Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Latest AP ‘Spooky Bad News For Republicans’ Poll

The Associated Press, never known in recent years for objective reporting, has released a poll claiming that nearly two out of three registered voters polled plan to put the Democrats in charge of Congress this fall. This is a rather bold claim, especially given the events of the spring and early summer so far, so I decided to take a look at the poll to see what is going on here. What I found is a lesson as much in assumption as in analysis.

First, the assumptions to correct: A lot of people trust large institutions in the media. As we know from Rathergate, a large corporation may well have unannounced agendas and a permanent bias towards a certain viewpoint. But also, it should be understood that even a biased institution can be useful in determining the public mood. I generally appreciate the CBS/New York Times polls, for example, even though I dispute their conclusions, because they practice a consistent methodology and present internal data for independent review, that is, we bloggers can take apart the poll to decide for ourselves whether it says what they claim. The AP-Ipsos poll is like that. The AP-Ipsos poll is taken roughly once a month, and while selected questions change from one poll to another, certain basic questions are always asked, and the methodology is consistent, which allows me to test their claims using their own data.

I would like to begin, therefore, but noting the stated results and compare it to prior polls by the same group for trends. The poll I am discussing here is Project #81-5139-99, released July 13 2006, for interview dates July 10-12, for one thousand adults, of which 789 reported they were registered to vote. In other words, a slightly less than desired number of registered voters (a thousand is pretty much the starting point for confidence), but in this midterm season not unusual for polling, and the poll was taken over three days, Monday through Wednesday, which is an important detail when we discuss the demographics later. Keep it in mind. But for now, let’s look at the key questions; President Bush’s Job Approval numbers, Job Approval numbers for Congress, the highlighted question of whom voters want to run Congress, and how sure those voters are in that decision.

First, the President’s Job Approval. One thing which I found interesting, was that while the AP touted Bush’s JA as hanging around 36%, they emphasized that it was not moving up very much. Actually, looking at the last year, the AP never showed much movement for Bush. In the past year, the “Strongly Approved” number, which AP marks at 18%, has never been below 15% or above 23%. Adding the “Somewhat Approve” numbers, Bush is at 27%, in a range during the last year between 27% and 33%. Adding in the “Lean Towards Approval” numbers, which brings us to the present 36% from the AP, we see a range in the past year of 32% to 42%. The reason I make a point of this range, is that we see the numbers in a better context. The AP poll has generally held Bush’s JA below that reported by other polls, and so the best measure is not to believe that President Bush is really at 36% approval, but to recognize that his present numbers are not significantly different from the past year, a year which has seen the appointment of two Supreme Court Justices, a solid year of GDP growth, home ownership and job growth, and signal successes in Iraq, including two elections, a constitution and the death or capture of key terrorist leaders. It is not reasonable to not see a bounce from these events. What this means should not be presumed simply from this question, but held to make a total picture.

A key comparison is the Approval for Congress. For example, where President Bush manages 18% “Strong Approval”, the AP reports only a 5% “Strong Approval” for Congress, regardless of party. Like the President’s numbers, the Approval numbers for Congress over the past year have not changed significantly, showing only mild movements in either direction. Like the President, the movement over the past year has been subtle and always within a certain range, which indicates a stable opinion more than a radical change.

With those two points in mind, we move now to the question which the AP touted in its release; the question about who will hold control of Congress this fall. From the headline, it’s no surprise that the AP announced the Democrats are in much better shape for the election than the Republicans. But let’s look closer at that question, and the components of the response.

Question 1a of the ‘Congressional Vote Study’ reads: “If the election for the U.S. House of Representatives were held today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in your congressional district?” Well, that sounds reasonable enough, but as Betsy Newmark observed, there is a clear distinction between the results of a generic question by party, and what happens when real names are added.

Basically, this means either that the generic question fails to measure the impact of the incumbent, or else that the specific races are considered in a much different perspective than a general opinion of the party. Historically, this is no shock; many incumbents go through controversy, even scandal, yet are re-elected over and over again. Also, I would remind the reader that we must keep the demographics of the respondent pool in mind, so this question must be held until we have enough information to establish the veracity of the reported results. In this poll, the AP reported a 51-40 advantage for the Democrats, or an eleven-point margin. What else was interesting, before we move to the internals, is the response to CVS 1b, which asked how strongly the respondent felt about his support. You have to take apart how they phrased it, because the AP took the whole response, Democrat or Republican, then stated strength of support as a percentage of the whole responding a preference for a party, rather than in the original percentage of overall respondents. So, I backed out the numbers and reapplied them as percentages of the overall respondents, which produced this breakdown:

21% Sure to Vote Democrat
15% Sure to Vote Republican
15% Say Democrat But Could Change Mind
14% Probably will Vote Democrat
12% Say Republican But Could Change Mind
11% Probably will Vote Republican
4% Undecided
3% Chose Democrat or Republican but when asked how strong, said Not Sure
3% Support candidate besides Republican or Democrat
2% Support no candidate or will not vote

When seen in this breakdown, it becomes apparent that the responses in each section are much closer than the overall report from the AP, and should be considered by the smaller response pool to be well within the margin of error. The Democrats have an apparent lead, but it is smaller and much less certain. And we have not yet gotten to the respondent demographics.

