Updated at all hours
Morris vs. Shrum: The lines are pretty clearly drawn: Dick Morris says Gore is making a "mistake of historic proportions" if he centers
his campaign around Robert Shrum's patented populist "'us' vs. 'them' rhetoric." ... Isn't this--not whether there's a
fundraiser at the Playboy mansion--the big issue of the Democratic convention? It looked as if the Lieberman
nomination might mean an end to Shrumism, but then Lieberman started to campaign. ... On the other hand, Gore's father was a populist, so it's
not as if the rhetoric is being inauthentically imposed on him. ... And what would Morris have Gore talk about? Equally phony "social populist"
railings against Hollywood? ... It's hard to run a campaign that says, "We're both centrists, but I'm more competent," even if that's the real
reason to vote for Gore. And unless the vacuum is filled by something, it might be filled by the Real Gore--who, as revealed in Nicholas Lemann's New Yorker interview, is someone who may begin
babbling about the "self-sameness principle" at any moment. ... Kausfiles' free advice? Back (or lure) Bush into a corner in which
his Social Security plan becomes the test of his competence, then take apart the Social Security plan. Bush has already been a bit
shaky under fire about its details. ... But, yes, drop the cheap populism! Morris' arguments--that the voters are
too sophisticated to, for example, despise drug companies--seem right. ...
A NYT op-ed explains why child abuse is down nationwide since the 1996 welfare
reform. ... But you knew I'd link to that one.
Linkalinkalismism: Slate's "Today's Paper" feature
is especially good today. Nearly every paragraph points out something I
wouldn't have realized even if I had actually read the papers. ... The varied background of TP's Scott
Shuger pays off. As an ex-military guy, he knows about the flaws in classified reports! As a .. well, for some reason he also knows about Playboy clubs! He knows what
HMFIC means (I didn't). ... This is Web Value at its most Added!
Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" feature is now hopelessly biased against Bush and the Republicans. If you
have any doubts, check out the "Cross-Dressing Elephant Edition." ... George, Steven, Jonathan--I know what you're up to! Cut it out! ...
Third-bounce Liebermanalysis: There are more Muslims than Jews in the U.S., notes WSJ's John Fund. Muslims and Arab Christians
are especially important in pivotal Michigan. "Mr. Lieberman's staunch support of Israel," writes Fund, "may not endear
him to this constituency." Delicately put! ...
Sen. Moynihan deserves his Presidential Medal of Freedom (even though in this space he's been
compared to ... well, Satan). But it's a fair punishment that Moynihan had to get his medal at the same ceremony
where Marian Wright Edelman, whose politics Moynihan despises, received hers. (Moynihan blames the
antipoverty left for helping to sink his Nixon-era guaranteed-income plan. I'd say
the left unintentionally did the country a favor.) ...
The teen birth rate has fallen to its lowest level in 60 years. "The
most dramatic drop came among black teens, whose rate dropped 38
percent from 1991 to 1999," reports WaPo. ... Pssst! Isn't welfare
reform one of the possible causes of the cultural shift to birth control and
abstinence? Getting teens to postpone childbirth was one of the goals of that policy change, after all. Yet there
seems to be a bias against admitting that sometimes reform might have intended consequences along with
unintended ones. ... The stats are also another vindication of the Marxist paradigm! Change the economic
substructure (a booming labor market and no more easy welfare) and the rest of the culture, even something as seemingly deep-seated and non-economic as
sexual behavior, will change too. ...
Liebermania! Slate's Jacob Weisberg
explains that Lieberman really was non-partisan and effective at Sen. Thompson's campaign-finance
hearings, unlike, say, Sen. Torricelli. Weisberg hopes
Lieberman's selection serves "as a pivot that allows Gore
to reorient his candidacy" away from its previous "shrillness and
populist posturing." ... Best Liebermanalysis so far.
The excitable right: Jonah Goldberg wonders if Lieberman was picked not because he
will help Gore but because by bringing out the Jewish vote he will help
Hillary. ... (Today's question: 'Is it good for the shrew?') ... Peggy Noonan ... well, let's just say Peggy Noonan
is very, very happy. ... She also points out that "Christian conservatives love Joe Lieberman." Too bad the religious
right is fading! ...
