August 28, 2004

"That was a mistake - we need to seize on it."

Adam Nagourney reports in the NYT that this is what President Bush said to his aides after Kerry said he would have voted to authorize the President to go to war even if he had known that weapons of mass destruction would not be found. The linked article is long, but it's a long hammering of the same point: that Bush is very involved in his reelection campaign.

New "email this" feature.

I just noticed that Blogger has a new little feature, so I turned it on, which accounts for the little envelope icon there. More clutter, but possibly useful.

ADDED: And there is another new feature, which you can't see, that lets the author click directly from a blog post to a window to edit that post, something that used to take several slow-loading steps. I'm impressed that Blogger keeps improving! Maybe I'm missing something, but I can't see why people don't prefer Blogspot blogs.

Graphing politics.

Professor Bainbridge recommends Chris Lightfoot's political survey (which he especially likes because it aligns him with Margaret Thatcher). If you're ready to slog through 75 questions, take the survey. Here are my results:


UPDATE: Email exchange with a person who read my question and answer page:
QUESTION: You disagree that "Aggressive foreign policies can put a stop to international terrorism"?!!

MY ANSWER: I took the word "stop" literally!
This goes to show that there is a lot happening at the level of question interpretation. In fact, I picked the "no opinion" answer to many questions, because I did not think the question could be answered without more information or a clarification, which I'm sure dragged me toward dead center (where I would have been happy to have ended up!).

FURTHER UPDATE: I want to abandon the notion that the center of this graph represents moderation. Just look at where Stalin appears on that graph. How did that happen? Someone with a particularly toxic mix of right and left ideas and of idealism and pragmatism, quite extreme ideas in all four categories, could average his way into the center. That's a huge problem with visualizing political ideas spatially!


Last night, David Letterman had Maureen Dowd on his show. Here's a striking exchange:
LETTERMAN: Just tell me your thoughts generally about the Democratic candidate. What about John Kerry? What comes to your mind there?

DOWD: Lame. I think, uh, [laughs] very, very lame [winces].

LETTERMAN: [giggles] You said, "lame." Is that right? Lame? Uh-huh. ...
Later, they reprised the theme:
LETTERMAN: Do you think, looking at it right now, uh, John Kerry can overcome his lameness?

DOWD: Um, looking at it right now, I don't think so. No. I don't know.
UPDATE: A propos of the Instapundit link to this post, I've got some comments here.

Contracts and the Kerry Vietnam archive.

The Washington Post has an article about Douglas Brinkley's book about Kerry, "Tour of Duty." I found this interesting:
The Kerry campaign has refused to release Kerry's personal Vietnam archive, including his journals and letters, saying that the senator is contractually bound to grant Brinkley exclusive access to the material. But Brinkley said this week the papers are the property of the senator and in his full control.

"I don't mind if John Kerry shows anybody anything," he said. "If he wants to let anybody in, that's his business. Go bug John Kerry, and leave me alone." The exclusivity agreement, he said, simply requires "that anybody quoting any of the material needs to cite my book."
So Kerry, preparing to run for President and planning to lay great emphasis on his service in Vietnam, makes a contract giving exclusive access to his personal records to an author who proceeds to tell the story in the desired heroic form. Then when opponents raise questions and make people want to check the record, Kerry points to the contract he made with the hand-picked hagiographer. That turns out to be a too-neat device for suppressing the materials.

Brinkley now acts as though he's not part of the suppression of the record, but he is still demanding that Kerry meet the terms of the contract by requiring "that anybody quoting any of the material" cite his book. How could Kerry possibly make everyone do that? The various reporters and other writers aren't bound by the contract. Does Kerry have to get all of these people to sign agreements to cite Brinkley's book? It seems that Brinkley either isn't thinking this through clearly or he's being disingenuous. It seems to me that if Brinkley doesn't give up his contractual rights, he is responsible for suppressing the records.

Kerry is also responsible for the suppression. Even if Kerry can honestly say now that he'd like to release the records, he made the deal in the first place, he stood to benefit from the glowing biography that flowed from it, and he went on to make his Vietnam story the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. Now the public is expected to say oh, okay, he made a contract with an author? Clearly, Kerry should give reporters access to the record, even if it means breaching his agreement with Brinkley.

Those poor celebrities.

The NYT has an amusing article today about celebrities attempting to manage their interaction with the world of politics. Some of them are just tired from too many parties, and some need help figuring what the right parties are.
"If you're going to the Oscars and trying to go to parties, you know what all the good ones are ... But here it's brand-new territory."
And some celebrities saved up the treasure of their endorsement for such a touchingly long time that we ought to really, really care when they finally bestow it on anti-Bush:
Bruce Springsteen is probably the biggest name to be recruited by the left this campaign season, having announced his participation in a series of anti-Bush fund-raising concerts. A fellow performer said that Mr. Springsteen told him recently that he had long felt like the "Switzerland of political endorsements.''

Mr. Traub said that getting Mr. Springsteen to attend an anti-Bush event in New York would be "like getting J. D. Salinger to come to a literary conference."
But we don't care, do we? Or does the near-unanimity of celebrity endorsement for anti-Bush create a deep-seated feeling that all the cool people are on the left?

August 27, 2004

How different is Cheney from Bush on gay marriage?

There has been a lot written about the difference between President Bush and Vice President Cheney on the issue of gay marriage, but let's look at what Cheney actually said the other day at that town meeting in Iowa when he was asked what he thought about gay marriage:
Well, the question has come up obviously in the past with respect to the question of gay marriage. Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with. We have two daughters, and we have enormous pride in both of them. They're both fine young women. They do a superb job, frankly, of supporting us. And we are blessed with both our daughters.

With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone. People ought to be able to free -- ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to. The question that comes up with respect to the issue of marriage is what kind of official sanction, or approval is going to be granted by government, if you will, to particular relationships. Historically, that's been a relationship that has been handled by the states. The states have made that basic fundamental decision in terms of defining what constitutes a marriage. I made clear four years ago when I ran and this question came up in the debate I had with Joe Lieberman that my view was that that's appropriately a matter for the states to decide, that that's how it ought to best be handled.

