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October 12, 2004
4:38am EDT




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BY JAMES TARANTO
Wednesday, October 6, 2004 3:19 p.m. EDT

Best of the Tube This Afternoon
We're scheduled to appear on CNBC's "Kudlow & Cramer" this afternoon, discussing last night's vice presidential debate. The program airs from 5 to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, and our segment is scheduled for the last 10 minutes of the hour. As usual, check your local listings.

John Edwards, Gay-Baiter?
Two decades ago, when we were a teenager, we knew an older man named Paul. Paul was in his late 50s, a reformed alcoholic and born-again Christian, and he had very conservative views on social issues. In particular, he had a strong antipathy to homosexuality. And he taught us a lesson about the complexity of political identity.

From the description above, you'd think he was a member of the "religious right" and thus a reliable Republican voter. But in fact he was a diehard Democrat who detested Ronald Reagan. Why? Well, Paul worked for the U.S. Postal Service, which means he was a blue-collar worker, a federal employee and a union man.

Given his age, he presumably became a Democrat during the FDR and Truman years, when the main difference between the two parties had to do with economic class, with the Dems the party of the workingman. Most of today's "social issues" weren't even on the political radar at that time; what liberals today call "extreme right-wing" views were, for better or worse, merely a matter of longstanding tradition.

We thought of Paul during last night's debate, when John Edwards said this during an exchange on same-sex marriage:

I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And you can't have anything but respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It's a wonderful thing. And there are millions of parents like that who love their children, who want their children to be happy.

Why bring the Cheneys' daughter's private life into this? Here's a theory: At present, a vast majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage; when it comes up to a statewide vote--whether in a red state or blue--voters typically reject it by majorities ranging from 60% to 80%. This means there are a lot of Democrats who, like Paul 20 years ago, belong to their party despite its views on social issues. Among these, we would surmise, are many black and other minority voters whose party identification grew out of Lyndon Johnson's civil rights triumphs in the 1960s.

We don't agree with the gay-rights crowd that "bigotry" is behind all opposition to same-sex marriage, but there's no doubt that some opponents harbor antigay prejudice. Were these the voters John Edwards was addressing when he brought Cheney's daughter into the debate?

The Kedwards Two-Step
Having watched the first two debates, we can now discern a theme: Kedwards, trying to appeal to two different sets of voters, are sending two divergent sets of messages. We noted Friday that on numerous occasions during last week's debate John Kerry said something strong and sensible, followed by a "but" clause that contradicted or qualified it. President Bush laid out some of the foreign policy contradictions in a speech this morning:

Last week in our debate he once again came down firmly on every side of the Iraq war. He stated that Saddam Hussein was a threat, and that America had no business removing that threat. Sen. Kerry said our soldiers and Marines are not fighting for a mistake, but also called the liberation of Iraq a "colossal error." He said we need to do more to train Iraqis, but he also said we shouldn't be spending so much money over there. He said he wants to hold a summit meeting--so he can invite other countries to join what he calls "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." He said terrorists are pouring across the Iraqi border, but also said that fighting those terrorists is a diversion from the war on terror. You hear all that, and you can understand why somebody would make a face.

John Edwards was at it last night too. "There is no connection between the attacks of Sept. 11 and Saddam Hussein," he declared. While this statement now appears to be true, in the sense that Saddam was not a conspirator in the attacks, pleading the innocence of America's enemies isn't an appealing message outside the antiwar left. And, as The Weekly Standard notes, two years ago Edwards did acknowledge connections of a different kind:

  • "Others argue that if even our allies support us, we should not support this resolution because confronting Iraq now would undermine the long-term fight against terrorist groups like al Qaeda. Yet, I believe that this is not an either-or choice. Our national security requires us to do both, and we can."--Oct. 10, 2002

  • "The terrorist threat against America is all too clear. Thousands of terrorist operatives around the world would pay anything to get their hands on Saddam's arsenal, and there is every reason to believe that Saddam would turn his weapons over to these terrorists. No one can doubt that if the terrorists of Sept. 11 had had weapons of mass destruction, they would have used them. On Sept. 12, 2002, we can hardly ignore the terrorist threat and the serious danger that Saddam would allow his arsenal to be used in aid of terror."--Sept. 12, 2002

Last night Edwards appealed to swing voters by acknowledging that "Saddam Hussein was a threat that needed to be addressed directly." Then he moved back to the left by saying that if the U.N. weapons inspectors "had time to do their job, they would have discovered what we now know, that in fact Saddam Hussein had no weapons, that in fact Saddam Hussein has no connection with 9/11, that in fact Saddam Hussein has little or no connection with al Qaeda."