At first glance, the AP-Ipsos poll appears to only slightly biased towards the Democrats. On page 9, the ‘Party Identification’ claims 28% Republican to 33% Democrat, with 27% Independent and 12% “None of these”. First off, let’s catch that semantics trick. For purposes of a poll about which major party should control Congress, “Independent” is the same as “None of these”, meaning an overweight of non-party identifiers, at 39%. A look at the last two elections for a base reference shows a close parity between the three groups of Republican/Democrat/Other, so that the Republican representation is clearly under-represented and the no-party-identifier is clearly over-represented. This is similar to what is done at the CBS News/NY Times poll and at biased college polls like Quinnipiac; the Census was six years ago, yet the polls refuse to adjust their demographics to match known facts. The excuse most commonly made is that political identification is volatile or an unknown, but again the Census has traditionally been used for this measure for many years; rejecting an inconvenient trend is simply unreasonable. We already know from the results of the last several elections that the increase in Republican support is real, yet many of the major polls resist this fact. So it is important to keep this bias in mind when evaluating results.

But there’s more. A breakdown in the ‘Party Identification’ results by AP shows that heaviest number consider themselves “Moderate”, word which can mean different things in different places. For instance, a “moderate” Republican could mean someone who supports the President in the Iraq War, but not on Abortion, or vice versa. The distinction about what, specifically, is liked or disliked about a party can make all the difference in an actual election.

Next, we come back to the fact that this poll was not taken over the weekend, when the most regular people are available, but during the week when most regular people are at work. That, right there, calls into question the respondent pool. What’s more, when you look at the Demographics section beginning on page 10, you see that the heaviest section by age was from the 18-34 age group, which leans liberal and is the least likely age demographic to actually vote. The poll also noted that 15% of respondents admitted they were unemployed, more than three times the actual unemployment rate for the nation as a whole, again a signal anomaly. Only 35% of the respondents have completed a college degree, which again calls into question the balance of the pool in reflecting the nation’s voting public. And 62% of the respondents do not have children, which is a critical difference from the nation as a whole.

I found it interesting, that the AP claimed a large percentage of Republicans might vote for the Democrat, and so I took a close look at the Regional breakdown. Again, you have to pay close attention – the poll broke down into Northeast, Midwest, South, and West, but failed to note, for example, whether ‘South’ included the whole range of states or just places like Atlanta and Miami, which are distinctly different from, say, Biloxi and Tulsa, or whether ‘West’ meant the whole West, or just focused on California and the Pacific Coast. The vagueness of the terms is suspicious, especially when one notes that only 19% of the respondents were from “rural” locations. So the AP stayed within the lines, but drawing very careful lines indeed.

So, in summary, what to make of the claim that the House of Representatives is “likely” to fall into the hands of the Democrats? I don’t buy it. Consider what we know:

1. The AP poll is based on demographics known to be at significant variance with the 2000 U.S. Census and the last two national election demographics.

2. The poll created a separate category of party descriptor to hide the overcount of no-party identifiers

3. The demographics of this poll weighed heavily on the responses of classes of the population which are historically unlikely to vote

4. 21% of the responses regarding the election were included from people who admit they are not even registered to vote, yet the poll did not list the results from only the registered voters as a comparison

5. The numbers for approval do not appear to respond significantly to even major events of political interest, in either direction, which raises the question of how interested in politics the respondent poll really is.

6. The poll only touches generic party preferences, which in the past have often proved to be unreliable as a predictor of specific races

I leave to the reader, to consider the balance of reporting, and any embedded bias, from the political reporting by the Associated Press in recent years, but recommend its addition to weighing the reported results of their poll. I commend the AP’s consistency and transparency in reporting the results of this poll, but cannot agree with the claims made in the release.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Short History of Modern Political Madness

Liberals hate President George W. Bush. And I don’t just mean they would prefer to have someone else in office, I mean the kind of mind-burning, acid-laced venom that doesn’t just approach the limits of madness, but jumps the barrier and plunges deep into the obscene dimensions of psychosis. From a personal perspective it can be quite unsettling to see an otherwise thoughtful and engaging individual devolve into a slogan-chanting paranoid in mere seconds after the name of the President is invoked. It’s like something from “The Exorcist”. It should be understood that strong emotions have played a role in American Politics since its beginning, especially on the national stage, but the present condition is far more pervasive and serious in its ramifications. The 2006 and 2008 elections will likely be the meanest and dirtiest in memory. This is because of two key trends; the sharp increase in post-election partisanship, and the terminal decline in political power of the Democratic Party.

Richard Nixon is not commonly thought of as a noble and idealistic man, yet he personally averted a constitutional crisis in 1960 by accepting the clearly flawed outcome of the Presidential election. I say “clearly flawed”, because even then it was apparent that the battleground states of Illinois and Texas were all marred by what can charitably be called an irregular process which favored Kennedy. The fifty-one electoral votes of those two states made all the difference in the election, and there is no doubt that whether he could have won those states, Nixon certainly could have damaged the credentials of the Kennedy Administration by pressing his case. At the very least there were significant grounds for recounts in those states. I mention this incident for three reasons – first, times were different then, and Nixon understood, as later challengers failed to perceive, that even if he could somehow have won those states and the election, such a win would never be seen as anything but a dishonorable grab. Next, because Democrats were in firm control of the political machinery in Illinois and Texas, there was no real chance, even with the evidence at hand, that the decision could be reversed. And finally, Nixon understood that he still had a political future, and what he did now would set the stage for his own Administration. In retrospect, Nixon preemptively removed most challenges to his own victory in 1968.

