Friday, October 08, 2004

Kerry Wins Again, But Closer Contest

I'm giving this debate to Kerry as well, though he was not nearly as strong as in the first debate and President Bush improved greatly. Like in the first debate, I'm going to give comments to each candidate (these are before I read the spin, by the way).

Kerry: Bad move not addressing "flipflop" on Iraq in the first question, but you got to it later so no harm down. Good job incorporating the Republicans indicting Bush's mishandling of Iraq, rhetorically quite strong. Great point on the President having to win the peace, not the military. Neat refutation to Bush's point that he "listened to the generals on the ground" on Iraq. Looked calm, dignified, and presidential, which is important. Hammered Bush on choosing Tax Cuts over Defense, which is his weak spot, excellent! Stellar performance overall on the FP portion of the debate. Might have been a little churlish on the balanced budget accusation (not that I mind). Sounded shaky when saying you supported Tort Reform, should have just focused on that it was 1/2 % of the problem (though Bush had a surprisngly good response to that). Drug reimportation was your best issue on economy. I'm not sure if saying that Bush counts as a small business under his tally is a political gamble that will pay off. Sounded very uncomfortable on abortion questions. Could have knocked Bush cold on the "mistakes" question. Closing was good, not a knockout. And I think the constant repetition of "I have a plan" is a brilliant move. It both a) makes you seem more solid and resolute and b) suggests that Bush doesn't, which is one of his weak points. OVERALL: A on Foreign Policy, B on Domestic, A- overall.

Bush: Sounded WAY out of control on the FP portion of the debate. At times you seemed almost desperate, and that's really going to hurt I think. One good FP line was how Kerry changed in response to Howard Dean, that's a damning attack. Unfortunately, it was the only good shot of that portion of the debate. Seemed like you were going to attack the moderator when arguing that we had a coalition, and Kerry's response was killer there. Overall, very poor performance on Foreign Policy, I don't think you were very reassuring. Weak answer to drug reimportation question (could come from a "third world"?). On the other hand, "defensive medicine" answer to Kerry's minimization of liability reform as an issue was stellar. I'm not sure if you want to focus on "credibilty" right now, as I think Americans are abit more worried about your credibilty than Kerry's. Reasonable defense on Environmental question. Sounded GREAT on abortion, really sticked it. Close was solid. D+ on Foreign Policy, B on Domestic, C+ overall.

Let the spinning commence.

Pre-Debate 2

Well, again, I'm not as panicky before this debate as I was before the last one. However, that doesn't mean all is well for Senator Kerry. There are two potential pitfalls of the debate tonight: 1) That the style will hamper Kerry and 2) That the post-debate media spin will go to Bush regardless of the content.

To the first, etc frets:
One concern I have about tonight's debate is that the townhall format doesn't really lend itself to hitting Bush on Iraq. If the postdebate focus groups I've been watching are any indication, "undecided" voters seem to want the candidates to talk about what they're going to do in Iraq going forward, not the mistakes made so far. This is, of course, preposterous, since our options going forward have been shaped entirely by the administration's long list of failures. You can't discuss one without the other. But the questions are likely to be along those lines nonetheless, which could complicate things for Kerry.

Ultimately, he doesn't think it will have too much of an impact, but it's still something to keep in mind.

To the second, The American Prospect wonders if the media won't just declare Bush the winner for the sake of balance. Already, GOP spinners are claiming that the media is declaring Kerry the winner only because they are closet liberals who want a Democratic victory. This may have a kernel of truth to it (see, for example, my analysis of the VP debate, which appears to be in the distinct minority opinion), but it shouldn't, in theory, stop the media from reporting accurately on the events tonight. Of course, in theory the media cares about accuracy in reporting. Old myths die hard.

In any event, Bush is slipping badly in the polls, so Kerry has some breathing room. I'll stand by what I said before, as long as Kerry presents himself as merely a viable alternative to Bush, he wins by Technical Knockout. Hopefully, "viability" isn't too hard of a hurdle to clear.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Death Penalty Doubts

I haven't really thought much about the death penalty much recently. I've thought for some time now that the judicial system in the US is badly broken, and that precludes any claims that we are "sure" of a defendants doubt. I'm undecided at this time about whether the Death Penalty is inherently immoral, but I am sure that it is as applied in the United States today.