The President has, as result of the decisions that have been made in Massachusetts this year by judges, felt that he wanted to support the constitutional amendment to define -- at the federal level to define what constitutes marriage, that I think his perception was that the courts, in effect, were beginning to change -- without allowing the people to be involved, without their being part of the political process -- that the courts, in that particular case, the state court in Massachusetts, were making the judgment or the decision for the entire country. And he disagreed with that. So where we're at, at this point is he has come out in support of a federal constitutional amendment. And I don't think -- well, so far it hasn't had the votes to pass. Most states have addressed this. There is on the books the federal statute Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996. And to date it has not been successfully challenged in the courts, and that may be sufficient to resolve the issue. But at this point, say, my own preference is as I've stated. But the President makes basic policy for the administration. And he's made it clear that he does, in fact, support a constitutional amendment on this issue.
Clearly, Bush has stated his opposition to gay marriage, as has Kerry for that matter. But did Cheney say he was for gay marriage? No. He said he was for leaving the definition of marriage to the states. Now, obviously, in the last part of his statement, he's holding back from saying everything he thinks, but at that point, the issue is whether there should be a constitutional amendment. Cheney refers to the concern that the actions of judges in one state will take away the ability of the individual states to continue in their traditional role of defining marriage for themselves. In that context, there is a debate about whether a constitutional amendment is needed to preserve the states' traditional role. Cheney notes the existence of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the suggestion here is, I think, that that may be enough. I think there is also a suggestion here that the amending the Constitution is a bad idea, and the point where Cheney really seems to bite his tongue is "I don't think -- well, so far it hasn't had the votes to pass." He knows (and I'm sure Bush knows) that the amendment is never going to be adopted. So what really is the difference between Bush and Cheney on this issue? The difference is over the willingness to use support for the (dead on arrival) amendment for political purposes.

We could speculate forever about what Bush and Cheney (and Kerry) really think about gay rights. But on the surface, both Bush and Cheney rely on the same leave-it-to-the-states approach that Kerry embraces. It is worth noting that Kerry was one of 14 Senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, but even then he expressed his opposition to the Act (in part) as "a power grab into states' rights of monumental proportions."

UPDATE: I really am missing an important point here. Bush did say, when he spoke in support of the amendment, that "[t]he amendment should fully protect marriage, while leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage." So Bush does seek to deprive the states of an aspect of their traditional role, and the first sentence of Cheney's last paragraph is expressing a disagreement with that when he says "he wanted to support the constitutional amendment to define -- at the federal level to define what constitutes marriage."

"Persepolis 2."

I went over to Borders today to have some coffee and read a manuscript but took some time first to browse. That picture on the cover of Premiere magazine of Colin Farrell pretending to be Alexander the Great made me laugh, but--ah!--what is this? The second volume of Marjane Satrapi's beautifully drawn memoir has come out! I take it with me to my table along with my manuscript and my mug of Borders blend coffee. I read the first chapter slowly, savoring the crisply drawn, Bushmilleresque pictures of the feisty Iranian girl starting her new life in Austria, where she soon enough ends up in a boarding school run by nuns. Oh, this is too good! I could read the whole thing right now! I close it up, read half of the manuscript, finish the coffee, and go buy the book, which I will carefully consume in small, picture-gazing doses.

The marching band.

There is something new in the air this morning and I feel it pulling me into the Fall Semester: the sound of the UW Marching Band. It's a sound of the season woven into my life for twenty years. The band practices down in a field over by Lake Mendota and something about the acoustics of the lake and the hill of University Heights where my house sits transforms the marching music into something ethereal and poignant--a bit like a Czechoslovakian emigré composer in Canada rearranging "The Star Spangled Banner."

Two articles about politics and art.

As I've said before, politics and art usually means bad politics and bad art. A lot of people favor keeping religion separate from politics (with good reason!): I favor keeping that other sublime thing, art, separate from politics. Every once in a while there's a Guernica to provide the counter example. But Guernica is to art and politics, as the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is to religion and politics.

So these two articles caught my eye this morning:
The High Art of Highbrow Protest: Antiwar hacks invade New York, by Eric Gibson in the Wall Street Journal

Caution: Angry Artists at Work, by Roberta Smith in the New York Times.
Both articles cover artists reacting to the Republican conventioneers coming to New York City. Be sure to click over to the Smith article if only to see the reproduction of the painting of John Kerry that makes me give thanks once again that the English language contains the word "bathetic." But most of Smith's lengthy article is a round-up of the various art shows in town that have snagged a big write-up in the Times by being about the election.

Gibson's much shorter piece refers briefly to a few of these shows and is, to my liking, much more barbed:
There is ... a deadening uniformity of manner and outlook. The same bugbears appear over and over: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, the Patriot Act--even the supposedly hawkish media. The work fairly seethes with dire assessments of our current condition, expressed in trite cliché.

Two categories of Vietnam draft avoiders.

Did you know that those who found ways to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War ought to be put in two categories? There is one category, which President Clinton belongs in, and one category, which President Bush belongs in. What are those two categories? Democrat and Republican? No, as Neil Sheehan, Pulitzer Prize-winner, writes in an op-ed in today's NYT:
One must be careful in pointing a finger at those who avoided service in Vietnam. Many, like President Clinton, had moral objections to the war. The gimmicks they used to stay out of it were tawdry, but they acted from motives of conscience. Mr. Bush - like his father's vice president, Dan Quayle, who sheltered in the Indiana National Guard, and his own vice president, Dick Cheney, who obtained five draft deferments - are in a different category. From what can be discerned, none of them opposed the Vietnam War. Had the younger Mr. Bush not stood aside from the central, transforming event of his youthful years, his performance as president might have been closer to that of the wise and capable commander-in-chief he claims to be but has not been. He might have learned a lesson from Vietnam - do not become involved in an unnecessary war.
Yes, one must be careful, because you wouldn't want to create an argument that will be used against the many, many men who did what they could to avoid service. Don't be so short-sighted in your efforts to promote Kerry! You need a more nuanced argument, an argument that will allow us to continue to sneer at Bush and Cheney and future Republican candidates and still preserve the path to power for the many Democrats who avoided service. Here's the concept: we'll divide up the Vietnam-service-avoiders (including those who served in the National Guard) into those who "acted from motives of conscience" and those who thought only of their personal safety and comfort. In this analysis, Clinton gets to be the man of conscience, because he opposed the war, and Bush, despite his service in the National Guard, is the selfish one, because we can't discern from the record whether he opposed the war.