It's a similar story on domestic policy. Kedwards want to cut taxes (yours) and raise taxes (on the other fellow, that rich scoundrel). They "believe that marriage is between a man and a woman," as Edwards said last night, but "we should not use the Constitution to divide this country."

Not all these positions are contradictory, and we even agree in part with that last one (we oppose both court-mandated same-sex marriage and the Federal Marriage Amendment). But when it comes to most issues, it's hard to tell which "side" they're on.

In domestic policy, at least, this reflects smart politics given that the Democrats' ideological base is committed to such unpopular things as higher taxes. Bill Clinton after all was the master of triangulation. In foreign policy, we have to agree with the president that sending "mixed messages" is dangerously irresponsible. But even there, it's probably Kedwards' best hope for victory. They have to be hawkish enough to appeal to swing voters yet dovish enough to hold their base, which otherwise might swing to Nader or just not turn out. Hence their votes for the war and against funding the troops. (Cheney on the latter got in one of his best digs of the night: "If they couldn't stand up to the pressures that Howard Dean represented, how can we expect them to stand up to al Qaeda?")

Thus Kedwards try to tell both sides what they want to hear. But that also means each side hears what the other side wants to hear. To judge by the enthusiasm Kerry has encountered on the campaign trail since Thursday, the left-wing base was happy with what he had to say. They heard what came after the "but"s and shrugged off what came before. It remains to be seen whether swing voters cooperated and did the opposite.

Give Us a Break
Here's another bit of class-warfare demagoguery from Edwards:

The country needs to know that under what they have put in place and want to put in place, a millionaire sitting by their [sic] swimming pool, collecting their statements to see how much money they're making, make their money from dividends, pays a lower tax rate than the men and women who are receiving paychecks for serving on the ground in Iraq.

Wrong, according to the Internal Revenue Service Web site:

If you serve in a combat zone as an enlisted person or as a warrant officer (including commissioned warrant officers) for any part of a month, all your military pay received for military service that month is excluded from gross income. For commissioned officers, the monthly exclusion is capped at the highest enlisted pay, plus any hostile fire or imminent danger pay received.

This page notes that Iraq and neighboring countries have been considered a combat zone since Jan. 17, 1991. Also eligible for the combat exemption are those serving in Afghanistan and parts of the former Yugoslavia and vicinity.

John Edwards, Sitzblinker
Did anyone else notice that John Edwards was blinking like crazy? To find out what that means, we consulted a March 1988 article from Psychology Today:

Increased blinking is often a sign of physical or psychological stress. People blink more when angry or excited, for example. And one of the earliest studies in blink research determined that anxiety can increase the blink rate: While courtroom witnesses were under hostile cross-examination they blinked much more frequently.

Richard Nixon is a case in point, says Stern, who first became interested in blinking during the Watergate era. "President Nixon's blink rate markedly increased when he was asked a question he was not prepared to answer," [psychologist John] Stern says. "His speech was well-controlled and did not manifest other symptoms of anxiety, but you could see it in his eyes. Most politicians have learned to disguise feelings except in ways they cannot inhibit."

Edwards can take heart that Nixon was elected vice president 52 years ago.

All That's Missing Is a Canal and Panama
"We have a plan for Iraq. . . . We have a plan for success. . . . We have to do better. We have a plan. . . . We have plans on both of those subjects. . . . John Kerry and I have a plan to do something about it. . . . We have proposed a plan to keep cases out of the system that don't belong there. . . . We think we have a plan to keep cases that don't belong in the system out, but we also do what they haven't done. . . . We have a serious health care plan. . . . We have a clear plan to improve our public schools."--John Edwards, vice presidential debate, Oct. 5

Forgettable, in Every Way
One of Dick Cheney's best zingers last night was when he said to John Edwards: "In my capacity as vice president, I am the president of Senate, the presiding officer. I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session. The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight."

It turns out Cheney was mistaken, as the Associated Press reports:

On Feb. 1, 2001, the vice president thanked Edwards by name at a Senate prayer breakfast and sat beside him during the event.

On April 8, 2001, Cheney and Edwards shook hands when they met off-camera during a taping of NBC's "Meet the Press," moderator Tim Russert said Wednesday on "Today."

