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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To sign up for e-mail delivery, click here. To send an e-mail to Dan Kennedy, click here. For bio, published work, and links to other blogs, visit For information on Dan Kennedy's book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003), click here.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Dean, Kerry, and McGovern. I was taken to task yesterday by a reader who thought I was too facile or Kaus-like or something to jump on the latest polls showing that John Kerry is behind Howard Dean in New Hampshire by something like 30 points. Fair enough. The news was familiar, and I didn't exactly add a lot of value by regurgitating the numbers.

Still, it's fascinating to see the hand-wringing going on now over the fact that Dean will -- barring a biblical-scale implosion -- win the Democratic nomination. Eric Alterman argues that Kerry, whom he likes much better than Dean, is also infinitely more electable against George W. Bush. Josh Marshall isn't quite so certain, but also worries that Dean is toast. The emerging wisdom is that it's McGovern all over again.

Well, I worry how Dean is going to fare against Bush, too. And I also think Kerry is the most experienced and best qualified of the Democrats. But, at some level, if Kerry is more electable than Bush, shouldn't he be beating Dean? Frankly, at this point it's easier to construct a scenario that Dick Gephardt or Wesley Clark will somehow emerge to give Dean a scare than to picture how Kerry can recover.

Not to push this too far. After all, if John McCain had somehow managed to defeat Bush in the Republican primaries four years ago, he probably would have beaten Al Gore by five or six points. But McCain, despite his conservative stands on many issues, was in the wrong party in 2000. Dean and Kerry are both real Democrats, and thus there's some reason to think that the one who is able to win the nomination is, by definition, the more electable of the two.

Of the nine Democrats, only three manage to talk like normal people: Wesley Clark, Carol Moseley Braun, and Dean. The rest, most definitely including Kerry, speechify, and it doesn't work in the modern television environment. Dean has managed to combine his plain speaking with a brilliant, Internet-based campaign that's bringing in tons of money. His early opposition to the war in Iraq continues to be his biggest selling point.

As for Kerry, it's not just that he voted for the war, which was a perfectly respectable if wrong-headed stance. (How could he not have figured out by the fall of 2002 that the Bush White House lies so promiscuously?) It's that he has such a hard time explaining it, and that he then turned around and voted against the $87 billion in reconstruction money, which, regardless of where you stand on Iraq, seems to be needed pretty desperately.

And yes, I realize that Dean has had the advantage of not having to vote on anything. But that's why governors get elected president and senators don't.

Ironically, Kerry is more liberal than Dean on the environment, social programs for the poor, Medicare, you name it. For the most part, he probably represents my political values better than Dean does. But Dean's won. As Marshall asks, how can anyone expect that Kerry, having blown a large lead in New Hampshire, will somehow persuade voters there to switch back to him?

Democrats shouldn't worry quite so much about Dean. If he's sharp enough to beat Kerry, Clark, Gephardt, Lieberman, et al., then he might be the best candidate the party can put up against Bush next November.

posted at 9:53 PM | comment or permalink

Friday, December 05, 2003

It's all over but the voting. Late to Blogland today, but didn't want to let the latest Dean-Kerry poll numbers slip by.

The Boston Herald's David Guarino plays it up big today: the latest Zogby poll of New Hampshire Democrats shows Howard Dean at 42 percent and John Kerry at 12 percent. The Manchester-based American Research Group has Dean 45, Kerry 13.

What this means is simple. It's over. It's so over that I realize I'm rather late in saying this.

Today's Washington Post has a big piece by Dan Balz on how Kerry plans to come back. The spin from the Kerry campaign is pretty unconvincing -- so much so that The Note calls Balz's article a "para-obit."

At this point, a Dean loss would qualify as the worst choke job since the 1978 Red Sox. Consider:

-- Dean has not only held a big lead since last summer, but it keeps growing.

-- He's got more money than anyone else.

-- Potential voters are going to tune out presidential politics until after New Year's. The New Hampshire primary takes place on January 27, just a few weeks later.

-- Though Dean has a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth and for being slow to apologize, his supporters don't seem to care.