In fact, let's even divide up the men who did serve into the same two categories: the ones who participated in the "transforming event" of their time and opposed the war and the ones who did not:
Unnoticed in the controversy over the Swift Boat group's accusations is an undercurrent that lingers from the war. The men who fought in Vietnam and survived came back as divided as the public at home. Most suffered in silence, then picked up their lives and went on. But some, like John Kerry, were so disillusioned that they felt they had to do something to stop the war. Another minority persisted in their faith that the war could be won, that America is an exception to history and can do no wrong.
(Unless you were with those who wanted an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, you believed America can do no wrong?) Sheehan goes on to say that Vietnam was an "unnecessary and unwinnable war, a tragic, terrible mistake" and that all the veterans deserve respect for their valor even though they had the "ill luck to draw a bad war." He titles his op-ed "A War Without End," suggesting that we need to get past Vietnam, but he is introducing a new litmus test for candidates: did they oppose the Vietnam war when they were young? Let's comb over the old record and see if we can discern anti-war activities, and if not, we'll say you were out of touch with your transformative time and you failed to learn the lessons needed to qualify you for leadership. At that rate the "War Without End" will never end.

Two observations about Kerry's 1971 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Last night, like many people, I watched the C-Span presentation of Kerry's 1971 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I found this opening line a bit strange:
I would simply like to speak in very general terms. I apologize if my statement is general because I received notification yesterday you would hear me and I am afraid because of the injunction I was up most of the night and haven't had a great deal of chance to prepare.
The "very general" remarks turn out to be an elaborate and eloquently written statement. The Committee Chairman, Senator Fulbright, seems to accept the image of Kerry dashing off the statement at the last minute: "You said you had been awake all night. I can see that you spent that time very well indeed." This draws a laugh from the crowd, and it made me laugh too. Hearing it last night, I couldn't help but think that Kerry has an intense drive to make a myth out of himself: he's a man who, sleep-deprived, can, at the last minute, jot down what turns out to be a brilliant and devastating speech (written out longhand on a yellow pad?). But it isn't really very funny: the urge to self-mythologize is not a desirable quality in a President.

Of course, I also see the deniability written into the statement. He doesn't literally say he wrote the speech himself during the night, only that he didn't have "a great deal of chance to prepare." If pressed, he could easily concede that the speech had been written well in advance and that he merely meant that he hadn't had a chance to practice delivering the speech. I'm not saying he lied, only that he crafted his words to create a heroic image of himself.

Another things that struck me that Kerry said right at the beginning of his testimony was:
I am not here as John Kerry. I am here as one member of the group of veterans in this country, and were it possible for all of them to sit at this table they would be here and have the same kind of testimony.
The Swift Boat Veterans' second ad has been criticized for taking Kerry's testimony out of context and not making it clear that he was only quoting other people. But look at Kerry's introduction: it is a grandiose assertion, claiming to say what all veterans would say. Senator Fulbright proceeds to accept his statement as the statement of all veterans ("Mr. Kerry, it is quite evident from that demonstration that you are speaking not only for yourself but for all your associates, as you properly said in the beginning"). I can see how that might create a simmering anger in the veterans who felt their own stories were preempted, an anger that boiled over when Kerry premised his presidential campaign on his status as a war veteran. Kerry's portrayal of the Vietnam experience, which he claimed was every vet's story, was one of atrocities and war crimes and the realization that they had fought for nothing:
I would like to talk to you a little bit about what the result is of the feelings these men carry with them after coming back from Vietnam. The country doesn't know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped.
Kerry took it upon himself to say what millions of men felt, and it is not surprising that a good number of them resented being characterized as a tiny subcomponent of an angry "monster." Kerry contributed to the painful stereotype of the Vietnam vet as a crazy, violent misfit.

Kerry was, I think, "laser-beam focused" on stopping the war. His words were well-received by many who put that goal above all else, because those words powerfully expressed complete negativity about the war. I think there are many people today who oppose the Iraq war the same way and who use the same rhetoric: everything about the war is abysmally, hopelessly wrong. Yet the situation then as now was more complex than will be admitted by many who have formed a firm belief that they know what the right outcome is. Those who choose to express themselves this way, however, can create a lot of angry opponents as well as a lot of ammunition for their opponents' arguments. Of course, taking the position that the war is actually a complex problem--as Kerry has done with Iraq--creates another set of opponents and arguments.

August 26, 2004

Soccer gold.

"Running with Scissors"--the movie.

I'm glad to see there's going to be a well-cast movie of the book "Running with Scissors." Here's the relevant portion of the Black Table interview with the author Augusten Burroughs:
[Black Table interviewer LITSA DREMOUSIS]: Hey, what's up with the film version of "Scissors"? Julianne Moore is in it, right?


LD: Is that finished? Is that in post-production now?

AB: No, no, no. It's not finished yet. I think it's going to start shooting--I think Ryan Murphy told me it's going to start shooting in January, I think. The first draft of the script is done and he's going to make some revisions on that. I've read it and he did a great job.

LD: Is he the guy who writes and directs "Nip/Tuck"?

AB: Yeah. That's his little baby, one of them. I like him a lot. He's not an established film director, but I just have a gut instinct about the guy. To me, that's just as important. And he had a similar mother, so he totally got her [Augusten's mother]. I mean, it's different, the treatment of the book is different because it's a whole different media, you know? And I wasn't expecting it to be slavishly devoted to the book, but it's a lot closer than I expected, actually. A lot of the dialogue is just lifted up from the book.

He's switched some stuff around and made it great. It's going to be a great film, I think. I think it has a chance to be a great film. I mean, Julianne Moore, though, she could just sit there. She's got one of those faces that's just very interesting to watch.

LD: Anyone else we'd recognize?

AB: I don't know who else has agreed officially. I think, Cate Blanchett. I think she'll play Hope. Like I said, I'm not sure, though.

I'll just go out on a limb and say Julianne Moore will finally win her much-deserved Oscar. The role in question has everything an actress could ever want.

UPDATE: I wonder who is in the running for the fabulous role of the crazy psychiatrist Dr. Finch? I would think Tom Hanks, perhaps, or Robin Williams.

Forced Wisecrack of the Day. reports this reaction from Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt to Kerry's proposal that there be weekly debates between the candidates:
There will be a time for debates after the convention, and during the next few weeks, John Kerry should take the time to finish the debates with himself. This election presents a clear choice to the American people between a President who is moving America forward and a Senator who has taken every side of almost every issue and has the most out of the mainstream record in the U.S. Senate.

The repopulated Law School.

It was fun to walk into the Law School atrium today and find it suddenly brimming with people! The new students are here. The old students are back. Life in Madison shifts into fall mode. Welcome as summer is, fall always feels great.

A developing wave of revulsion.

