Friday, October 22, 2004

Why We Read The Bleat

Laura Bush will always be, in the public imagination, The Librarian. Even for Democrats, who like to fantasize that behind her smile lurks a curious, even progressive ally, their spy in the White House, reading with her Itty Bitty book light in bed late into the night.

Uh – wha? Do they actually fantasize that she stays up late reading subversive literature?

“What’re you reading, Laur.”

“Oh, the Vagina Monologues.”

“Don’t bother. We’re gonna win Vagina and West Vagina this year ZZZZZZ.”

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Separating Church and Your Convenience

Earlier in the week John Kerry canceled his plans to attend a West Virginia church service when his campaign was told that any discussion of politics was off-limits. Sadly, it's not at all uncommon for a politician to take the pulpit and transform a Sunday morning service into a political rally. We've seen video of such occurences on C-SPAN and in campaign-documenting documentaries (that sounded redundant!), and frankly, it always leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths. Just as we're not big fans of the Catholic Church telling us it's a sin to vote for a particular candidate, we consider services at a church or synagogue or mosque to be a safe haven from political harangues. For all the talk about a separation between church and state, some politicians don't seem to mind blurring that boundary during an election year.

Just as President Bush's discussion of his religious views in the third debate came off as honest and real (in contrast to Senator Kerry's fumbling we're-all-God's-children everything-is-a-gift-from-God routine), we've noticed that although the President is a regular churchgoer, he doesn't seem to feel the need to climb the pulpit and campaign. Senator Kerry, on the other hand, won't even attend a church service unless he can spout off his talking points. The difference is another distinction between the two candidates, reinforcing the impression (and remember, impressions aren't necessarily untrue) that Kerry is a nuanced flip-flopper without much integrity, integrity, integrity, and that the President is, while flawed, honorable, decent, and a real human being.

UPDATE: We got some reader feedback (I know, I know -- hard to believe, and yet, true) in the comments section, calling us, well, nasty things that you can read for yourself. Perhaps we sound like conservative hacks in this post, but the truth of the matter is that only one presidential candidate has been hijacking religious services and turning them into sessions of political proselytizing. (His name starts with John Kerry.) It's one thing to get up on the stump and talk about why someone should vote for you, but it's quite another to get up in the pulpit and do the same. In our book, it's cheap and out of line, and shows a lack of respect for religion and especially those parishoners who have come to church for spiritual sustenance and instead are forced to sit through more partisan politics. Say what you will about the President (and Andrew Sullivan has said most of it), but at least he respects churchgoers enough not to turn Sunday mornings into just another opportunity to make a campaign appearance.

**Breaking News**

The New York Times has announced that it is endorsing...John Kerry for President.

What a surprise.
Senator John Kerry goes toward the election with a base that is built more on opposition to George W. Bush than loyalty to his own candidacy. But over the last year we have come to know Mr. Kerry as more than just an alternative to the status quo. We like what we've seen [emphasis added]. He has qualities that could be the basis for a great chief executive, not just a modest improvement on the incumbent.
I can't wait to find out who's getting the CBS endorsement!

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Shameless Sullivan-Stealing

Poseur Alert: Jack Witt in Sunday's New York Times Magazine:
Barbecue is theophagy, a way of consuming the divine past and claiming it as your own.

Talking Down to World Leaders

It's not just John Kerry who's blatantly dissing our allies. Take this exchange in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, between pandescender Deborah Solomon (her interview with poet laureate Ted Kooser was an instant classic) and Poland's foreign minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz:
Solomon: You once said President Roosevelt made a mistake when he agreed to divide the world and give Poland to the Soviet Union. Are you saying that Roosevelt sold out to Stalin?

Cimoszewicz: No one can deny that in Tehran and Yalta, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill decided about the postwar construction of the world, placing Poland on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

Solomon: Didn't you manage to study in the U.S. during the Communist era?

Cimoszewicz: As a Fulbright scholar I was at Columbia University in 1980 to '81. Every weekend I walked the streets of Manhattan. My favorite place is Central Park. Once a year I love to have a real American steak, but once a year is enough.

Solomon: What else do you admire about American culture?

Cimoszewicz: George Gershwin, great film scores, ''Walking in the Rain.''