Unfortunately, there was lingering bitterness from the election. Many Republicans believed that JFK was in no way as qualified to lead as Nixon, and so the consensus that after the election, the President should be supported unless clearly wrong, was no longer possible. JFK is so elevated in the common mind today, that many people do not realize that he was often at odds with Congress and the Press of his day. Jack Kennedy’s charm allowed him to make use of television for key addresses and so on, but the day to day newspaper reporting was not so sure a territory.

Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 victory over Barry Goldwater was the last time a Democrat soundly thumped a Republican in a landslide, and the reason is there is you look for it. First, LBJ was not reluctant at all to use dirty tricks, best demonstrated by the infamous “Daisy” commercial which, while it only ran once, came to illustrate the false insinuation that a Goldwater Administration would mean nuclear war. While effective in the short term, such tactics leave an aftertaste most people wish to avoid. Next, LBJ ran in 1964 basically on the theme of continuing the JFK legacy; with Kennedy dead less than a year before, there was a natural lingering sympathy for his Vice-President to “carry on” his work, even though we now know that Johnson and Kennedy hated each other bitterly and held sharp difference of opinion on many issues. At the time, however, Johnson was able to bring all Democrats together, and while he polarized the election by demonizing Goldwater, since the nation was strongly Democrat in allegiance and spirit in 1964, such polarization worked to Johnson’s gain.

That could not hold, and it fell apart quickly. First of course was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which Johnson actually signed shortly into his term in 1965. It was not simply the Act, however, so much as the way in which Johnson attempted to dictate terms to the Southern states, which alienated the President from a significant portion of his party. Next, of course, was Vietnam – Johnson’s political decisions on that issue were uniformly bad, from supporting a regime known to be corrupt by any standard, to increasing troop numbers without the necessary logistics to support them, to interfering with campaign operations in order to tie politics to war to diplomacy. And then there was the “Great Society”, Johnson’s absurd belief that you could end Poverty, Racism, and Social Injustice if you threw enough money at the problem. LBJ lost both the moderate Democrats and the Conservative Democrats by 1967, and when he declared he would not run for re-election, it was a tacit admission that he knew he could not win another term. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Johnson still held a potent weapon in his hand – petulance – and he used it to jab at various Democrat candidates until the nominee, Hubert Humphrey, was chosen, at which time LBJ delivered a lukewarm endorsement and sulked in the Oval Office until the Inauguration of his successor, Richard Nixon. So it was that in 1968 the Democrats created a new Factionalism in party politics, with sharp distinctions between the ends of their party spectrum, and both ends played against the center. Democrats continued to enjoy success in Congressional elections, but they had created a compound fracture in their national leadership. If Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated, perhaps the Democrats would have seen fit to address their condition from a position of power and authority, but with the loss to Nixon, the Democrats fell to a condition of each faction presuming it alone held the key to success.

The Watergate scandal was a godsend for the Democrats, and completely destroyed the measure of the 1972 Presidential Election. Democrats made a serious mistake in that oversight, for while they were savvy enough to avoid presenting someone like George McGovern, a typical liberal Senator, in 1976, choosing instead the much more amiable southern Governor Carter, they failed to understand the reasons for McGovern’s disastrous campaign. In addition, because the Republicans seemed in absolute disarray, the Democrats saw no need to address the concerns from those not in power in their own party. Four years later, this backfired as the “Reagan Democrats” helped change the nation’s course.

Like Jack Kennedy, Ronald Reagan is held in such high esteem by most Americans that people do not easily remember how viciously he was pilloried in the press. Democrats were furious that despite majorities in both chambers of Congress, they could not suppress the optimistic and persuasive “Great Communicator”. The seemingly natural manner in which Reagan spoke directly to the hearts and priorities of Americans stunned Democrats, who could only respond by choosing the opposite direction, best exemplified by the unimaginative and always-depressed Walter Mondale as the Democrat nominee for the White House in 1984. Mondale was thoroughly trounced, especially in the Electoral College, where he only carried his home state of Minnesota, though he did also manage to claim D.C.’s three electoral votes. Another way Reagan was like Kennedy, was that he was a natural for television, easily able to ignore juvenile barbs and jibes and show himself the better man. After losing with Carter and again with Mondale, the Democrats tried again in 1988 with the peculiar Michael Dukakis. Dukakis appeared ideal on paper; with the Cold War over in Liberal minds, it seemed only natural to turn to an economic expert, as the Democrats considered Dukakis.

I should note here that Democrats have increasingly trusted their nomination to someone they believe to be exceptionally intelligent. Stevenson was known to be an intellectual, Carter held a Doctorate in Nuclear Physics, and Mondale and Dukakis were considered experts in economics and social policy. Considering the actual track record in elections, this is a strange predilection, but it is a constant, and the image of academic superiority is likely to be a factor in the Democratic nomination for several campaigns to come.

The Democrats also understood something that Vice-President Bush did not; that the ‘Reagan Democrats’ had not necessarily become Republicans, or if they had it was a new enough loyalty that they might be turned back. As it happened, this belief proved correct for Democrats, but not in the 1988 Election, where Dukakis failed to appeal to Southerners and in the Heartland. Seeing the Republicans take the last three straight Presidential elections, and five of the last six, created a real fear in Democrat strategies: Had the GOP secured a permanent hold on one leg of the government? This fear created a partial soul-searching, which led directly to a win in the Presidential election, but which failed to consider the dangers in the Congressional balance.