On Jan. 8, 2003, the two met when the first-term North Carolina senator accompanied Elizabeth Dole to her swearing-in by Cheney as a North Carolina senator, Edwards aides also said.

Edwards did remember, and at a postdebate rally, he accused Cheney of "still not being straight with the American people":

"The vice president said that the first time I met Senator Edwards was tonight when we walked on the stage. I guess he forgot the time we sat next to each other for a couple hours about three years ago. I guess he forgot the time we met at the swearing in of another senator. So, my wife Elizabeth reminded him on the stage," Edwards said as the crowd roared.

According to Edwards' staff, Cheney replied, "Oh, yeah."

As it happens, we met Dick Cheney once, shaking his hand after a dinner in Washington. We remember meeting him because he is the vice president of the United States. We would be surprised, indeed flattered, if he remembered us. Blogger Adam Muntner likens Edwards to "a 15 year old girl sniffing about the High School football Captain, 'I guess he forgot about the time three years ago when he sat next to me on the bus!' It conveys that they aren't even in the same league."

Write Early and Often--III
The Wall Street Journal received this comment by e-mail yesterday, signed "Willis O'Herlihay":

I was going to vote for Bush but then I saw the Vice Presidential debate.

John Edwards is so CUTE!!!!

He hit every answer out of the ballpark! And his hair RULES!!!!!

I'm DEFINITELY voting for Kerry/Edwards now!

This election is so OVER! America is finally going to get the President it DESERVES!!!!

Why don't those stupid Republican just give up already???? I mean, they don't even have good HAIRCUTS.

The e-mail was sent at 4:58 p.m., four hours and two minutes before the debate began. Our initial reaction was to be pleasantly surprised that the Democratic National Committee's boilerplate is so much more entertaining than for last week's Bush-Kerry debate. But alas, it turns out the actual DNC boilerplate is depressingly similar to last week's:

The debate between John Edwards and Dick Cheney presented Americans with a stark choice.

John Edwards shared an optimistic vision for the next four years: Genuine leadership in the war on terror. An economic growth plan that creates jobs and keeps them here at home. Affordable health care for every American. A plan to make America stronger at home and respected abroad.

But Dick Cheney had nothing to share but attacks and excuses. As the architect of four years of failed Bush administration policies, Cheney had a lot to answer for in this debate. But he failed to explain those failures, instead attacking John Kerry over and over again.

I want a plan for the future, not attacks and excuses. The vice presidential debate made it clear that John Kerry and John Edwards are the right choice.

Journal letters editor reports having received a mere 800 of these as of 9 this morning. Meanwhile, readers keep e-mailing us sightings of the Bush-Kerry prefab letter:

The San Francisco Chronicle reports (bottom of column) receiving "no fewer than four letters" declaring Edwards the winner before the debate. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports receiving this nonboilerplate e-mail:

My wife and I are an undecided voters [sic] in Florida. My parents are undecided and live in Ohio. My brother and his wife are undecided and live in Pennsylvania.

That is, we all were undecided until we saw the Edwards-Cheney debate this evening. After watching Edwards dismantle Cheney, we have all decided to vote for Kerry-Edwards en masse. And not just the family members I just mentioned; all of my neighbors happened to be undecided and they all told me after the debate that they are going to vote for Kerry-Edwards as well. My family members in Ohio and Pennsylvania report the same thing. In other words, I can say with great confidence that, as a result of the Edwards demolition of Cheney this evening, approximately 600 formerly undecided voters have decided to vote for Kerry-Edwards.

All because Edwards did such a good job tonight.

The Enquirer calls this letter "hot air," because it was received at 4:58 p.m. (the same time the above letter to the Journal was sent). But the paper doesn't note, as we did yesterday, that it fell for the joke last week and published a DNC-generated Bush-Kerry debate letter.

The New York Times also waddles in with a piece on phony postdebate spin:

Determined to win the post-debate spin war on Tuesday night, the Bush campaign called on its supporters to flood the news media with quick declarations that Vice President Dick Cheney had come out ahead.

Ken Mehlman, Mr. Bush's campaign manager, delivered the request in an e-mail message to supporters early Tuesday morning.

"Immediately after the debate, visit online polls, chat rooms and discussion boards and make your voice heard," he said in the note, sent to the six million supporters on the campaign's e-mail list. "People's perceptions are shaped as much by their conversations around the water cooler as by the debates themselves."

The note--which is a mirror image of one sent out by the Democrats just before the first presidential debate last week . . .