Solomon: You mean ''Singin' in the Rain''? Walking in the rain is what you did during your time in New York.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Thank You, NY Times

Tomorrow's New York Times Magazine features a cover story on John Kerry. How much you wanna bet it's going to be a puff piece?

Read it for yourself -- you know it will have some gems that only us on the outside of the cocoon would notice. Like the following, for instance -- Kerry's immediate reaction on 9/11.
''You know, my instinct was, Where's my gun?'' Kerry told me.
Sounds like the kind of level-headed leader I want in charge of the country in a time of crisis.

Or not.

Friday, October 08, 2004


Sixty-plus posts on the debate...but we've got more to say!

The winner? Er...push?

The answer is: it depends. Kerry is smooth. We all know that. But unlike last week, Bush presented himself as someone I (and the rest of the country) could actually see ourselves voting to be President for another four years. As bad as he was last Thursday, he redeemed himself tonight.

Was it enough to stop the bleeding and get him back to where he was before the first debate? That remains to be seen. But I think the President's performance revealed, more than anything else, the kind of person he is: spirited, self-deprecating, and resolute. He was good on his feet -- the timber line especially -- and he reminded the electorate of the humanity they saw after 9/11.

So who won? Bush didn't lose -- and that counts as a win.


Here we go, folks. Liveblogging the debate. Welcome to Casual Observations.

6:00 - Hey, remember that fake memo CBS aired? Whatever happened with that?

6:01 - Some audio feedback on Gibson. Maybe it's just my crappy TV. (Hey, gimme a break -- I'm a swing voter!) Did Gibson just say these people were picked by the Gallup folks? What do you think has to say about that?!

6:02 - Halperin memo on Drudge -- check it out when you get a chance. CBS redux? Kerry comes out with the biggest fake smile I've ever seen. But what does that mean?

6:04 - Kerry too wishy-washy? No way! And Kerry wants to thank everyone. Thank YOU, Senator Kerry!

6:06 - Kerry supports Bush on pretty much everything. But he'll carry out his agenda better! The 1.6 million jobs is misleading...let's see if Bush nails him.

6:07 - Bush looks much more relaxed than last week. Howard Dean...argh!!!

6:08 - "After 9/11 we had to look at the world differently..." Bush is 100% better than last week.

6:09 - Check out the fat guy in the front row!

6:10 - Kerry is dodging. Will it work?

6:12 - Bush brings up the last debate -- ballsy!

6:13 - Kerry talks directly to Bush -- ballsier! And Bush starts taking notes!

6:14 - Senator Kerry quotes other senators...who cares?

6:16 - Bush uses the power of incumbency..."the other day in the Oval Office..."

6:17 - Bush is hitting this one out of the park. "Kerry's plan sounds's the Bush plan." Zing.

6:18 - Kerry's starting on Osama bin Laden. Can Bush knock the ball back in his face?

6:19 - Europeans hate us. So what? Bringing up Reagan? Nice.

6:20 - Bush's "popular president" stuff was money.

6:22 - Kerry keeps going back to Iraq -- if, like last week, Bush muffs the responses, it's smart, but if, as it appears, Bush is on his A game, it might prove not too smart tomorrow morning. Before the DNC floods the polls.

6:24 - Kerry's position on Iran...let's see how he dodges!

6:25 - Kerry: Non-proliferation...that's a winner!

6:26 - Bush: Scowl line...why Bush is popular with regular guys.

6:28 - the Draft! Fear!!!

6:29 - More facile! No penis jokes, please.

6:30 - Is Bush going to take the "the guy who ran Daddy's war" endorsement as an opportunity to note that Kerry voted against the Gulf War? Stay tuned!

6:33 - No further terrorist attacks! She must be a Bush plant!

6:34 - Kerry's not doing poorly...but Bush is matching him.

6:35 - Has anyone noticed the red light/green light stuff tonight?

6:36 - "The test is not if you've added money?" That sounds like a Democrat to me!

6:38 - Drugs...domestic policy...snooze.

6:39 - Missourah? Spoken like a true Missouran!

6:40 - Senator Kerry: George Bush sucks! By the way, vote for me! (More Shrum populism -- a sure winner!)

6:41 - Bush needs to start talking about Senator Kerry's record. Or someone should. Perhaps Charles Gibson.

6:44 - Kerry: I'm a lawyer, too! That's a winner!

6:45 - Sen. Sen. Kerry. Oops! (Well, same thing...)