David Carr (in the NYT) reports, amusingly, on the disgust New Yorkers are feeling about the approaching Republican conventioneers. The best quote is from The Weekly Standard's Matt Labash:
They can say that they won't even know we are here, but they will. We will plunk down our garment bags in their hopelessly trendy hotels, standing out like Good Humor men in our summer-weight khaki suits while all those hipster squirrels scramble for our tips. ... They needn't worry. The contempt is mutual."
I also liked this, from Details editor Daniel Peres:
I don't want to see a lot of bad Men's Warehouse suits and a lot of badly parted hair walking around my neighborhood. All Republicans part their hair the same way.
Note the assumption that all Republicans are not only repulsive, but male. Or do Republican women have Trent Lott hair too?

The article also contains an interesting comparison between the way power operates in in New York and in Washington, which is connected to the feelings of mutual contempt. The theory is that Washington power is all about what position of power you hold, but New York power is less "hierarchical" and more "dispersed": In New York, you can be powerful through physical beauty or controlling access to a trendy place. The notion seems to be that people who have succeeded playing one city's power game find it quite unsettling to share physical space with the set of powerful persons produced by the other city's game.

August 25, 2004

Hardball: Max Cleland and the Chairman of the FEC.

On Hardball tonight, Max Cleland (he of the undelivered letter) fast-talked his way through a series of accusations against Bush, most notably that it was absolutely clear that Bush had broken the law by having connections to the Swift Boat Veterans. Chris Matthews loved Cleland's rant and told him he was more articulate than Kerry. Later, Matthews brought out Bradley Smith, the Chairman of the Federal Election Commission and asked him why the Democratic lawyer, Robert Bauer wasn't in the same position as Ginsberg, the Bush lawyer who quit today. Smith's answer was enlightening:
People have to decide how they want to handle their own affairs, but I was surprised to see, for example, Senator Cleland be so aggressive on saying that's proof that they're violating the law, because clearly a lawyer can advise two clients. What he can't do is transfer inside information from the campaign from one to another.

MATTHEWS: Why'd Ginsberg quit if he did nothing wrong?

SMITH: Because he thought appearances were perhaps bad. I mean, the thing is if that's the standard, merely having the same lawyer, then the Kerry campaign and a lot of these Democrats have a big, big problem on their hands for the reasons you've already suggested.

MATTHEWS: So you think that on its face, prima facie, there's no case to be made for coordination, simply by the presence of a shared lawyer.

SMITH: That, in and of itself, wouldn't be enough. Now, it might be something that might be enough to trigger an investigation into various ties between the groups, but that's going to be sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

MATTHEWS: How do you prove that some guy like Bob Perry didn't get a call from somebody like Karl Rove or anybody else in the Bush world and said, you know, we could use a little money. Shake some money loose for these vets? ...

SMITH: Well, this is very hard stuff to prove. How do you prove that Americans Coming Together isn't coordinated with the Kerry Campaign? They've got offices next to one another. Kerry's former campaign manager runs one of these groups ... These are fact-intensive investigations. ... I'm surprised to see how aggressive the Kerry folks have come out on this.

Smith notes that the FEC will investigate if it receives a complaint, but it must take 60 days before issuing a finding, at which point it might impose a fine. I guess that shows why aggressively asserting that there are legal violations might work as a political argument: the FEC's finding will come too late to undercut those assertions. Meanwhile, the mere fact that Ginsberg has resigned will be waved around as proof that there was a violation. Quite deceptive. But will people see through it, or will they just say: oh, it's a big, weird legal tangle, so let's forget about all of this Vietnam stuff? That's the "swirly mass of confusion" strategy I theorized Kerry was following, and it irks me no end to see these spurious claims of legal violations being thrown about. The campaign law is already burdening free speech, and the ease of making these accusations seems to be causing people to restrict themselves even beyond what that law requires. The law didn't make Ginsberg quit: people's willingness to sling accusations about did. Cleland's performance on Hardball tonight was a very low sort of partisan politics, which I hope will be ineffective.

UPDATE: Ginsberg appeared on "The O'Reilly Factor" tonight and, not surprisingly, stated emphatically that he hadn't violated the law, that he was entitled to have several clients, and that he didn't pass information from client to client. He quit, he said, because he'd become a distraction. This was his parting shot, in answer to O'Reilly's question "Do you think Kerry's an honest man":
I don't know that. I think that the tactics that they've taken towards the Swift Boat Vets and, frankly, towards my role in this controversy is far from honorable and far from honest.

And speaking of Millet ...

There's this Millet and this proposal for the Nebraska quarter, which Jeremy is blogging about. [UPDATE: Sorry I had the wrong Millet link before!]

Jeremy directs us to a website for Nebraskans to vote on the quarter designs, and let me just say that I love the state quarters project, but I keep being disappointed by the choices. No state has yet equaled the fine Connecticut coin, which came out in the first year of the series. Connecticut did it right: it picked one thing, and the thing looked right on something small and round. The first state to do a bad job, also in the first year, was Pennsylvania, which introduced the terrible idea of including the outline of the state, especially bad if you've got a state with a boring shape. I can understand Texas falling for the state outline choice, but Pennsylvania should be penalized.

For Nebraska, I like design #8, because it commits to a single distinctive element, however I'd be a little afraid to pick a natural rock formation, given what happened in the aftermath of the New Hampshire quarter.

Innovative blogging: "Law & Entrepreneurship."

My colleague Gordon Smith has started a Law & Entrepreneurship blog, which you'll definitely want to keep track of if you're interested in law and entrepreneurship, but is also generally interesting for anyone interested in professor's blogs, because he's recruited a group of students to do the writing, with each student assigned to cover a particular topic: Alliances, Bankruptcy & Debtor/Creditor, Blog Reviews, Comparative Entrepreneurship, Contracts, Copyright & Trademark, Corporations, Employees, Family Businesses, Franchising, International Trade, Patents & Technology, Securities, Small Businesses, Taxation, Unincorporated Entities, Venture Capital, Wisconsin. From what I can tell, this a pretty innovative (and entrepreneurial) approach to blogging. Congratulations to all involved!

Here's Gordon's individual blog, where he's got a nice post today about how to become a law professor. (He's chair of the Appointments Committee this year at Wisconsin Law School.)

And let me just add that the Law & Entrepreneurship site looks good, and the choice of Millet's "Les Glaneuses" to illustrate entrepreneurship is really interesting. Though some may see this picture as expressing pity for the lot of the lowest class, the picture really can also be seen as beautifully idealizing hard work at the individual level.

12 observations about John Kerry on "The Daily Show."

Assorted observations made while watching John Stewart's Daily Show interview of John Kerry. (Full transcript at Wonkette.)