Whatever one thinks of Bill Clinton, it must be understood that he proved a master of election strategy. While it should be understood that the media campaign against President Bush began independently of the Democrats’ moves, Clinton directed a unified campaign which drew broad Democrat support for its unity of a simple purpose – to get the White House back in Democrat hands. While other candidates announced their campaigns early, Clinton took his time to assemble a background and foundation of money and commitment. He had policy wonks, economic experts, and for the campaign both media experts and dirty tricks goons like James Carville and Craig Livingstone. Of course Clinton supporters would be quick to remind people of Lee Atwater’s work to get the first Bush elected President in 1988, and many others would explain that a key feature of LBJ’s 1964 landslide was muddying the reputation of his opponent. Certainly the theme of “nice guys finish last” was dominant in the Clinton camp of 1992, as the former Attorney General from Arkansas proved he remembered the old maxim – when you can’t argue the law or the facts, attack your opponent. This not only fueled Republican resentment, when Clinton successfully blew a small recession into a claim of economic negligence against President Bush and gained the lead in the summer before the election, but Clinton’s success led many leading Democrats to believe in the power of personal assault for political gain.

The harsh tactics of the Clinton campaign came back to hurt Clinton, however. When he began to roll out his initiatives after being elected, Clinton discovered he could not find bridges to the people in Congress he needed to reach – he had burned those bridges in the effort to win the election. And the public was less than happy with Clinton, even from the start – Bill Clinton’s “honeymoon” as President-elect was a lot like the start of Richard III’s reign. It seems telling that there were more assassination attempts against President Clinton than any President before him or since. I hardly support the acts of madmen, but it is troubling to count the sharp increase in actual attempts of violence against a President.

But, troubled reign or not, Clinton was the Democrat’s President and they needed him, especially after the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in the 1994 Midterm elections. Democrats failed to understand, much less accept, that the shift in demographics was leading to the change in House control, and so their tone became increasingly strident and bitter. After Clinton was re-elected in 1996, things on both sides only got worse. Republicans were angry that Clinton won another term, though the decision to nominate Robert Dole, who was as unappealing a candidate as Dukakis or Mondale had been in their turns. And Democrats were angry, because they had failed to retake the House. Back and forth the noise went, until in late 1998 a House Committee drafted an Impeachment inquiry against President Clinton. The question about Clinton’s conduct ripped the nation into partisan camps. Later that year, reflecting the overwhelming public mood, the House of Representatives impeached President Clinton by a vote of 228 to 206 on Article 1, Perjury, declined 205 for to 205 against on Article 2, Perjury, and impeach Clinton 221 to 212 on Article 3, Obstruction of Justice, but not on Article 4, Abuse of Power, which failed by a vote of 148 for, 285 against. The mood of the public proved fickle, however, so that the Senate felt a chill in the desire to actually convict Bill Clinton and remove him from office. In the actual Senate vote, Article 1 failed by a 45 convict, 55 acquit count, and Article 3 by a 50-50 split. One cannot help but wonder what effect the events might had on History, had Vice President Gore been made President on a Clinton conviction in the Senate. While the Democrats would have been even more furious, it would have allowed Gore to run as the incumbent, and completely free from any emotional connection to the Clinton Administration. In the actual case, of course, Al Gore had to decide whether to embrace or reject Bill Clinton and everything he would mean in the upcoming election. By this time Gore was sure he would be the Democrats’ nominee, and he was equally certain that Texas Governor George W. Bush would be the Republicans’ choice. Many on the Right were already talking about running Bush in order to ‘get revenge’ on Clinton’s tricks against the elder Bush.

The Impeachment of President Clinton became a strange phenomenon in 2000; no one wanted to talk about it. Small wonder – no one knew how the public felt about it. In the fall of 1998, the public was demanding Clinton’s head, but by mid-winter they felt sorry for Bubba. Would bringing up the Impeachment mean Republicans could remind the public that the Democrats had sullied the office? Or could Democrats bring up the Impeachment to show the Republicans as hateful and unstable? Or would the public be offended if Gore was linked to something he never did? Or would Gore look hypocritical for defending Clinton instead of demanding his party clean up their mess? It was very hard to say, so it became a silent factor, something everyone knew was an influence but never talked about.

Both sides found new reason to be furious with their opponent in 2000. Republicans were furious that Gore dropped a cheap-trick DUI allegation the weekend before the election, and that he withdrew his concession on the election night. Republicans were also furious that Gore’s campaign pulled every possible move to win, including working to disallow active-duty overseas servicemen’s votes and directly break the Florida State Constitution in order to manipulate a contrived recount. Democrats were furious that the Florida Secretary of State certified the election by the letter of the law, and that the Bush campaign went to the United States Supreme Court when the Florida Supreme Court went Gore’s way. By the time the decision was final, Democrats were bloodthirsty for revenge, and so began a long campaign of character assassination against Bush.

This is one reason why the Democrats cannot accept the meaning of 9/11. It’s not just that they would have to let go of hating President Bush in order to let him do his job, it’s also that National Security, an issue which has not been a Democrat strong suit since FDR was in office, would suddenly become the cornerstone of any Federal election and more, would bring security philosophy to the fore in the confirmation of any federal judge or SCOTUS nominee. It would fundamentally shift the course of American History, and worst of all, it would be in line with the demographic development of the United States, essentially guaranteeing continued wins by the Republicans as the candidates run their platforms now. ‘Death before dishonor’ goes the saying, and the Democrats apparently would rather see the nation in peril than their political position. Of course, they have learned from the last few years about how they speak and act, and so while Democrats are quick to agree that we are in a time of crisis, they are just as quick to point fingers at the elected officials, in a desperate attempt to use their own denial of reality in order to improve their election results.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

People Who Just Refuse To Think

Soccer players are stupid. Actually, that’s not true – Soccer is a great game with a lot of history and athleticism, but it is played at the professional level by a large number of boors and morons, whose behavior is excused by equally boorish and stupid fans.

