Idaho’s proposition 2 – the Howie Rich regulatory-takings initiative – wait! No, he doesn’t! Or, maybe. Depends on who’s asking.

Western Democrat has CNN’s take on the cultivation and creation of Democrats in the interior West.

The Pentagon expands its propaganda wing. Er…is this legal?

So, wait! Iraq really is about the oil? That’s what Bush says, anyway.

Another George Allen scandal brewing?

Blogger Mike Stark to file assault charges against George Allen for allowing his staffers to beat him up for asking the Senator a question.

David Neiwert sees the Allen-goon assault the natural result of the right using eliminationist rhetoric against their liberal opponents. Fed on hate speech and violent imagery, it’s natural that supporters, when backed against the wall, will lash out violently.

Another sex and assault scandal for a Republican incumbent?

A prominent conservative blogger quits the GOP over the myriad and repulsive campaign tactics…and is thrown to the dogs by his – now former – pals. Classy.

Tactics like this one: dressing up an attack mailer as a sex offender notification.

Kossak kamarvt makes a seasonal appeal to the country to put the second string in the game. (Hat tip to Sara.)

More great news for Tester: the Billings Gazette has endorsed the Big Sandy farmer over his Republican opponent, Conrad Burns.


As they point out, Tester led the Montana Dems to do precisely that as President of the Montana Senate. The Gazette reviews a bunch of Tester’s record, basically concluding that someone who lived up to his promises in Montana is more likely to be trusted than Conrad Burns.


In fact, if you know someone who is still undecided…or might not vote because of all the negativity, send them the link to the Gazette article. It’s about positive reasons to prefer Tester–something that I think even the Tester campaign has lost site of in the past few weeks.

Neither have commented on the Great Falls Tribune’s endorsement, but it’s probably more earth-shattering, considering Great Falls’ political leanings. That probably explains why the Tribune danced around the issues that make Montanans despise Burns at a 56 percent clip: corruption and rubber-stamping for President Bush. Instead, they focused on an easy target: Burns’ inability to keep his foot out of his mouth:

More troublesome is that with Burns you also get a tendency to say indiscreet things.Taken individually, those things — from his “raghead” crack to the comment about a Guatemalan worker — aren’t really all that awful. But taken together, they betray an attitude and world view that, in an age of increasing connectivity — and sensitivity — is neither productive nor reflective of prevailing Montana attitudes.

Tester, then, is the anti-Burns:

With state Sen. Tester you get an earnest and articulate man who we see lacking in one main area: seniority. However, his time in the Legislature and in an almost year-long campaign, has demonstrated good sense, a grasp of issues, and priorities that reflect those of mainstream Montana.

If you know Jon Tester, it’s laughable to imagine him as a “tool of East Coast liberals” like Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton, as his critics maintain.

The enormity of these two endorsements for Tester’s hopes is not to be underestimated. Both papers represent regions that Tester needs to do well in, in order to win Burns’ Senate seat. And the Gazette, especially, defined the difference so clearly and so cogently between the two men, that it’s hard to imagine a better:

Tester has pledged that, if elected to the U.S. Senate, he will adhere to stricter ethical standards than Congress requires in reporting and refusing lobbyist gifts. Contrast that with Burns’ decision to celebrate his 71st birthday with a $2,000-per-person party at a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm. Or his choice in September to take the Vonage private jet from D.C. to Bigfork to his annual golf tournament. Nothing illegal in either case, but is that the image Montanans want their senator to present?

For those Montanans who are appalled at the burgeoning national debt, concerned about U.S. foreign policy, alarmed that today’s spending will be paid for by our children and grandchildren and fed up with business as usual in Washington, D.C., Tester is a fresh alternative. Those who want change have an intelligent, hardworking, common-sense choice in voting for Jon Tester.


Still, just as I ripped the Gazette yesterday for pussy-footing around the real divisive issues of the day in its endorsement of Rehberg, I’ll do the same today. Because the election is about more than character – although character is essential to the task at hand – it’s about preserving our liberties and untangling the myriad of scandals, foreign-policy disasters, and bitter partisanship that the Republican Party has cultivated in our garden over the last six years.

Now where will the Missoulian fall? It wouldn’t surprise me if they continue their rightward swing — just as the region is moving left — and choose corruption, pork, and incompetence and Conrad Burns, thumbing its nose at its readership. Luckily the editorial will likely be so poorly written and convoluted, no one will understand it.

Posted by touchstone

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