1. John Kerry has a sheepish look on his face as he lumbers out, which I interpret to mean that he thinks it's a bit odd for him to be on the show. As he's walking he spreads his arms open a bit, as if to say, here I am. He claps once, which I interpret to mean: I am here to have fun.

2. Rather than wait for Stewart's first question, he says, "I didn't understand it. Turf, trees and boxes," which refers to a pretty funny segment earlier on the show and reinforces my belief that he really wants to show he's having a great time. It sounds a bit forced, but so what? He prolongs it with: "That's why I'm running for President. We're stamping them out. Turf, trees and boxes. ... And agencies I--" Stewart cuts him off--mercifully?--so we don't get to find out where he was going with that "I." Actually, it might be fun to hear where a liberal Senator would go with the idea of "stamping out agencies" ... but probably not that much fun. Better to let Stewart steer us into the fun.

3. Stewart opens with "I watch a lot of the cable news shows. So I understand that apparently you were never in Vietnam." Kerry leans his head back and laughs heartily, because he's having fun, you know? Even though there's no way this matter can be fun for him. He says his line--"That's what I understand, too. But I-- I'm trying to find out what happened ... That part of my life. I don't know."--with a smile, but not such a broad smile. It's a bit of a wince. When he says the last part he puts his hand out, palm down, and gives the little back and forth rotation gesture that normally signifies: I'm not quite getting this right. He then clasps his hands in his lap, and his forced smile falls away, as Stewart launches into the next question. Kerry rubs his nose with his knuckle.

4. The "overtalk" in the transcript after Stewart asks "Is it-- do you-- do you-- is it hard not to take it personally?" is in fact easy to understand. Kerry says: "They said that too." That means that the interchange that follows--Stewart's "Oh, with you as well?" and Kerry's "Yeah"--refers to Stewart's previous joke, that the Swift Boat problem is like having your friends say that 35 years ago you "had cooties."

5. Stewart tries to get Kerry to talk about how this attack makes him feel, which is a little like the old what-if-your-wife-was-raped question asked of Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential debates. And Kerry, like Dukakis, ignores the opportunity to show passionate feeling. (By the way: I liked when Dukakis did that. I don't want a hothead President, and it was an opportunity to display rationality and deep-rooted oppostion to the death penalty. No one else seems to think so, however.) Kerry simply plugs in the argument that Bush is relying on these attacks because he doesn't want to talk about his record. This plugged-in argument bugs me because: 1. Bush does not control the speech of the Swift Boat Vets and 2. Kerry just used the whole Democratic Convention, which he did control, to talk about his Vietnam record and not anything more recent.

6. The transcript at this point says:
You know what it is, Jon? It-- it-- it's disappointing because I think most Americans would like to have a much more intelligent conversation about where the country's going. And-- (APPLAUSE) yeah, I think that-- you know, and-- and, yeah, it's a little bit disappointing.
There's a pause after "going," and there is no reaction from the audience. Kerry starts to slowly say "and," at which point there's a sudden cheer from the audience. I'd like to see the long view of the set at that point, because surely, an applause sign or human cheerleader was required for that response.

7. Stewart asks him if he was "surprised" by the attack. As I've written a couple times in the last few days, Kerry should have seen the attack coming. He says:
Sure I'm surprised. But surprised in a sense. But now that I begin to see the web and the network, I'm not surprised. I think-- you know, it's politics. And for whatever reasons, the-- the-- and I think Americans will discover it as we go forward in the next four or five weeks, George Bush doesn't wanna talk about the real issues. I mean, what's he gonna do? Come out and say we lost 1.8 million jobs? ...
The web and the network. It's a veritable skein of connections, isn't it? And only now can he see it. And then he fumbles back to his big talking point: Bush doesn't want to talk about the issues.

8. As he goes into shopping list mode--jobs, health care, the environment, everyone in the world being angry at us--Stewart interrupts with what is for some a serious question but what Stewart surely sees--as his finger-wagging and tone of voice reveal--as another example of a distracting non-issue:
Sir, I'm sorry. Were you or were you not in Cambodia on Christmas Eve? (LAUGHTER) They said-- you said five miles. They said three. (LAUGHTER)
Kerry throws his head back and laughs. At "they said three," he scratches his left thigh quite vigorously. [CORRECTION: right thigh!] Stewart leans way forward, resting on his crossed arms, in comic imitation of a stern interrogator, and stares straight at Kerry. Kerry gets the idea and does a mirror-image pose, with their faces five inches apart, which is either cute or scary, depending on who you're planning to vote for in November.

9. Stewart asks "Are you the number one most liberal senator in the Senate?" and I realize that this is the exact point where I fell asleep last night when I was watching the show live in the room without a TiVo.

10. Kerry keeps plugging in his stump speech and it isn't very lively or fun or personal, which seemed like the idea of going on "The Daily Show." Stewart leans forward to make a quip, and Kerry reaches out with both hands and grabs him and mutters something unintelligible. I think Kerry could see that he needed to give Stewart a chance to make the situation fun. Stewart's question was, "Can-- can you get me on a network?" which I find really funny, in part because it's typical of the jokes we make around the house when listening to one of Kerry's lists of promises: Will you come over and pay my bills? Can you help me with my homework?

11. Wonkette got a big kick out of this line:
Well, you should hear some of-- I'm telling you. The-- the-- no, I-- I shouldn't go into that out here. But I've been in some-- some-- you'd be amazed the number of people who wanna introduce themselves to you in the men's room.
In case you're wondering where the hell that came from or was going (he didn't get to finish), I'm certain it was a reference to the GQ article, "A Beer With John Kerry," which begins with an anecdote about the author being treated coldly by Kerry when he tried to talk with him as he was coming out of a men's room. (Who wants to shake hands with a guy that just came out of the men's room?) I'd guess that Kerry sees "The Daily Show" in a way similar to the "A Beer" article: a chance to get personal and to show he's a regular guy. But Stewart has to stop him, because he's running out of time and he really does have a lovely ketchup joke. Kerry takes the joke gracefully.

12. After Stewart ends the interview and the audience applauds, Kerry turns to the audience and SALUTES! He doesn't wave, he salutes. The kids love that.

Lawyers and the campaign law Catch-22

One strategy to make the Swift Boat controversy go away might be to refocus on a topic so eye-glazingly tedious that people will prefer to talk about anything else. That topic is lawyers and the requirements of campaign finance law. Here's the front-page story in today's NYT about the travails of a lawyer--Benjamin L. Ginsberg--who specializes in helping people comply with the complicated campaign finance law. Is campaign finance law a Catch-22, where it's so complicated you need a specialist lawyer to avoid violating it, but if you go to the specialist, he will then be a hub that connects you to other people who are trying to comply with the complicated law, and that in itself will be the violation of the law?