As an example, take the latest dust-up in international sports; the deliberate head-butting of Italy’s Marco Materazzi by France’s Zinedine Zidane. Zidane acted in what might be excused as a moment of hot emotion, but in his public “apology”, Zidane said he has no regrets. He'd do it again, just the same way.

That’s what a boor says. That’s what a moron says. A boor, because Soccer is a game played as much through teamwork and finesse as force and individual skill, as a representative of your team and country more than just thinking of yourself. Zidane’s head-but was a vulgar representation of French sportsmanship, especially as Zidane is a captain – I note that France has not stripped him of that title, which implies support for such conduct. French culture is not all it pretends to be, I guess. And Zidane is a moron on oh, so many levels. First off, while American athletes can be and are total jerks at times, even they understand that you try not to do stupid fouls where the referee can see it, and especially not at critical moments. I have known pitchers who really wanted to hit a batter – one of my personal most-hated cheap shots – but waited until several games later, simply because they did not want to give the other team an advantage in a game, or be that obvious in front of a wary umpire. Deliberately head-butting someone in a tie game, with not only an official watching but a worldwide broadcast, with the whole world title on the line, is incredibly stupid and selfish. I wonder how many of the French team feel that Zidane might have done better to use his vaunted athleticism for the team instead of his pride?

But there’s more. Today’s little stunt just underlined Zidane’s name in every FIFA official’s mind. He’s a ‘man before he’s a footballer’ eh? That just about puts every future bump, trip or contact with a rival player in a different focus. What Zidane did by tossing out that comment, was the professional equivalent of throwing the finger to a policeman; it’s not illegal, but he’s just guaranteed the kind of attention and scrutiny which can only work against him. The only words to describe that kind of career are synonymous with selections referring to a severely diminished mental capacity.

In my years as an official, I cringed whenever some pro jock pulled an unsportsmanlike stunt like that, because I knew that the kids would copy the same behavior in the youth leagues – it was cool and appropriate in their minds, because their heroes did it, whether ‘it’ was trash-talking, fistfights over words, or risking debilitating injuries in order to get in a cheap shot. Zidane can take pride, I am sure, of the influence he has in degrading the level of play on the field. Zidane did it, and so many little children playing Soccer will follow his lead, especially seeing as how he made sure to defend his foul as some kind of a noble act, putting personal pride well above any strength of restraint or character. I hope he soon comes to understand just how petty and little he showed himself to be.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The White Rabbit Poll

Gallup’s latest offering shows President Bush back at 40% Job Approval. Many people are likely to take this news to indicate that the Bush Administration has been doing something to improve his image, maybe making changes to “unpopular” positions he has taken. The MSM may be relied upon to pursue this interpretation, for a number of reasons, including the sad fact that few television or print journalists do much more than read copy from the wire. But a closer look at his policies and actions demonstrates that President Bush has been consistent. What then pulls his numbers back to middling acceptability? Spin, actually.

To look at it another way, if you have ever been out in a boat, you will note that waves crash a certain way against a rock. The rock of course is not moving at all, but the kind and size of waves which splash against and over it will vary quite a bit. This is because of things like the tide, boats in the water, and so on. Few people are foolish enough to claim that the rock must be making the motion. To some degree, the press may be forgiven for looking for motion from President Bush, since they got used to eight years of Dancing For The Polls during the Clinton years, but when 2006 policies and doctrines are almost exactly the same as they were in 2002, it’s a bit odd to pretend that the course has been altered.

Just a reminder; ‘Alice In Wonderland’ could be a political documentary of how facts get spun, to say nothing of opinion.

The Way Elections Work

Robert Novak, apparently worried that his hold on “Whiniest Columnist On The Right” was in danger, released a column yesterday which is so far from Reality that someone ought to buy the poor slob a political Key Map. In a screed titled “Losing and Not Knowing It”, Novak basically claims that Republicans are in serious danger of losing one or both chambers of Congress, specifically because the GOP Leadership is not doing things the Novak Way. Well, I certainly expect such egotistical grumbling from people named Dean or Schumer, but Novak is well off base to pretend that his claims actually prove the case here. What I mean, is not only that I find Novak’s issue positions ludicrous as political terrain, but more that he has demonstrated a rather poor grasp of how elections work. At his age and experience, this is a sad thing for him to show.

Essentially, Novak is trying to argue that unless the Republicans follow the lead of men like Lindsey Graham they are doomed. Americans demand an end to Earmarks cries Novak. Actually, while I personally would like to see them end, no Mister Novak, there is no groundswell to end them, nor will a single Republican lose his seat on that issue, in large part because no Democrat shows any inclination to deal with that problem. The target, Mr. Novak, is this way – you have managed to shoot your foot.

Novak then cites the impending defeats of what he considers key Republicans. But Novak does not support his charges, and several of his claims are untrue. Either Novak is not paying attention, or he is lying. Pressing his claims beyond reason, Novak concludes, again on no evidence but his say-so, “a six-seat takeover capturing the Senate is possible.” Well sure, ‘possible’ but not at all likely, especially since Novak never bothered to notice how many Democrats are less than cozy in their seats.