Bwana James Atlas, always on the lookout for "intellectual" life in the teeming veldt of American culture,
tracks Al Gore in the NYT. Atlas's initial objection: Gore's ideas are from the '60s. But since Atlas never tells us what's
wrong with these '60s ideas, this amounts to sneering that Gore doesn't know Derrida, which Atlas himself
realizes is silly and snobby. So he drops the '60s complaint, and simply argues that Gore should
state his ideas "plainly and forcefully, not dressed up" in fancy "intellectual platitudes." Fair enough.
But a) Gore doesn't talk about Niebhur on the campaign trail, just to
egghead journalists like the
New Yorker's Nicholas Lemann. For example, Gore does make plain and forceful (if unconvincing and slightly bullying) arguments
in favor of affirmative action; b) Atlas, too, could have made his point much more plainly and forcefully
without meandering through a lot of fancy names that
mostly show what an intellectual Atlas is. ... Atlas' '60s complaint is a bit off the mark anyway, since Gore
talks to Lemann about "fractal" theory, evolutionary psychology and parallel processing, which I suspect are '90s (or at the earliest, '80s) fads,
not '60s fads. ... What's my reaction to Lemann's must-read profile, which has soured many of its readers on Gore? Well, Gore is weird, allright,
and I wouldn't want to spend a whole lot of time with him, but nothing he says is BS, and
some of it is even insightful. I say let the real, odd, abstract, and ultimately not-very-inspiring Gore stay
in the closet, and let's judge the fake, inauthentic, political Gore.
The decline in CNN's fortunes under Rick Kaplan continues--Fox News
beat Ted Turner's network in the 25-54 category
on the last two nights of the convention, Inside.com reports. An eager public is still
waiting for WaPo media reporter (and CNN pundit) Howard Kurtz's hard-hitting coverage
of this fairly important ongoing development on his beat. ... Howie: So what if you lose the TV gig?
There's always webcasts! And chat! ...
WaPo's Edsall claims to find a "sharp division over
affirmative action policy between the prospective
Republican presidential candidate and retired Gen.
Colin Powell," but he fails to document any strong anti-affirmative action
stance taken by George W. Bush. ... Racial preferences in Texas higher education were overturned by
the courts, not Bush. Isn't the real story that Bush (and now the GOPs under Bush) have in fact already abandoned
principled opposition to affirmative action as part of their rush to the center, and their
attempt to win at least some black votes? ... Kausfiles eyewitness report: There was actually sharp applause in the convention
hall for the cutting pro-affirmative action line in Powell's speech. This applause was
a mystery to kausfiles and many other observers--since Powell was basically saying "F--- You"--but one
possibility that can't be dismissed is that the delegates were actually sincere in supporting affirmative action, whatever the GOP platform
Imperfect Storm: Mike Allen of WaPo refers blithely to "the storm over the [Bush] ticket's junior member." But
is there really a "storm" over Cheney? Journalists' wishing doesn't make it so!
Quayle in '88 was a "storm." This was more like some sharp, well-coordinated attacks by Cheney's opponents,
which may or may not be working. ... Gore's attack ads against Cheney did
feature his cheerleading for
OPEC ("Cheney, an oil company CEO, said it was good for OPEC to cut
production so oil and gasoline prices could rise")--a story featured early on in kausfiles.
(Did kausfiles break the story? Not exactly. I was tipped off by an e-mail from
an alert reader, who saw a posting about it
on Lucianne.com.. Then I tipped off a friend in the Gore camp. Faster Politics in action!) ...
Alan Wolfe leans on sociobiology as a way of explaining
the surprising popularity of estate tax cuts. (Wanting to leave an estate is
in large part about devotion to kin who share your genes). ... So does Wolfe take back all those
nasty things he's said in the past about the sociobiologists? For example, in The
New Republic four years ago, Wolfe
snipped that "sociobiology offers occasionally interesting illuminations
about how human practices came to be, close to no illuminations
about the ways specific societies or individuals behave,
and no illuminations at all about how ethical and
moral issues ought to be resolved." But hey, it sure comes in handy when the NYT
op-ed page beckons! ... Wolfe's op-ed piece is
actually an illuminating contrarian take, arguing more generally that Americans
support unencumbered inheritance on moral grounds, as a means of generosity and
solidarity "among people they know." ...