According to the NYT, Ginsberg has a counterpart, Robert Bauer, who advises the Kerry campaign as well as groups that are not supposed to coordinate with the campaign. Both sides need to get technical legal advice to attempt to comply with the law, so shouldn't both sides avoid calling foul over every line that can be traced from a 527 group to the candidate's campaign through through a lawyer who specializes in campaign law compliance? The law requires that there be no coordination between the campaign and the 527 group. I'm no specialist in this area of law, but to "coordinate" means "[t]o work together harmoniously." We shouldn't be so ready to call every connection coordination unless the real goal is to deter the independent groups from operating at all. Of course, President Bush has openly embraced that goal--which I think contravenes free speech principles--and Ginsberg himself, as the article describes, was involved in using a strong interpretation of campaign law to control the 527s that were working against Bush. Poor Ginsberg looks hypocritical now that the pro-Bush 527s are finally kicking into gear. But I don't see how the pro-Kerry forces can complain about Ginsberg when they have Bauer.

I think a terribly complicated problem has emerged here, as everyone tries to win political advantage and everyone takes every opportunity to exploit the campaign law to his advantage. The campaign now threatens to devolve into a dispute about lawyers and legalistic matters. That's likely to turn everybody off.

UPDATE: And now, Ginsberg has severed his ties to the Bush campaign. Bauer?

Weirdest link of the day.

Sadly, No has an odd reaction to my post from yesterday about the Times reporter who seems to think all blondes look alike. And check out some of the comments! One hears about the "dumb blonde," but this reaction seems to indicate that blond hair is disabling to the mind of the beholder.

UPDATE: Jeremy comments, using formal logic notation!

Philosophy and terror.

I would love to hear more of the story of Micah Garen, who, John Burns writes in today's NYT, "spent 10 harrowing days this month, as a captive of Islamic militants who took him hostage in the southern city of Nasiriya and threatened to execute him unless American troops withdrew from Najaf."
[H]e had resolved at the most threatening moments of his kidnapping ... not to allow what he called the "moments of terror" to shake him out of a cool, rational appraisal of his situation.

To that end, he said, he spent his days held captive in a date palm grove, with his hands tied behind his back and his eyes often blindfolded, discussing Hegel and other scholarly topics with his fellow captive, Amir Doushi, an Iraqi English teacher working as his interpreter. ...

There were a few moments of terror," Mr. Garen said, "but my main thought was to keep my mind clear so that we could figure out what the people holding us were going to do, so that we could try and control the situation. My thinking was that we should be ready, so that if they said, 'We're going to kill you,' we'd have at least a chance of fighting back."

What a profoundly beautiful and inspiring commitment to learning and rationality!

August 24, 2004


It was nice to get linked today by the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web, which I've enjoyed reading for years. I see BOTW's James Taranto refers to me as "Blogress Ann Althouse." What do I think of that? Well, first, I see "ogress" in it, and that makes me think maybe a male blogger should be called "blogre." Second, I realize Google will come in handy, since it's an unusual word. Calblog complains about the coinage here (reacting to a usage by Best of the Web). I see some people have used the word "blogress" to refer to blog progress. And here's Boi From Troy noting that Best of the Web called Wonkette's Ana Marie Cox a "Left-Wing Blogress," but not really objecting. Regular BOTW readers know of Taranto's thing about getting people to use the word "kerfuffle," so maybe "blogress" is another one of his projects. Ah yes! So it is! Oh, well, if it's good enough for Wonkette .... if Wonkette is good enough for Wonkette.

Not blogging on trashy TV shows anymore?

I'm really in the mood to blog about trashy TV. Ah! For the days of "American Idol 3" and "The Apprentice." I don't know what's wrong with me, but I'm not watching any trashy shows at the moment. I've given the Olympics high priority on my TiVo "wish list," and there's really not much to say about the Olympics, other than it's getting a bit tiresome, even with TiVo--or maybe especially with TiVo. I've got all those old "episodes" to watch. It's really grueling getting through all those rounds of gymnastics. How many stuck and unstuck landings do you need to see? The mind drifts. I find myself wondering why the men wear long, roomy stirrup pants and the women wear high-cut leotards. Does it have anything to do with the fact that the women have substantial, muscular legs and the men have strangely undersized legs (at least in proportion to their gigantic upper bodies)? And racing: What's to watch, really? Somebody or another is going to get there first. There are no fancy antics on the way. Ennui sets in! Are the team sports better? Not for me. I care least about the team sports. There's the vague amusement at the large amount of airtime given to women's beach volleyball, but to me it drives home the point that much of what we are doing as viewers is ogling extremely specialized, well-developed bodies. That's slightly fascinating for a while. And yet, at this point, I'm quite tired of it all. I've gotten to thinking that it will be fun to watch the Republican Convention next week, which is really rather an absurd thing to think.

Out of vogue word.

You don't normally notice when a word everyone used to say a lot falls out of favor. Then sometimes someone uses that old word again and you notice. Today, I heard a man use the word "interface" to refer to making a phone call, and I thought, yeah, it's nice that people don't say that anymore ... except that guy.

That three strikes Purple Heart rule.

Sam Schechner, writing in Slate, answers the pressing question: How do you get a Purple Heart anyway? Citing various military texts, he paraphrases: "a Band-Aid boo-boo is fair game, so long as enemy action is somewhere obvious in the causal chain." He concludes with the Slate "Explainer" sign-off: "Next question?"

Okay, I have a question. If it is so easy to get a Purple Heart, how was the military able to have that rule allowing you to go home early upon winning three? Three "Band-Aid boo-boos" and you can go home? How did that work exactly? How many people left early that way? How eagerly did people write up scratches in the hope of escape? As I write that, I worry that I'm insulting the people who went to war and did their duty and did not look for an out. But is that not what Kerry did? I don't particularly blame him, because virtually all the young men I knew--I went to college in 1969-1973--openly and on a day-to-day basis looked for ways to avoid Vietnam.

Did the three Purple Hearts rule work because when you were in action, fighting with a group of men, peer pressure would keep you from pursuing that out? If so, and if Kerry overcame the pressure and took the out, then the Swift Boat Vets are the peers returning to express the very anger that those swayed by peer pressure strive to avoid.

The swirl continues.