However, this New York Times story jolted me out of my reverie. The basics of the story are simple: The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 8-7 against the appeal of a man who says he was wrongly convicted of murder. What makes this case unique is that 6 of the 7 dissenting judges don't just disagree with the majority on an arcane point of law, they think the defendant is flat out innocent. The 7th dissenter believes that the new information that has come to light casts at least enough doubt so as to require a new trial. Specifically:
Mr. House was convicted of murdering a neighbor, Carolyn Muncey, in Union County, Tenn., in 1985. The prosecution argued that he had first raped her, saying that semen found on her clothing matched his blood type. The jury cited the rape as a reason for imposing death.

But DNA testing, which was not available at the time, has proved that the semen was that of Mrs. Muncey's husband, Hubert.

At a recent Federal District Court hearing to determine whether Mr. House should be allowed to reopen his case, witnesses testified that Mr. Muncey was an alcoholic who beat his wife. Two witnesses said he had confessed to killing his wife while drunk. A third witness said he had asked her to supply him with an alibi for the murder. Three others also implicated Mr. Muncey, who denied the accusations.

I'm stunned that anyone could conclude at this point that Mr. House is guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt at this point. "This is unprecedented," said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University. "A case in which six judges find that the defendant didn't do the crime is more than just a legal curiosity. In any rational legal universe, there is now at least reasonable doubt about the defendant's guilt."

Unfortunately, we don't live in a rational legal universe. We live in the United States, where innocence presents no barrier to ol' sparky.

The case is likely to be appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Kerry Surges

The latest Zogby polling has Kerry surging into the electoral college lead.

Of the 16 battleground states polled, Kerry is ahead in all but Missouri, Tennessee, and West Virginia. He leads in Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arkansas, Ohio, Nevada and Florida, and is outside the margin of error in Pennsylvania, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Michigan, and New Mexico (Bush's three states are within the margin of error).

Looks like the debate moved some numbers after all (though Outside the Beltway doubts the credibility of the poll).

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

VP Post-Debate Part 2

I was surprised to see that many commentators gave the round to Edwards. I was obviously very convinced that Cheney came out on top. But while some people (Powerline, Daniel Drezner, Mickey Kaus (weakly)) agree, it appears that the CW is badly split, with many learned people giving Edwards the nod(indeed, Noam Schieber thinks Edwards won more decisively than Kerry won his debate, which I think is crazy).

At first I took this to merely mean that Democrats were winning the spin war, which I predicted would dominate the post-debate analysis here more than normal. However, a few things have made me reconsider, slightly.

I still think that Cheney won, and by a considerable margin. However, an emailer to Andrew Sullivan makes an excellent point: Cheney addressed wonks, Edwards addressed "normal folks." I, alas, am a wonk, which might explain Cheney's appeal to me. Facts and multipointed arguments appeal to me, but most people need issues distilled to their essence. Edwards might have been superior on that count.

That explains part of the issue, but I think I've discovered one more quality about myself in the process: I like mean. Most people don't, but I do. Noam Schieber (subscription only) writes
It's pretty hard to be less likeable than evil incarnate, but Dick Cheney gave it his best shot. When Cheney disputed the accusation that the United States has spent $200 billion in Iraq, he explained that some of that money actually benefited Afghanistan and the global war on terror, but then couldn't resist adding, "You probably weren't there to vote for that." It was just one in a series of snide asides from Cheney. He repeatedly invoked the kind of derisive formulations that work before partisan audiences on the campaign trail--"I can think of a lot of words to describe Senator Kerry's position on Iraq; 'consistent' is not one of them"--but just sound peevish in a neutral setting. Cheney practically growled that Edwards and Kerry's rhetoric "would be more credible if there was a record to back it up." And when he lectured Edwards about having the worst attendance record in the Senate--a perfectly legitimate issue--he sounded more like a dour high school principal than the vice president of the United States.

To most people, it's mean, to me, it's aggressive. And I want to see politicians rip the other's arguments to ittybitty shreds. Sullivan says that "if you're on Cheney's side and want to see him take some flesh out of his opponent, you will have loved the performance." I'm not on Cheney's side, but I'd like to see a bit more flesh flying. My major fault with Kerry in his debate was that he wasn't aggressive enough, not hitting the President hard enough on Homeland Security and current Iraq policy. One of the things that angers me most about modern politics is that, inexplicably, politicians are perfectly willing to smear their opponents with poorly substantiated personal attacks (Swift Boats) but refuse to make obvious and pertinent attacks on true policy weaknesses. Perhaps it will never happen, but I want to see a surge in HARSH and FAIR attacks in political discourse, rather than the pandering sop we get today. Nowadays, political arguments appear to only be one or the other, which is bothersome. Though I don't agree with Cheney's specific allegations, he was right to raise them and I think they need to be addressed.

Polls split on the winner: ABC gave it to Cheney, CBS only surveyed undecided voters and put Edwards on top.