Jeffrey Toobin joins Jerry Oppenheimer, Renata Adler, J.H. Hatfield and Binjamin Wilkomirski in
Martin Arnold's honor
roll of sloppy, inaccurate, and "fictitious" nonfiction books ... Note to Arnold: Expect heavy back-down pressure from
Random House and editor Ann Godoff. Be strong! What can they do to you? ... Wait, don't answer that ...
Strange wet-blanket assessment of
welfare reform by one of its supporters, Douglas Besharov, and Peter Germanis in the Summer 2000 Public Interest. Their main
heresy: They say "the strong economy--and massively increased aid to the working poor--almost certainly
have had more impact than welfare reform per se" in causing the recent dramatic
(more than 50%) caseload decline. But Besharov and Germanis have no answer for the point made by GOP welfare
expert Ron Haskins--that we've had a strong economy before, and welfare caseloads haven't fallen (indeed,
in the 1980s boom they rose a bit). Even the econometric studies cited by B & G say welfare reform gets 30 to 45 percent of the credit while the economy explains only 15 to 25 percent
of the decline. And B & G themselves describe the "dramatic" changes in the culture of welfare offices
that encourage potential recipients to get into the labor force. So why do they strain to reach a counterintuitive conclusion
their article doesn't support? ... Of course, "massively increased aid to the working poor" was an integral part of
welfare reform ("Make Work Pay"), at least as far as its Democratic supporters (and not a few Republicans)
were concerned. ...
Pretty good WSJ story Tuesday on GM's failing, pathetically bland mid-size Saturn "L" series
cars--a failure predicted in kausfiles back when it wasn't
even kausfiles! GM will lose $800 million on the car this year, almost wiping out its overseas profits, according to the
Journal. ... A couple of points: 1) Reporter Gregory White says "GM was so proud" of the Saturn brand.
The real story, kausfiles still suspects, is that Saturn's success in
building a reliable car (in part by relaxing rigid work rules) embarrassed the
rest of the company and its union. So the GM bureaucracy slowly killed the brand
by moving production of the L-series out of Saturn's high-quality, flexible Spring Hill, Tennessee, facility into a tired old-style UAW factory in Wilmington,
Delaware, and making the car a retooled Opel instead of a fresh design; 2) The biggest reason nobody is buying the L series is its
lame styling, which the WSJ attributes to idiot executives who overrode the warnings of the Saturn design staff. But all Saturns
were mysteriously uglified last year, even the zooty models, so the design staff is probably to blame as well (unless the brand-wide
ugliness was ordered up by execs as part of the insidious kill-Saturn conspiracy!). ...
"'I'm sure Subaru sells a heck of a lot of cars
to people who aren't gay, too.'" I mean just because
you drive the car doesn't necessarily mean you're gay.
"Certainly, many Subaru drivers are heterosexual." Really, there are
lots of them. ... WaPo's
"Style" section explores the niche marketing
campaign of the car known to some as the "Lesbaru." The car company's latest campaign: ads with the slogan "It's Not
A Choice. It's the Way We're Built." The idea is
that "straight people don't know what's going on," says one of the campaign's
developers, a Mr. Poux. They just
think the ad is about four-wheel-drive. ... Problem: What
happens to Subaru's under-the-radar campaign once
everyone reads "Style" section articles
about it? Will straights buy it if it becomes branded as "the gay car"? I bet the
optimistic quotes in WaPo from various gay-niche
marketers about the number of homosexual Subaru
buyers give a wildly inflated picture of the size of the
gay market. If Subaru loses the breeders, it goes broke. ... Of
course, it varies by model. The Legacy is still pretty
straight, apparently. But the Impreza, and the Forester... you
know what "Forester" means, don't you? ... Thanks to
Scott Shuger's "Today's Papers" for
highlighting this story. ...