I complained yesterday that the Kerry camp is trying to create a swirly mass of confusion about the Swift Boat Vet ads (specifically about who's really behind them), and I see today the NYT TV critic Alessandra Stanley is visualizing cable news as a swirly mass: an industrial laundry dryer, tumbling "Facts, half-truths and passionately tendentious opinions ... without the softeners of fact-checking or reflection."
Somehow, on all-cable news stations - CNN as well as Fox News - a story that rises or falls on basic and mostly verifiable facts blurs into just another developing news sensation alongside the latest Utah kidnapping or the Scott Peterson murder trial. (It is particularly confusing on Fox News, where so many of its blond female anchors look like Amber Frey.)
Yes, all those blondes look alike, don't they? I think most Fox News viewers can tell the difference between the beautiful Laurie Dhue and anyone else.
Fox News, which delivers its news with "Fight Club" ferocity, has relished the controversy the most, seizing hungrily on charges that Mr. Kerry lied to gain his medals.
From this, you'd never guess that Bill O'Reilly, by far the most prominent news analyst on the channel, repeatedly states his strong opposition to the Swift Boat ads. Stanley makes this point, however, that I agree with:
[Cable news] has grown into a lazy habit: anchors do not referee - they act as if their reportage is fair and accurate as long as they have two opposing spokesmen on any issue.
This is really the basic "Crossfire" idea for a show. It goes back at least as far as the old "60 Minutes" "Point/Counterpoint" bit that Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd spoofed on "Saturday Night Live" in the 1970s. It seems to work well enough to bring in an audience of the subset of TV watchers who are willing to watch political shows. But I don't know if anyone is getting confused by this sort of thing. People in the middle who want to decide between the two sides just won't watch--you don't sit and watch the laundry tumbling in the dryer. The people who are watching are already bound to one partisan side, and for them it's more like watching a sports match and cheering for your team. You enjoy a lively competition, you don't rethink your support for you team, and you don't long for a more interventionistic referee.

UPDATE; Bill O'Reilly had the Stanley article as "The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day" on his show last night and noted that he'd be vindicated if the Times would print a transcript of his show from the previous night, which really did have a long segment cooly going through the Swift Boat charges (with Chris Wallace) and evaluating them. His final slam unnecessarily slurred blogs, as he said her article "belongs on one of those bomb-throwing websites, not in a national newspaper." Some day, it may be a compliment to say something sounds like what is written in the blogs. To be fair, he did specify the "bomb-throwing websites" and not blogs in general.

August 23, 2004

Man in the paint store.

I went to the paint store to pick up some special string I had ordered to fix my window blinds, and there was a man in front of me who had a bizarrely robust way of saying everything. His wife was going to come in later to pick something up, so he said the "Sargent Major" would come by. Then, he had had to agree to something and he said "ten four." Then, the clerk handed him something and he declared: 'You're a man among men."


Iran Focus (via Metafilter):
On Sunday, August 15, a 16-year-old girl in the town of Neka, northern Iran, was executed. Ateqeh Sahaleh was hanged in public on Simetry Street off Rah Ahan Street at the city center.

The sentence was issued by the head of Neka’s Justice Department and subsequently upheld by the mullahs’ Supreme Court and carried out with the approval of Judiciary Chief Mahmoud Shahroudi.

In her summary trial, the teenage victim did not have any lawyer and efforts by her family to recruit a lawyer was to no avail. Ateqeh personally defended herself. She told the religious judge, Haji Rezaii, that he should punish the main perpetrators of moral corruption not the victims.

The judge personally pursued Ateqeh’s death sentence, beyond all normal procedures and finally gained the approval of the Supreme Court. After her execution Rezai said her punishment was not execution but he had her executed for her “sharp tongue”.

Judge Posner is blogging!

Over at lessig blog. So far it's all about copyright. Copyright and "The Matrix" is his favorite movie. It's "a portent of one of the directions in which technology is moving us."

Fall semester approaches.

Today is the deadline for getting class materials to the copy shop at the Law School, so I've got to put the finishing touches on my packet of Civil Procedure II cases. Deadlines are helpful: I'm sure I'll get it done today because today is the deadline. (They wouldn't duplicate my materials if I handed them in tomorrow?) But deadlines can cause delay too: I could have polished off the materials two weeks ago, but when I got an email saying August 23rd was the deadline, somehow the materials decided to refuse to be done until August 23rd.

Classes don't begin until next Tuesday [ACTUALLY: Thursday], here in Wisconsin, where leaving the students free to work through Labor Day is good for the state economy, given the many resorts. But elsewhere, law school classes are starting. I'm incredibly excited to hear about my son's classes at Cornell. Most law schools start their first year students with something very much like the same four courses that have started law school for as long as anyone can remember: Contracts, Torts, Criminal Law, and Civil Procedure. But there are some variations. At Cornell, they save Criminal Law until second semester and offer Constitutional Law instead. I don't know why. Perhaps because students always seem eager to study Conlaw, but the reality of Conlaw may be quite a shock. How can anyone deal with Marbury v. Madison as their first assignment? How many class hours would you need to spend on Marbury if it was the first thing you were inflicting on first years? Six?

But I have no first year students in the Fall semester. My students are always the more seasoned type. My CivPro is CivPro2, an elective for second or third year students, who have all had four credit hours of Civpro already. They are onto the ways of Civil Procedure and primed for arcana of jurisdiction and the Erie Doctrine. My other class is "Religion and the Constitution," a Conlaw 2 course that deals with the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. I'm teaching the course as a two credit class this time, after doing three credits last year, so I need to pare down the syllabus. I don't need to rearrange it, but I'm inclined to anyway. There are so many interesting places to start with the religion cases: what inroad should we take this year?

"When those connections are made in this campaign and are imputed to this president, it's going to be a very bad thing for the president."

The NYT reports on the Kerry response to the Swift Boat Veterans ad:
Mr. Kerry's advisers said they believed that voters would turn against Mr. Bush if they were convinced that he was behind what several described as unethical campaign behavior.

That's an interesting "if," because it means that if Bush is not behind the ads, it suggests a hope of gaining the advantage by creating the impression that there is a connection.
A senior Kerry adviser, Tad Devine, said in an interview that there had been a number of instances over the years in which outside groups had run damaging advertisements against Democrats in races involving Mr. Bush or his father.

"When those connections are made in this campaign and are imputed to this president, it's going to be a very bad thing for the president," Mr. Devine said.

How is this not an open admission of a smear campaign against Bush?
Bill Carrick, a Democratic strategist who is not involved in the presidential race, also said: "It may be voters presume there are two sides in this contest and one side is attacking the other and they blame Bush for the attacks."