And for a veritable breadbasket of different takes on the debate, I give you:
Andrew Sullivan
Jeff Jarvis
Spencer Ackerman
John Judis
Jonathan Chait
Will Salatan
Jim Geraghty
David Frum
Paul Begala
Tucker Carlson
Kevin Drum
Amy Sullivan

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

VP Debate Analysis

Prior to this debate, I claimed that 1) neither candidate would score a huge win on merits and 2) the debate wouldn't matter. I was wrong on the first, and I hope I was wrong on the second.

Cheney, I thought (and I'm writing without having seen any of the postdebate spin or commentary), clearly won this debate. He was more authoritative, more insightful, seemed to have a better command of the issues, and even seemed somewhat personable (at least compared to his stereotype of being an ogre who eats children). Edwards seemed like, well, a pretty boy. He seemed over his head, rehearsed, essentially like Bush was last debate (except without the deer in the headlights facial expressions).

This time, I scored each round (and closing speech) out of ten. The final score was Cheney 190/220, Edwards 188/220. But this is deceptively close, since it overweights the economic part of the debate (which Edwards won) by 20 points (as it had 2 more questions). Since most Americans will overweight the foreign policy part if anything, this makes Edwards seem stronger than he was.

Again, I'd say that a two point differential vastly understates how much Cheney won this debate by. Hopefully, this won't be a huge factor in the election. The only thing that did seem telling was how Cheney took the FMA off the table. He refused to stand up for it, and I think that was telling and courageous. It also will blow the religious right sky high. Aside from that, there wasn't much to say. Cheney managed to do a good a job relabeling Kerry a flipflopper (much better than Bush was). Edwards made Cheney look like the antichrist ("He voted against head start. He voted against meals on wheels. He voted against apple pie. He voted against rainbows...etc"), which doesn't help anybody. Cheney's attacks actually had relevancy to the electoral politics, and could reverberate with whoever was watching. MAYBE Edwards provided the setup for Kerry on the economic debate, but I doubt it. To go back to the grading patterns I used last time, I'd give Edwards a B- and Cheney an A-.

VP Pre-Debate

Alright, I'm not going to hyper-ventilate before the debate this time. Andrew Sullivan thinks that Cheney will crush Edwards. I'm not so sure. I can imagine both parties legitimately claiming victory after this one, and the final decision on "who won" coming down to those who really count in this election: The viewers and voters. Just kidding. This one will come down to the spin wars. Cheney is very, very good at inspiring the fear of God in people. He makes even absurd threats sound credible, and he has actual legitimate threats to work with in this debate. So he can go the "tough realist" route, and gain applause and laudations from the Conservative blogosphere. Edwards, meanwhile, still has a good reputation and vibe amongst voters, and assuming he goes on the attack, he'll continue the Democrats' ever-present quest for credibilty, hopefully taking some swing voters along the way. One of Edwards' strengths is that he can sound nice even when he's ripping someone to shreds, in contrast to the gruff Cheney (both of these tactics, incidentally, have their merits). Since the speakers have such disparate speaking styles, both sides will play up their candidate's strength in the debate, and it will be up to the media to pick the storyline and thus anoint the winner. This isn't to say it's impossible for one of them to have a clear victory tonight, I just don't think it's as likely.

Ironically, one thing is certain about this debate: It won't matter. So don't stress!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Humaniterean Intervention

Human Rights Watch makes a compelling critique of the claim that invading Iraq was a humaniterean intervention. Considering that I supported the war on precisely those grounds, I was impressed by the clarity and strength of their argument. My thoughts follow.

First of all, let me say that my respect for HRW shot up about 10 fold after reading this. I had always seen them as a bleeding-heart, cry-at-every-minute-allegation-but-never-DREAM-of-actually-DOING-anything-about-it type of organization, one that would try and end a genocide by slapping the perpetrators with a "harsh condemnation." So I was quite surprised to find out that, not only did HRW support interventions in certain situations, it even had a relatively sophisticated criteria to determine when those interventions were justified (and amazingly, one that doesn't blindly worship the UN or multilateralism). They argue that:
In our view, as a threshold matter, humanitarian intervention that occurs without the consent of the relevant government can be justified only in the face of ongoing or imminent genocide, or comparable mass slaughter or loss of life. To state the obvious, war is dangerous. In theory it can be surgical, but the reality is often highly destructive, with a risk of enormous bloodshed. Only large-scale murder, we believe, can justify the death, destruction, and disorder that so often are inherent in war and its aftermath. Other forms of tyranny are deplorable and worth working intensively to end, but they do not in our view rise to the level that would justify the extraordinary response of military force. Only mass slaughter might permit the deliberate taking of life involved in using military force for humanitarian purposes.