Apparently for the Times this story wasn't fit to print until Republicans got into the act. But the Christian Science Monitor beat them to this story by more than 20 months.

The Emily Litella Alliance
The centerpiece of John Kerry's "plan" for Iraq has been the promise to use his "credibility" to persuade more "allies" to join the effort. But today's Washington Times reports that Kerry "conceded yesterday that he probably will not be able to convince France and Germany to contribute troops to Iraq if he is elected president":

"Does that mean allies are going to trade their young for our young in body bags? I know they are not. I know that," he said.

Never mind.

The Draft Bluff
As we first noted in December 2002, Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, has been pushing for reinstitution of the draft as a way of hindering American national security. Rangel believes conscription would make it harder politically to sustain a war effort. Yesterday the House brought Rangel's draft bill to a vote, and it failed, 402-2. The only "aye" votes came from Reps. John Murtha of Pennsylvania and Pete Stark of California. Rangel voted against his own bill!

Democrats have been trying to scare young voters by claiming President Bush has a "secret plan" to reintroduce conscription after the election. "It is a prostitution of the legislative process to take a serious issue and use it for political purposes on the eve of the election just to say they are against the draft," the New York Times quotes Rangel as telling the kettle.

Should This Worry or Reassure Us?
"Kerry Disagrees With Wife on bin Laden"--headline, Associated Press, Oct. 5

That's Because He's in Jail
"Report: Saddam Not in Pursuit of Weapons"--headline, Associated Press, Oct. 6

They Could've Fooled Us
"Bush-Kerry Battle Can't Strain Friendship"--headline, Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 5

Didn't John Kerry Serve in Vietnam?
"Asia Missing From US Election Debate"--headline, Straits Times (Singapore), Oct. 6

One 'How Many' Too Many
A Monday item prompted this comment from reader Rollie Smith:

The piece on unclaimed Marine uniforms takes me back to the piece you did on the piles of shoes at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. The guy didn't like your questions. I have questions for the New York Times:

How much unclaimed laundry there was after Sept. 11?

How many prescriptions were never picked up?

How many dental appointments missed?

How many dinner reservations missed?

How many paychecks uncashed?

How many birthday cards and presents never opened?

How many do-it-youself projects never got that last touch-up of paint?

How many cars in the shop had no owners to pick them up?

I could go on. So could you.

We may never know why the uniforms have gone unclaimed, and we'll never know how many "how manys" after 9/11. But if the uniforms are unclaimed due to the reason the Times implies, it is because there were too many how manys.

Exactly right.

Who Says There's No Change on Capitol Hill?--II
Remember that item yesterday on "Congresswoman" Dana Rohrabacher? We thought we were just having a laugh at the expense of NewsMax.com for getting the wrong sex when referring to a lawmaker with a name of ambiguous gender. But check out this Associated Press dispatch on a bill the House passed yesterday to split the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in three:

"We don't want to create a hyperliberal court in California" by putting the court's more conservative judges in the two new circuits, said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, who switched her vote.

As we said, when we met Rohrabacher in 1990, he was unmistakably male. But the AP reporter should know what sex Rohrabacher is now, right? After all, he--the reporter, we mean, not Rohrabacher--was on the scene to report, right?

(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Nathan Schipper, Michael Segal, Ed Shackelford, Ruth Papazian, J.D. Piro, Kerk Phillips, Barak Moore, Jeff Smith, Chris Huffstetler, Suzanne Locking, Jason English, Stephen Bender, Mark Mogle, Jack Williams, Ryan Serote, Tim Willis, Doug Clanton, Ann Wolfersberger, Sharyn Scarpati, Kenyon Wison, Joshua Berger, Nate Bordeaux, Tom Keeton, David Brown, Ted Clayton, Samuel Walker, Jared Silverman, Mark Van Der Molen, Ed Lasky, Ethel Fenig, Chris Repetto, Steve Jackson, Steve Roberts, Tom George, Allen O'Donnell, Mark Wallace, John Williamson, David Beebe and Robert Sentell. If you have a tip, write us at opinionjournal@wsj.com, and please include the URL.)

Today on OpinionJournal:

  • Review & Outlook: L. Paul Bremer's selective Iraq history.
  • Claudia Rosett: Standing for American principles is more important than being loved.
  • Harold Evans on Richard Avedon, the man who shot Alger Hiss, the Duke of Windsor and murderer Dick Hickock.

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