There are basically two components to any election; how people feel about the specific candidate, and how they feel about the party. Ask the Democrats, for instance, how smart they feel about getting a court to require Delay stay on the ballot, now that Delay is considering making a run for his seat? Is a well-known and popular Republican leader better than a no-name GOP candidate? Oh yeah, youbetcha. So the first clear error in Novak’s column, is that he ignores the personal characteristics of the candidates. The possibility that people are sick of DeWine and Chafee, for example, is because they are self-serving hypocrites rather than simply the Republican nominees, is something Novak misses. On the other hand, his assumption that Santorum and Kyl are in trouble just because a few media polls taken in mid-summer in mostly metropolitan areas say they are in tight races, rather misses the focus of those races. I mean, I know it can be tough Mister Novak, but you might want to consider that the good people of Arizona see things a bit differently than say, New York? And Pennsylvania is very unlike Massachusetts, in that they have demonstrated the ability to consider an individual on his own merits – they don’t need to be told by some party boss who to vote for. Novak is assuming groupthink, which is not nearly as common as he seems to expect. Maybe he’s been around the NY and LA Times crowd too long?

The other component is the party loyalty card. This really should not be a news flash to Novak, but he seems to have forgotten that Republicans almost always vote for Republicans, and Democrats almost always vote for Democrats. That’s not only how losers like Ted “Jabba” Kennedy stay in office for life, but also why even clearly unqualified candidates manage to claim a respectable chunk of the Popular Vote. The difference comes down to the individual, as I mentioned before, but also turnout. If more from one part show up than from the other party, that decides the race. In 1994, Republicans got charged up and took the House. For the Donks to claim either chamber, no matter how execrably bad the GOP incumbents perform, the Democrats must present a winning alternative. As much as Novak may pretend, the challenger does not win by default – ever. This is not always a good thing, as it makes it hard to weed out the losers in our own part during the primaries, and it adds to that despicable sense of contempt for the public by established office-holders. But for Novak to pretend that tenure is not a key factor in every election is just stupid.

Can the Democrats take one or both chambers of Congress? While I do not think it will happen, I certainly agree we must work to not be complacent, and we have to whip our party into hearing us. But tripe like this column from Novak only muddies the water, and works against correcting the problem.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Democrat Will Be President Again

… only when he remembers and honors his country and its defenders more than his personal politics.

(thanks to Falcon’s Crest)

What The Missiles Meant

All right, I admit it was fun watching missile after missile plunge into the drink, with the inevitable if sophomoric references to Kim’s apparent inability to ‘get it up’. I also rather liked Japan and South Korea make clear statements that demonstrated a clear determination to address the matter with something more substantial than diplomatic protests. But I must pour cold water on some of the cheering going on, and not for the reasons some might expect. What I mean is, we need to look at the hidden danger from this exhibition, and prepare for the next act in this drama. There will be blood before this is over, I fear.

First, the obvious threat. Despite the fact that his missile tests were strange and apparently a complete failure, North Korea still possesses fissionable material. And despite the variances of different methods for detonating such weapons, it is still possible to create a chain reaction simply by smacking radioactive material against itself if it has critical mass. Even Kim’s boys can manage that much, and it hardly matters to our side whether he hits the intended target – any nuclear detonation and fallout is a bad thing.

But there is more. Two more, to be precise – Anyone with a knowledge of recent history understands that North Korea doesn’t do anything without the implicit approval or direct command of Communist China. China can take over North Korea anytime it wants to, and Kim knows that. So there is zero chance – none at all – that Kim Jong Il would have fired his missiles if he had any doubt about China’s reaction. After all, China is much closer to North Korea than any other major country, and would seem to have the most to fear from a nuclear-armed lunatic on its border.

One wonders, then, why Kim would have fired his missiles? He hardly needed to in order to pose a threat to the West, and the non-response from Beijing gave away a strong hint of their position on the matter. The answer lies in the course of those missiles: Japan.

Most westerners today do not think of Japan as a threat. This is hardly surprising, since Japan supplies the West with many desirable products, always speaks as though it loves and wants to advance Western values, and stands with us in times of crisis. For the most part, all this is true, excepting the facts that Japan still has an Emperor and is the most racist nation on earth. Japan was once thought to be a threat to achieve regional hegemony, however, and was thwarted not by humility, but actually by its opposite. Japan never got around to making a real effort to apologize to the Koreas, China, the Philippines, and other Pacific countries for World War 2, and that racist agenda they have shown in all affairs, government or business or social, since they discovered the rest of the world was not Japanese. But while Japan never ruled Asia, it always held a big chunk of it, through outright control and a lot of influence. All those nations I mentioned looked at Japan, and wondered what if things got out of control, like they did when the Prime Minister was named ‘Tojo’?

American Presidents have been remarkably deferential to Asian governments over the years, especially to China. Nixon radically changed doctrine, effective recognizing Beijing's regime and dis-recognizing Taiwan's, in order to gain Mao's support for a treaty which reined in the Soviet Union. Carter all but surrendered American interests in Southwest Asia, and did so completely in Southeast Asia. Even Reagan chose to be circumspect in confonting Beijing, pursuing a course of opening trade which is still the preferred method of international acquisition by China. And of course, the first President Bush was shamefully mild in his rebuke for atrocities like the slaughter in Tienamen Square. Finishing the string, and worst of all, was Clinton's pandering deals, which advanced China's missile technology and nuclear threat in such swindles as the LORAL deal. Things changed with George W. Bush, especially after 9/11.