In addition, the capacity to use military force is finite. Encouraging military action to meet lesser abuses may mean a lack of capacity to intervene when atrocities are most severe. The invasion of a country, especially without the approval of the U.N. Security Council, also damages the international legal order which itself is important to protect rights. For these reasons, we believe that humanitarian intervention should be reserved for situations involving mass killing.


If this high threshold is met, we then look to five other factors to determine whether the use of military force can be characterized as humanitarian. First, military action must be the last reasonable option to halt or prevent slaughter; military force should not be used for humanitarian purposes if effective alternatives are available. Second, the intervention must be guided primarily by a humanitarian purpose; we do not expect purity of motive, but humanitarianism should be the dominant reason for military action. Third, every effort should be made to ensure that the means used to intervene themselves respect international human rights and humanitarian law; we do not subscribe to the view that some abuses can be countenanced in the name of stopping others. Fourth, it must be reasonably likely that military action will do more good than harm; humanitarian intervention should not be tried if it seems likely to produce a wider conflagration or significantly more suffering. Finally, we prefer endorsement of humanitarian intervention by the U.N. Security Council or other bodies with significant multilateral authority. However, in light of the imperfect nature of international governance today, we would not require multilateral approval in an emergency context.

These are somewhat similar to the guidelines I created for a paper in progress on the Iraq war. My guidelines were
First, the country in question must either have interests directly tied to the US or be in the midst of an egregious, continuing, and flagrant human rights violation. Second, no other nation or group closer to the source of conflict can be both willing and able to defuse the situation. If a local party can defuse the situation but requests US aid, the US should grant it but is not obligated to do so. Third, the US must act with the interests of the country in question at heart, not our own political desires (though win-win syllogisms are always useful). Fourth, the US must act in a manner that mitigates the conflict, never aggravating it.

My guidelines are somewhat more leiniant, but quite similar. And I have a geniune appreciation for the realism present in an issue that is too often cast solely in idealistic terms. In fact, I agree with virtually everything that HRW has to say. My only point of departure is that I think "lesser" human rights violations can legitimately trigger an intervention.

HRW recommends that alternative methods be used to end human rights violations that are not genocide. For example, they propose diplomatic pressure, sanctions, and most importantly, indictments for violations of international law. In an ideal world, I'd agree with them. However, the track record of these proposals is not good. Dictators (especially in isolated states like North Korea) have managed to turn a deaf ear to global outcry with little to no consequence. Furthermore, sanctions have historically been used to strengthen the hand of oppressive regimes. Leon T. Hadar uses the example of Burma to argue that
"sanctions strengthen the hand of the ruling authorities by creating a scapegoat for their own internal policy failures and narrowing the opportunity of private individuals…to expand their economic, social, and cultural contacts with the citizens of the West"

Furthermore, expressions of moral indignation can only last so long before they become "old news." Making our human rights policy solely dependent on diplomatic pressure lets dictators try and "wait out the storm." At best, it will only encourage them to violate human rights more quietly, and as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and China among others demonstrate, it is rather easy to violate human rights systematically, persistantly, and egregiously without arousing a sustainable international outcry. The worst case scenario is that human rights violaters will see global inaction as tacit consent to their oppression. Samantha Power uses the example of Serbia:
Slobodan Milosevic saw that he got away with the brutal suppression of independence movements in Slovenia and Croatia and he reasoned he would pay no price for doing the same in Bosnia and Kosovo. Because so many individual perpetrators were killing for the first time and deciding daily how far they would go, the United States and its European allies missed critical opportunities to try to deter them. When they ignored genocide around the world, the Western powers were not intending to 'green light' the perpetrators. But because the killers told themselves they were doing the world a favor by 'cleansing' the 'undesirables,' some surely interpreted silence as consent or even support.

While the threat of criminal indictments might be a more effective tool, it will only work if there is also a credible threat of actual prosecution and prison time. However, states are unlikely to surrender their own leaders to international courts even under the best of circumstances, let alone when the only decision-maker is often the one with the outstanding warrant. In this context, it is unclear how HRW expects to make legitimate legal progress against human rights violaters without intervening to extract them. They suggest that the legal threat will prevent leaders from traveling abroad, but that gets us back to the situation of "quiet" rights violations. Though the HRW approach has intuitive appeal, practically it means consenting to innumerable human rights violations around the world, with virtually no hope of recourse or redress for the victims.

