September 2004 Archives

By now, everyone is aware of the Bush camp’s attacks on Kerry as a “flip-flopper.” John Harris of the Washington Post breaks from the media herd to point out in “Despite Bush Flip-Flops, Kerry Gets Label” that Bush is on dangerous ground given his own propensity for prevarication. This is, of course, reminiscent of the 2000 campaign’s double standard, where Gore was portrayed by the media as untruthful, but Bush escaped unscathed despite his own history of misstatements. (These are also known as outright lies, depending on one’s forthrightness.)

Missing from nearly all media coverage of the 2004 campaign – because it doesn’t fit their preconception – are Bush’s numerous flip-flops. The Center for American Progress has a long list (“President Bush: Flip-Flopper-In-Chief”) that’s devastating to the media portrayal of Bush as “resolute” and “decisive.” CAP has clearly done some research; their well-documented article links to the original sources – often Dubya’s own words from the White House PR archive – so you can judge for yourself whether or not they are taken out of context or otherwise misinterpreted.

The DNC has a special report (“The Bush Record: Top 10 Bush Flip Flops”) on the same subject, and the Bush Campaign – another obviously partisan source – has an opposing list of Kerry’s flip-flops. The GOP’s list of Kerry flip-flops is longer, but many of them have already been debunked at BushCampaignLies.

Reasonable people can disagree on the significance of each candidate’s position changes, but they first need to know all the facts – not just the ones favoring their side. [Note to GOP delegates: Waving cheap footwear and chanting in unison doesn’t qualify as a substantive counter-argument, and neither does simply repeating a set of talking points.]

Flip-flops aren’t the only relevant issue here: there are also many deceptive campaign advertisements. An article from (“Bush Ad Twists Kerry's Words on Iraq”) describes Bush’s new ad as “the most egregious example so far in the 2004 campaign of using edited quotes in a way that changes their meaning and misleads voters.” FactCheck does a generally excellent job of revealing both campaigns’ inaccuracies, as does Columbia Journalism Review’s “Campaign Desk.” No matter where you stand politically, you’re likely to learn something by looking through their archives.

Given the heated campaign rhetoric to date, it’s important to watch the upcoming debates with a careful eye for deception – and to beware the inevitable spin. The debate schedule is:

Thursday 30 September (Kerry vs. Bush)

Tuesday 5 October (Edwards vs. Cheney)

Friday 8 October (Kerry vs. Bush)

Wednesday 13 October (Kerry vs. Bush)

Each debate begins at 9:00 PM ET; visit the Commission on Presidential Debates for more information.

Thanks for reading.

Quote of the Day:

“I hope that voters will recall the last time Mr. Bush stood on stage for a presidential debate. If elected, he said, he would support allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada. He promised that his tax cuts would create millions of new jobs. He vowed to end partisan bickering in Washington. Above all, he pledged that if he put American troops into combat: ‘The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well defined.’ Comparing these grandiose promises to his failed record, it's enough to make anyone want to, well, sigh.”

(Al Gore, “How to Debate George Bush”)

George Will is the sort of political writer I enjoy: one who, while not completely eschewing sound-bites and slogans, occasionally mentions an actual idea. Although I frequently disagree with his analyses, I still wish there were more writers like him.

I have a few comments on his recent piece, "Bad News for Kerry:"

“the ‘feminization’ of politics”

Concerns for justice or the general welfare (to pick a few phrases from the Preamble) have often been derisively referred to as “feminization,” a la the infamous “nanny state.” Gender stereotyping is a hindrance to political discourse - except to prop up simplistic stereotypes that “femininity” equals weakness, and concern for our common defense is “masculine.”

“Bush says, ‘liberty is the design of nature’ and ‘freedom is the right and the capacity of all mankind’” […] “Kerry is the candidate of the intellectually vain — of those who, practicing the politics of condescension, consider Bush moronic. But Kerry is unwilling to engage Bush's idea.”

No, intellectual vanity is supposing that the Greek principle of natural rights (via John Locke) is “Bush’s idea.” Support for natural rights is so broad that I have trouble identifying any reputable person who disagrees with it. If Will is trying to imply that Kerry is such a person, he hasn’t provided any evidence.

“he is allowing Bush to have what he wants, a one-issue election”

Kerry isn’t making this a one-issue election, Bush is…with the complicity of the media. It’s disingenuous to blame Kerry for the media’s failings. I recommend “Dumbest. Election. Ever.” by William Rivers Pitt for some commentary on what’s being left out of the campaign due to the myopic obsession with who-did-what during Vietnam.

“the risible incoherence of his still-multiplying positions on Iraq”

Just because a political position doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker doesn’t mean it’s incoherent. (Kerry’s pandering is a disappointment, but I haven’t yet seen a candidate who doesn’t occasionally tell an audience what they want to hear.) Bush’s strong-and-wrong stance on Iraq makes for better and more consistent sound-bites, but it’s as miserable a failure as his other policies. (As I mentioned previously, I’m looking forward to the debates. They won’t be perfect, but I can’t imagine them being worse than the campaign ads.)

"the antiwar candidate"

I don’t have enough free time to research every instance where Kerry may have described his stance as “antiwar,” but I did find this exchange with Chris Matthews, which has recently spawned some deliberate misrepresentations:

MATTHEWS: Do you think you belong in that category of candidates who more or less are unhappy with this war? The way it‘s been fought? Along with General Clark, along with Howard Dean, and not necessarily in companionship politically on the issue of the war with people like Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt? Are you one of the anti-war candidates?

KERRY: I am. Yes. In the sense that I don‘t believe the president took to us war as he should have, yes. Absolutely. Do I think this president violated his promises to America? Yes, I do, Chris. Was there a way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable? You bet there was and we should have done it right.

“the Vietnam War, which those activists detested then or have learned to detest through liberalism's catechism”

This is rather humorous: the Right usually insists that the Left has no fixed principles, but now Will says there’s a liberal catechism. That’s great to know…I wonder if he can tell me where to get a copy?

That’s about all the time I can spend on a single op-ed piece.


Utilitarians are generally exceptions to the concept of natural rights, ever since the days of Jeremy Bentham. (He wrote in Anarchical Fallacies that natural rights are "simple nonsense," and that "natural and imprescriptable rights" are "nonsense on stilts.")

I suspect that Jefferson's "Laws of Nature" phrase from the Declaration may be largely responsible for Americans' predilection for the terms "natural law" and "natural rights," even though the concepts themselves remain largely unexamined.

Three Years Later

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“On Tuesday morning, a piece was torn out of our world. A patch of blue sky that should not have been there opened up in the New York skyline. In my neighborhood--I live eight blocks from the World Trade Center--the heavens were raining human beings. Our city was changed forever. Our country was changed forever. Our world was changed forever.”

Jonathan Schell “A Hole in the World” (The Nation, 13 September 2001)

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2004 is the previous archive.

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