Most people do not recall the early crisis caused when a PRC fighter jet collided with a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane. Several days of intense negotiation resulted in no additional loss of life, with both sides able to save face. Also, from the beginning of his Administration, President Bush has advocated multi-lateral talks regarding North Korea, a mature perspective which has only recently been discovered by other parties and the media. The Bush initiatives in Asia have been frankly far more masterful and subtle than most people in the United States understand.

China, however, is well aware of the strategic significance of Bush's moves, and has discovered that the United States has fenced in most of China's desired moves. China is growing as an industrial power, but is already facing a resource crisis, and needs to expand its territory, a dilemma Tom Clancy foresaw in his novel, "The Bear and The Dragon"*. What Clancy failed to perceive, however, is that China would prefer the softer appearance, having cultivated the image of a non-aggressive power in order to gain influence as a regional arbitrator and accepted interdictor in crisis situations. Consequently, rather than depend on its military, a dice roll at best which would cost China decades of diplomatic initiatives, Beijing would rather rely on treaties, contracts and commercial initiatives.

Don't laugh. While many Americans were up in arms about a company from the United Arab Emirates having a contract to manage paperwork at a few U.S ports, most people never realized that PRC front companies already managed a number of major U.S. seaports, and had negotiated to buy the Long Beach West Coast Container Port outright. Similar deals were made throughout the Pacific to acquire rights to facilities, tools and raw materials. Such a deal resolved the thorny question of drilling for oil in waters claimed by Vietnam. The sudden infusion of iron into the American spine, therefore, allows the Bush Administration to block Chinese advances and expansion, while maintaining a cordial appearance. This created a dilemma for Beijing, which it appears to be trying to resolve through the use of an especially stupid puppet.

Kim Jong Il finds himself in a very bad way. The nuclear weapons he had hoped would force other nations to give in to his demands, have instead led to a drop in aid offered to North Korea. Kim is discovering that he has, in fact, no standing at all - the Americans consider him a useless liar in talks, and China is using him as a pawn. And he has no choice but to play by the rules given to him. Which means that when China wanted to find out if the U.S. had already deployed the new generation of Patriot missiles to Japan, the best way was to launch then abort so that the missiles would light up interceptor radars, but not provoke an actual response. In addition, the unexpected destruction of the Korean missiles would be seen as confirmation of Pyongyang's crude technical limits, making diplomacy more attractive and pressing the Americans to make a deal. It also allowed Beijing to tweak Japan, while maintaining the appearance of an innocent, or better still, a sincere negotiator trying to rein in a madman.

This explains Koizumi's anger and insistence on sanctions. Aware of the game being played by Beijing, he cannot respond directly to Beijing, so instead he plays along but demands that North Korea be punished. The missiles flew over Japanese sea and land, after all. But the move was double-edged. On the one hand, provoking Japan makes China look more reasonable in the Pacific arena, and Japan more militaristic, but it also drives Japan further into the American camp. It remains to be seen whether setting itself across the table from the Americans, is a wise move or not on the larger measure by Beijing.

* Correction - I am advised by Harold Hutchison, that the correct title to Clancy's novel is "The Bear and The Dragon". I had it backwards.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Why We Have Already Won In Iraq, Yet Can Still Lose

Denial is a common trait of the Left. This is especially true when one considers the War in Iraq. By historical norms and the stated objectives, Iraq is a “win” for the United States, but is still an unstable nation whose control could fall into the wrong hands. The stakes are critical, not so much in the negative sense, as Iraq in the hands of a despot would be no different than conditions prior to the invasion and there are many nations just as bad as Saddam was. The positive aspects of a successful establishment of a democratic republic in Iraq, however, are quite significant and establish a significant foundation for future developments in other regional states.

Winnng a war takes more than simply accomplishing the initial objectives, and there is more than the military plane to consider, as well. But for this article, the military plane is the most appropriate starting point. And the military goals are clearly known:

- Remove Saddam Hussein from power, as well as the Baath Party

- Cut off supplies and support for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Iraq

- Prevent escape by key leaders of Al Qaeda to other countries hostile to the West

- Cut off communications between Al Qaeda cells and offices

- Defeat guerilla operations through fluid and adaptive tactics.

These goals have all been accomplished to at least half their ideal. The Baath Party, which once held Iraq in an iron grip, is completely removed from power or influence in Iraq. Saddam, of course, sits in a cell with no effective prospects to hope for an improvement. Al Qaeda has lost well over 95% of its leadership and more, more than 90% of its supplies; it is also noteworthy that those individuals disposed to join a terrorist group, are not inclined to join Al Qaeda. Its numbers have been in constant decline for more than eighteen months now. The one good thing about revealing the NSA’s phone monitoring program, is the psychological impact of terrorists discovering that they have no electronic means of trustworthy communications, which effective cuts the remaining lines of command and control over cells and action units; this makes planning more cumbersome and slows everything from reconnaissance through execution, while increasing the risk of local interdiction through nominal counteractions.