Finally the NYT wakes up to the
turnaround in America's ghettos--partially carrying out a
long-standing assignment from
Mickey's Assignment Desk. ...Pam Belluck's front page piece ("Blighted Areas Are Revived As Crime Rate
Falls") isn't very deep or detailed, but it's a start. You can guess my major complaint: Belluck
credits crime reduction, the economy, tax incentives and the "dismantling of huge crime-plagued
housing projects," but she ignores the other huge change in the political economy of the ghetto, namely
welfare reform. When you turn a neighborhood filled with
struggling welfare mothers into a neighborhood filled increasingly with
struggling working mothers--as welfare reform in a booming economy has done--you
don't change only those families who have left welfare. You change the character of the whole community, no? I'm not saying welfare
reform is the whole story; I'm saying it contributes crucially to the virtuous
circle Belluck describes. ... The way the NYT now covers the ghetto-turnaround, we get
Belluck-type pieces that ignore the role of welfare, while the effects of the 1996 reform are
covered by Jason
DeParle's narrow-focused stories, which concentrate mainly
on the impact of reform on a few mothers already on welfare--and don't report much on the effect on
the larger ghetto community, which includes those mothers who now never go on welfare in the first place. (For
more on this point, click here.)
A recognition of the larger social role of welfare reform falls between the NYT's cracks ...
Kausfiles Piles On!: Someone has finally dared to take on Howie Kurtz, the ominpresent WaPo media
critic. Franklin Foer's
piece in The New Republic doesn't kill Kurtz, but it's
a start. Kurtz is an energetic reporter, a nice guy, and a Stakhanovite worker. But
Foer makes the essential criticism of him, which is
that he approaches his job "like an East German figure-skating judge, docking reporters for
technicalities"--especially minor conflicts of interest--rather
than judging their product on more varied criteria (truthfulness, judgment, insight,
writing quality, etc.) the way a book critic judges a
book. ... Foer might have
added three other points: 1) While Kurtz snipes at penny-ante conflicts--he recently
wrote a "gotcha" item about kausfiles because I made $1.92 [misprint?--ed Nope.]
in disclosed commissions
went to Amazon.com from my site and bought a book I'd favorably reviewed--he
himself is a giant,
walking conflict-of-interest, holding down a presumably remunerative job as host of a TV show
on CNN-Time-Warner-AOL, one of the major organizations he is
supposed to report on. (I don't think Kurtz
would pull his punches because of this, but it's a bigger temptation than $1.92,
and perhaps worth some prophylactic restrictions.) 2) He's pretty clueless about the Web.
For example, he seemed to have learned from my pathetic little disclosure that
Web sites often get a cut of book sales--even though there
is an extensive
Web debate about this practice, which is engaged in by big Web players such as
the New York Times. 3) While I think Kurtz is an honest reporter, he's
stretched so thin these days that he can be extremely sloppy. In his piece on
this column, to pick a random example, he misread and misreported both
my conflict-of-interest disclosure and an e-mail I sent him.
The next week he printed a correction, and
fucked the correction up too! It's
lucky I'm not bitter and vindictive about this. ... (Kurtz did
send placatory e-mails
saying "You're entitled to be pissed off" and "I do feel
badly about this.") ... Update:
Jonah Goldberg seems to defend Kurtz,
but he really agrees with Foer--he just thinks the sort of media criticism Foer wants is
already being widely practiced, on the Right. ...
Guess what's a totally legitimate issue in the 2000 election that never gets talked about?
Welfare reform. The 1996 welfare reform
law expires in 2002, meaning it will be reauthorized--and amended, perhaps significantly--by
the next Congress. The Left knows this, and is already gearing up--see this piece by
Frances Fox Piven in The Nation. So where's the Right? ... Hey, Hastert! You don't have to
talk about unpopular tax cuts or education. You don't have to break new ground. You can
trot out ol' reliable! Do we really want Charles
Rangel (chairman of Ways & Means if the Dems retake the House) rewriting
the welfare law? ... Welfare is actually a more legitimate
issue than education. Education is still mainly a state and local responsibility. Welfare has
historically--since 1935, at least--been shaped by federal mandates. ...
Still worth reading:
there a Mrs. Peanut?" "Does the Pillsbury Doughboy actually make the
cookies, and if so, are they made from parts of himself?" Salon's
Ruth Shalit makes hilarious dry fun of the "brand managers" of corporate
icons. Update: There's a Part