So it seems that Kerry's idea for how to deal with this huge Swift Boat Veterans problem is to churn up a swirly mass of impressions and imputations and then hope that he is the one who looks clean in the end. The Kerry people seem to be hoping that people are too dim to understand that a group of Bush supporters could operate independently or conspiracy-minded enough to think they all coordinate behind the scenes in plain violation of the law. There is a separate point Kerry has made that Bush should openly denounce the ads and that his failure to do so signifies a willingness to reap the advantages they bring him. That's the clean point, but it has been made, and it apparently hasn't done well enough, because we now see the campaign boat steering over the border into right-wing-conspiracy land.

But what is the solution for Kerry? I'm sure his people are racking their brains now. But they should have thought this through earlier, back when they were so sure that if the candidate stood up at the convention as a war hero that he would be greeted with candy and flowers. They convinced each other that what they wanted to believe was true, and, as a consequence they never had a plan for how to deal with the attacks that they should have known were there.

August 22, 2004

"Next blog."

I love the new Blogger tool bar, especially the "next blog" feature. It's like channel surfing on TV. There's a certain pleasure to switching to the next blog and the next blog aimlessly. It's more fun than channel surfing really, because it is so unpredictable and most of the places you go are so tiny. Yet each place is a person somewhere, someone sweet or smart or nutty or ordinary. It could be anywhere in the world, especially Brazil, and it might not even say where it is, but you might be able to tell from a picture that it's right in your own home town. Often you encounter a blog with only one post, the very germ of a blog. I'm struck by how charming everyone seems: Today was a lot of fun at church. .... I inked a drawing! ... Met Steph's new kitties and they are absolutely adorable...

Kerry at the VFW Convention.

Right now, C-Span is showing John Kerry's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention from Wednesday. The lack of response from the group is quite pronounced. There is polite applause at a few key places, but dead silence at many of the applause lines. Kerry realizes what is happening early on and at many points eliminates the natural pause at the end of a sentence to make the unresponsiveness less noticeable. At the end of the speech, he makes his way off the stage, past three rows of veterans, looking for hands to shake. Many decline to reach out their hand for a shake. How awkward.

The return of Bob Dole.

No sooner does the Boston Globe invoke the name of Bob Dole in a carefully constructed editorial against the Swift Boat Veterans than the old man himself rises up and speaks for himself--in a few short devastating words:
"One day he's saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons," Dole said. "The next day he's standing there, 'I want to be president because I'm a Vietnam veteran. "Maybe he should apologize to all the other 2.5 million veterans who served. He wasn't the only one in Vietnam," said Dole, whose World War II wounds left him without the use of his right arm. Dole added: "And here's, you know, a good guy, a good friend. I respect his record. But three Purple Hearts and never bled that I know of. I mean, they're all superficial wounds. Three Purple Hearts and you're out."

What is to stop this story from being the central story of the Presidential campaign? The Kerry camp has relied heavily on expressing indignation and outrage that the issue ever was raised, on pointing to old questions about Bush's military record, and on fussing over who connected to the ad is connected to someone with a connection to Bush, but this hardly seems capable of pulling the candidate out of the quicksand. It's distressing that the candidate did not take this foreseeable problem seriously. Dole's remarks today (on "Late Edition") included the fact that he warned Kerry that he was going "too far" with his use of Vietnam. How could the Kerry people have blinded themselves to the risks they were taking? 

UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit and for linking. They both answer that last question of mine the same way ("Groupthink"/"Koolaid will do that"). I have some additional comments on Kerry's response to the ads here.

"The most dark, dank, sad, drunken, cheese-riddled, depressing thing in the world."

That wacky Vincent Gallo is describing things again. And he likes the President: "I relate to him in that he has become easily unlikable. In a perfect world, John Kerry would own a restaurant in Connecticut." He responds to NYT Magazine interviewer Deborah Solomon in a way that reminds me of Racter. Remember Racter?
Why are you a Republican?

If we were going to see a show of Dennis Hopper's photographs, do you think Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton would be more sensitive to the work? I see Nixon as an intellectual. I consider Bill Clinton a huckster.

Interrotronning for Kerry.

Errol Morris is turning his brilliantly effective Interrotron camera to making some pro-Kerry commercials, according to The New Yorker, and he's got an idea for the commercials that seems quite likely to reach swing voters: have ordinary Americans, speaking spontaneously about why they've switched from voting Republican to voting for Kerry. Interestingly, Morris's first idea was to aim his interrotronist techniques--seen in "The Fog of War"--on John Kerry himself--just as he'd used them on Robert S. McNamara in the movie.
“I thought that I could humanize him,” he said. “To solve the problem of Bush being seen as a man of the people and Kerry as an aristocrat, I’d film Kerry exactly the way all the other people were filmed. I’d put him in the mix, and, by being one with all the rest, he would become a man of the people, speaking out with other Americans.”
At first the Kerry campaign seemed interested, but in the end they didn't want Morris. Why not? The article suggests that the official campaigns are really attached to the conventions of the political commercial genre. How could they possibly take a chance with something stylistically striking? (Remember Morris's great Apple "Switch" ads?) So Morris ended up working with MoveOn.
"See—part of what I like is that this is not traditional political advertising,” Morris said. “They’re not involved in making a hard sell. The people potentially are likable."
Good point (though you just implied what people all too often say: that Kerry is unlikable). I'd watch Morris's commercials even with the TiVo remote in my hand. I think Morris is a wonderful artist. (One of the most re-watchable movies I've ever seen is "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control.") But maybe the Kerry campaign is right not to want innovative, artistic ads directly associated with it. Maybe arty seems lefty. Or arty seems flaky. Or maybe it isn't a fear of art at all but a fear of making a connection with a specific public figure like Morris, who made a very high profile statement against the Iraq war when he accepted his Oscar for "The Fog of War."


Now, having written all of that, I realized I could look at the ads on the MoveOnpac website. So what do I think?

Well, the ads do give you the feeling of being on the receiving end of a conversation with a real person, but that's not necessarily a good thing. If my local car mechanic or barrista were to just start mouthing off about what's wrong with George Bush, I would be thinking: here we go, get me out of here. Watch the Rhonda Nix one, for example, or the Deborah Wood. The Nix one made me want to reread this classic Christopher Hitchens article. had its visitors vote on the most effective ad, but the point of the campaign is to reach people who do not traditionally vote for the Democrat, who are not likely to be the people who go to that website and watch a lot of ads and then vote. The one that won is especially irritating to me because of the "Bush lied" theme, though I can see why it appealed the website's habituées.

Bottom line for me: I love Errol Morris, but art and politics are a bad mix.