In evaluating how our action in Iraq meets this criteria, HRW concludes that the war fails the first, second, and fifth (semi-optional) clauses, and largely met the third and fourth clauses. I agree with this assessment, however, I think that it is more of a critique of US pre-war actions than the theory that war was a reasonable action. Yes, we should have worked more aggressively to exhaust our actions before invading. And clearly, our focus on WMDs and terrorism was misguided. But had we acted properly in terms of these two areas, we'd still, odds are, have to invade Iraq. These failures are indictments of the Bush administration's particular war policies, but not of the war in theory.

Ultimately, oppressive regimes need to be held strictly accountable for their actions. At times, this might have to include legitimate military threats. However, with that caveat, the five-prong criteria given by HRW seems reasonable, even prescient given the current state of affairs in Iraq. Kudos to the authors.


I'm sort of breaking my rule against talking about issues other than, well, the issues in this campaign in order to laud my Conservative friends at Powerline. The folks who brought you Rathergate and approximately 1,596,525 posts on SBVT have refused to jump on the "Jacketgate" bandwagon. For those of you who don't know, some grainy video shot of the debate appears to show Kerry taking something out of his jacket, which might be paper, which might have notes, which would violate the debate rules. Though four updates makes it seem like they're still acting as enablers for the story, its nice to see that they finally understand that one should vote on this election based on issues, not personal "character" (whatever that means).

So, repeat after me:
Voting for Bush because you think he'll be more aggressive against the terrorists, or like his tax cuts, or believe in his decisions on Iraq: Good.
Voting for Bush because of SBVT, or misplaced notes, or missing medals: Bad.
Voting for Kerry because you think he's got a plan to turn around the economy, or because you are appalled that Bush has ruined our Homeland Security infrastructure, or because you think Bush misjudged on Iraq: Good.
Voting for Kerry because of Bush's guard service, or drunk driving arrest, or possible cocaine use: Bad.

And not to detract from the overall complimentary tone of the post, but the last pro-SBVT jab was uncalled for. The evidence that Bush shirked his guard service, even without the Rather documents, is just as strong, if not stronger than the evidence presented in favor of the SBVT allegations.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Technical Knockout

UPDATE: 10/04 @ 11:40 AM
Now that the Common Wisdom on the first debate was that Kerry one, Bush partisans are switching tactics. Now they are quietly admitted that Kerry might have won (or that it was a "draw," which means Kerry won), but they argue that Kerry needed a knockout to really move in the election (examples here and here). I'd be tempted to dismiss this as normal spin, but because it has a chance to become a conservative talking point in the media, I feel compelled to address it. Kerry didn't need to blow Bush out of the water. He just needed to be a viable alternative.

John Kerry's problem has never been convincing swing voters that George Bush is doing a bad job. They're already well aware of that. Indeed, only 16% to 20% of undecided voters feel that the President deserves to be re-elected, while forty-percent of them feel that it is time for someone new (and that was before the debate!). Kerry's problem is that voters didn't see him as a viable alternative. They were worried he was spineless, a flipflopper, someone who would outsource our foreign policy to Paris. All John Kerry had to do was prove he wasn't a total wimp, and he'd convince alot of people who don't like Bush but weren't sure of the alternative.

The latest Newsweek poll confirms that this was the effect. Not only did Kerry erase his deficit, but he improved vis a vis Bush in virtually every category, jumping 6 percent in intelligence, 6% in leadership, 5% in ability to handle an international crisis, and a 12 point net gain on Homeland Security, among others. Bush's overall approval rating has dropped to 46%, the same amount of people who want to see him re-elected. (the CNN/Gallup poll says essentially the same thing). In other words, now that Kerry's proven himself not to be a total sap on these issues, he can persuade the plurality of Americans who'd rather see Bush out of office that they can trust him to be in it.

UPDATE: I finally found the bombshell support article for this proposition, from The American Prospect. If you're a Kerry partisan and want to be encouraged, check it out.

The Big Bounce

Newsweek's post-debate telephone poll has Kerry erasing his deficit in national polling and gaining ground in nearly every subset category. And better yet, the next debates focus on HIS strengths, the economy and domestic issues, where Kerry has double digit advantages on Bush. Lovely. One word of caution: One reason that Kerry beat Bush so badly is because he neutralized Bush's advantage on Bush's "best" issue. If Bush can do the same to Kerry (which I doubt, but it's possible), then we're back to where we started.

Also, Uncivil Litagator agrees with me on the absolute absurdity of the "You Forgot Poland" line. This is somewhat off-topic, but I needed an excuse to link to his site, because I think it's awesome. Also read the story of his greatest case. I'm not kidding, this is an incredible story, and I recommend it highly.