6:46 - Giving Bush a chance to pace back and forth -- liberating him from the podium -- has helped keep him from the curse of the funny face.

6:47 - Labels don't mean anything! Just ask Hitler! Er, I mean the President!

6:49 - "We have a deficit." Duh. But blaming it on Clinton, bringing back the War on Terror...heading toward a good save.

6:53 - Kerry: "We wanted a tax cut..." Who, the Democrats?

6:54 - Kerry's pledge - what a doofus! Stop looking at me, it freaks me out!!!

6:56 - Bush is awfully folksy. Hello Ohio. Hello Pennsylvania.

6:58 - "We did it. And I was there!" 98 votes to raise taxes?

6:59 - Bush the Environmentalist. Please, please talk about drilling for oil in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge. And who voted against it. (Hint: he's on the stage with the President tonight. And his name isn't Charlie Gibson.)

7:02 - Red Sox joke. Stupid. "Don't throw labels around. Labels don't mean anything!" Especially if the label is L-I-B-E-R-A-L, right, Senator?

7:03 - "I believe in science!!!" "I was in Kyoto -- I know what happened!"

7:06 - Scoring the Debate: If you accept everything Bush says, he's winning. If you accept everything Kerry's saying, then he's winning. So, America: Who do you trust?

7:07 - Sub-chapter S corps?! The wonks rejoice!

7:09 - I own a timber company?! Need some wood?! GENIUS. The sound byte of this campaign. Advantage: W.

7:10 - Patriot Act question...hmm, is that guy really undecided?

7:11 - Kerry gets a softball Patriot Act question. He'd better hit it out of the park.

7:13 - Are most of the women questioners tonight for Bush? Sure seems that way to me.

7:14 - Michael J. Fox wants us to do embryonic stem cell research! (We are. Just not research sponsored by the government - ed.)

7:16 - Kerry: "I want the future!"

7:17 - Background check: are the audience members still with the debaters?

7:19 - Supreme Court question...zzzzzzzzzz

7:20 - Dred Scott case? Can you say pandering to African-Americans?

7:22 - Interpret the Constitution according to the law? You've got it backwards, Senator Kerry.

7:23 - Catholicism helped lead Kerry through a war...FIRST MENTION OF HIS VIETNAM SERVICE TONIGHT...a NEW RECORD. Then Kerry reminds us that he's married to Teresa. Negative points.

7:25 - Bush is zinging Kerry up and down. He's great in interacting with an audience.

7:26 - "It's not that simple." Kerry's stance on everything.

7:28 - Bush's response to Kerry's abortion response: did he not get the memo that Kerry thinks life begins at conception?

7:29 - Final questioner: who do you think she's voting for?

7:30 - Bush is handling this question -- this difficult question -- the exact right way.

7:31 - Using the same lines from last week's debate? Stale.

7:33 - Kerry's big closing statement is centered on alliances? That's the best he can do?

7:34 - Kerry: I have a plan, I have a plan, I have a plan... Do Americans really believe politicians anymore when they talk about about their plans? I don't think so.

7:35 - The "Have A Beer Test" -- rather have a cold one with Bush or Kerry? (Is Teresa coming too? - ed. Er...)

7:37 - We made it!!! Thanks for sticking with us.

Monday, October 04, 2004

A Line We Would Have Used...

...if we, and not Karl Rove, were behind the controls of Bush's brain last Thursday:
"You'll forgive me, Jim [Lehrer], for struggling a little bit tonight. The truth is, I'm at a distinct disadvantage -- you see, it's awfully hard to prepare to debate Senator Kerry, because it's more or less impossible to predict in advance what his position on the issues will be on the day of the debate. His task, on the other hand, is much easier. I've made my positions clear, both to him and the American people. I'd imagine they might discover that what makes it hard to debate Senator Kerry might also make it hard to vote for him."

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Debate Musings...and More!

I saw the first hour of last week's debate in an auditorium at the communication school of the university I attend. It was packed with students, and there were some professors professing before and after, of course.

My impressions? Kerry destroyed Bush.

Part of that was the audience -- everyone was laughing at every Bush guffaw, every pause, every strain or funny face. Kerry got reverent respect, Bush did not. So maybe it seemed worse than it was. But I really thought Bush was losing the election before our very eyes. I hope that the company I was with had something do to with that, that everyone didn't see it how I saw it. But it was not good for Bush, regardless.