Most impressive, and least heralded in the media, have been the Coalition efforts to defeat the guerilla actions. The initial plan for Saddam was to combine conventional military action with unconventional guerilla fighting – to attack from everywhere and disappear into the population, a la the Viet Cong. The Americans, however, have hardly stood around doing nothing since Vietnam, and Saddam was a great fool to think that the average Iraqi would not eventually understand that his best chances for freedom and success lay with the Coalition instead of the terrorists. The conversion of the population was gradual, for a number of sensible reasons, but in the end has led to confidence not only that the Americans will keep their word, but that the new Iraqi government is a truly sovereign government, which means that there is hope for the time when Americans no longer call the shots. Yes, there are still spots where former Baath party members and supporters of Saddam struggle to retain the control they once enjoyed, and there are still pockets of resistance to the radical notion of civilian self-rule and universal suffrage. But these are on the decline, and have become isolated from each other. The very fact that the most common acts against the Iraqi government and Coalition forces are near-random bombings and sporadic acts against individuals, demonstrates that there is no comprehensive plan by the terrorists remaining – they have fallen back from a plan to disrupt Coalition operations and decay morale, to simply running for their lives.

The best comparison might be made to the IRA. Yeah, those guys. The good news is that the Irish, whether North or South, have had quite enough of the cruelty and barbarism of the IRA, and have come to regard the existing Irish government as legitimate, whether or not they are pleased with all of its actions. The IRA are worse than outcasts, they are obsolete. But the IRA still exists, stubbornly refusing to accept reality. And there is the caution for Iraq. If America abandons Iraq by pulling too many troops out, or too fast, then the terrorists will be allowed to survive in greater strength than is healthy for Iraq. This must not be allowed, for many reasons critical to everyone concerned.

The Left thinks that we may best support the troops by bringing them home. This, of course, is simplistic and fails to understand why an army exists in the first place. But the Left has been stunning in its ignorance of both History and the development of Military Doctrine. There will, to be blunt, be a garrison left in Iraq. The Left will howl at this, of course, but then these are the hypocrites who have not complained about the garrison we still maintain in Bosnia, which action never received specific Congressional approval like Iraq did, or even the bases we maintain in Germany and Japan. Of course, there could even be said to be a network of garrisons in the Southern United States, seeing as they date back to just after the Civil War. Would ‘bring them home’ include never again sending New Yorkers to train in North Carolina or Georgia or Texas? Hmmm.

In short then, we need to stay on course. The war is won, but as things stand the bad guys would love to try their luck again if they found a weaker defender in the Oval Office. Just something else to think about this fall.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


In an earlier post, I mentioned Integrity. It’s not a common word, and when it is used, it is most often used incorrectly, to praise someone using a word which means something other than what they think. Integrity is basically defined as wholeness, as in you maintain the identity of who you are. It is a critical component not only to honorable action, but to personal development. That is, as one teacher put it, Integrity is not that you do no wrong – everyone makes mistakes – but that when you do make a blunder, you own up to it and make things right. That is rare, and that is precious.

Fame is a terrible thing. I don’t mean ‘terrible’ as in bad or really poor, but in the sense that it changes a person, not often for the better. And famous people are very unwilling to admit they have made mistakes, and even less willing to change course in their stated opinions and decisions. I did a lot of reading about what happened at Enron, Worldcom, and other famous business disasters, and one common trait was the refusal at the top to admit there was a problem. And it just gets worse when you look at Politics.

Up to this point, I don’t think I have written anything which would strike folks as unreasonable, but don’t worry I am getting there. What I mean is, when people think about ‘stubborn’ and ‘unreasonable’, they usually have someone else in mind. And that means, of course, that the President is inclined to believe that Congress and the Courts are the problem in accomplishing significant progress, while Congress is inclined to blame the President and the Courts, and the Supreme Court’s latest flight from rational deliberation shows that they, in their turn, believe that the White House and the Congress are the problem. And all three branches possess massive resources and power to pursue their opinion to great lengths. It seems almost an impossible logjam, and there are numerous historical examples where just such conditions have existed. To my mind therefore, the signal indicator of moral superiority and personal integrity is the willingness to work with the other branches. And the sole branch which has exhibited this indication is focused on one man, President George W. Bush.

Maybe you won’t believe it, but this President is one of the best in our history. I say this, because greatness in a President often shows up in how he handles a crisis. Washington accomplished a great deal as President, but he is forever remembered first as the man who won the Revolution. Lincoln is not hailed for how he addressed fiduciary concerns or interstate commerce, but as the man who held the nation together during the Civil War. And President Bush will be remembered for how he responded to 9/11, long after the spittle-laced stories spread by his enemies have been forgotten. This is not say that being a ‘War President” is a sure ticket to greatness; Eisenhower did a fine job during World War 2, but is not commonly thought of as a great President, and none of the three Presidents connected with Vietnam saw glory because of it. But those Presidents who handle the crisis well, show character and leadership which is present in their other decisions.

Bush has come under fire in his second term for a variety of controversies. These were generally thrown out from the Left, but more recently he has found himself isolated because he thought further than the common mind, and reached a different and better decision. In the cases of the Miers-then-Roberts SCOTUS pick, the Dubai Ports deal, and the Immigration issue, Bush was far more amenable to discussion and considered evaluation, than anyone else involved in the process. Both the Congress and the Courts may be said to have made “knee jerk” reactions, especially in their public statements. In all three cases, the virtue and wisdom of Bush’s course was roundly rejected, so he regrouped and applied efforts to reach a consensus. Where that effort was successful, it is interesting to note that the groups so approached by the President accepted his flexibility, but claimed credit for it themselves. It is again telling that the President has shown no desire to feed his ego, but simply moves on to the next task at hand.

The President is a man of integrity. He is certainly not perfect, but he is whole, which is more than many can claim.