I'm not a die-hard Bush backer. But I think he gets it. "It" being the world after 9/11. For Kerry to try to outflank him as tougher on terror is proving to be not a bad strategy, but it's too late in the game for me to buy it. I've heard all of his waffling. Plus, his plan, and I wish that Bush had called him on it, is the same as Bush's! Get our troops out ASAP, train Iraqis to protect themselves -- that's what Bush is already doing. That is our strategy.

Sharing the burden with our allies? Yeah, we'd love everyone to share the burden. But it's not that Bush didn't convince them as well as Kerry could; it's that helping us out in Iraq wasn't and isn't in their national interests -- however moral or immoral they may be. Is going into Iraq the right thing to do? I know that it's easy to second-guess after no WMD, but what if the President hadn't acted? Did he really have a choice?

Kerry saw the same intelligence Bush did, and agreed with the decision to go into Iraq. Kerry would have done it a different way, he says. How? With more allies, he says. Well, that's impossible to prove, and, even with more allies, who says things would have turned out differently?

As for not having a plan to win the peace, obviously things didn't turn out how we expected. But it is a war, after all, and even the best laid plans change when you engage the enemy. And I think that this administration is doing a better job changing the plan when it needs to be changed, without making it seem like things are out of control -- and I'm talking especially about the 80% of the country which is stable and safe. What we've accomplished in Iraq in a year and a half is really incredible. And Afghanistan? People were saying what they're saying about Iraq today about Afghanistan two years ago, and they're holding elections, they're a free nation, it's amazingly stabile. That's a hell of an accomplishment.

Kerry's "we outsourced getting bin Laden" was a cheap shot -- Colin Powell said it was an outright lie. And speaking of Powell, did he "lie" to the UN and the rest of the world? I don't think he would do that. And that to me shows that neither he, nor Bush, nor Blair, nor Kerry, was lying or intentionally misleading. Whether or not Saddam really had those WMDs, he clearly disobeyed the UN resolution (as he had with all the others), and I think that the President was frustrated that the UN didn't hold up their end of the bargain and ensure/protect any kind of legitimacy they had.

Frankly, I'm not a big UN fan, after finding out about how they let Saddam take advantage of the oil-for-food program (ask Kofi Annan about that) and their lack of doing anything about what's happening in Darfur. When things like this arise -- problems that the UN was created to deal with -- and they don't, it makes it hard for me to believe that they have any kind of moral authority on issues like Iraq.

Issues like gay marriage and abortion really don't have much to do with whom people will vote for, I don't think. This election is about national security. If I thought that Kerry would do a better job than Bush with national security (and that's a hard sell, considering that al Qaeda is at 25%, Saddam is in jail, and we haven't had another attack since 9/11), I'd vote for him, but for his position on abortion. For me it's a decisive issue, but I don't think it is for most people. Neither is gay marriage. Now, I know in some conservative enclaves that's different, but it isn't most other places in the country. As far as where I stand, I'm fine with civil unions that give gay couples the same legal rights as married couples. Creating gay marriage is something that they need to take up with their churches, not their government.

The rest of the domestic issues are non-starters, I think. People are voting national security. Philosophically, I am more of a Reagan conservative when it comes to government involvement. I think that what Bush said at the convention, about bringing social security and the tax code into the 21st century, are big deals to someone my age. And something that you'd never hear a Democrat say -- their core constituencies are a loose union of federal program beneficiaries (teachers' unions, etc). It really restricts them in terms of policy. And giving different groups money to keep them happy? Not what government is for.

I give Bush credit for his tax cuts helping to turn around the economy. He did inherit a recession -- not cause it. The statistics bear that out. And his tax cuts have made an impact. It would be nice to see that massive tax code overhaul during a second term.

For me, I'm voting for Bush -- not without reservations -- but he sees the big picture in a way that Kerry doesn't. He understands the world that we live in, the ideology that was at the heart of 9/11 and what it takes to prevent that from happening again. In a way, I feel bad for Kerry -- he's been waiting his whole life for this moment, and if not for 9/11, he probably would beat Bush hands down. But fate intervened, and he couldn't find a good-looking position that would get him the nomination and then the presidency. I might not like everything about Bush, but at least I know where he stands. With Kerry, I don't even think he knows where he stands. That would be funny, except that in the world we live in, it's scary.