There are a few clouds on Dean's horizon. He's got to back down from his ridiculous refusal to release his gubernatorial papers, for which he got poked by Boston Globe and New York Times editorials today.

But short of the Mother of All Gaffes, it's hard to imagine how Dean could blow the enormous lead he now has in both poll numbers and money. Democrats, meet your nominee.

As for Kerry, how does secretary of state sound?

Of course, his nephew is a lot smarter than Sean Hannity.

Alan Colmes, the liberal co-host of the Fox News debate program Hannity & Colmes, lost an argument to his nephew Bryan while babysitting the 8-year-old Monday.

Read the whole item at The Onion ("News in Brief").

posted at 1:50 PM | comment or permalink

Thursday, December 04, 2003

The Plame game. Media Log reader K.W. is very excited that Valerie Plame, the former undercover CIA operative outed by the White House last summer, has allowed herself to be photographed by Vanity Fair. (For my earlier take on the scandal, click here.)

The pertinent fact is that her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson of Nigerien-yellowcake fame, had claimed she would rather "chop off her right arm" than have her picture taken.

Writes K.W.: "Will you not concede that this was a bogus 'scandal' hatched by Mr. Wilson and spurred on by Democrats and a left leaning press (you included) who are just desperate to bring Bush down. Just wondering if you'll say 'my bad' on this one?"

Well, uh, no. And no.

K.W. directed me to this piece by Slate's Timothy Noah, who labels Wilson's previous insistence that his wife would remain invisible the "Whopper of the Week." Noah also predicts that this "will surely give the Bush Justice Department whatever slim justification it seeks in dropping its Plamegate investigation."

Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds is very excited, too:

No word on whether she's missing an arm.... Wilson says the pictures won't identify her. Sorry -- if you're really an undercover spy, and really worried about national security, you don't do this sort of thing. Unless, perhaps, you're a self-promoter first, and a spy second. Or your husband is.

Let's concede that this wasn't smart. Wilson was already hurting the cause with his aggressive media whoredom. By letting herself be photographed -- albeit unrecognizably -- Plame has harmed her image of being more serious, and thus more credible, than her husband.

But what has changed? Plame's career as an undercover agent was over last July, when syndicated columnist Robert Novak passed along that sleazy little tidbit from his pals at the White House. If Novak's act endangered the projects Plame was working on and the people she associated with, the fact that we now have some vague idea of what she looks like doesn't affect that.

As Noah suggests, seeming to enjoy this too much may destroy any hopes of getting to the bottom of this. But that doesn't mean there isn't a bottom to be gotten to.

New in this week's Phoenix. New England Cable News will air a nuanced documentary on the life and times of the notorious Father Paul Shanley, who faces numerous criminal and civil complaints alleging that he sexually abused children. (Click here for more information and video clips.)

Also, the Boston Globe is losing two key staffers.

posted at 12:00 PM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Ice, snow, no go. We got a half-inch of snow and a bit of ice this morning. So, naturally, no one can drive!

I just got back from an hour-and-a-half in my car. Not that I actually made it anywhere. No, I'm back home. I had to cancel my appearance on The Pat Whitley Show, on WRKO Radio (AM 680), even after he and his producer, Amy Hirshberg, were kind enough to move it off from 10 to 11 a.m.

I heard a radio report calling this maybe the worst traffic back-up in state history. Apparently drivers were pulling off Route 128 in the Burlington area this morning and sleeping after several hours of getting nowhere.

Even allowing for some exaggeration -- there were, after all, a few traffic problems in the Blizzard of 1978 -- it is pretty horrifying out there.

posted at 10:41 AM | comment or permalink

Smart move -- with an asterisk. Boston mayor Tom Menino wants to reduce the ticky-tacky factor at historic Faneuil Hall, and replace souvenir shops with a first-class National Parks Service visitors center. Donovan Slack has the story in today's Globe.

On the face of it, this sounds like a terrific idea. There's something cheesy about letting the first floor of Faneuil Hall -- one of our cradles of liberty -- be used as a junk emporium.

But I pulled up short when I saw this old quote from Frank Jones, who was involved in similar efforts in 1990: "We're trying to raise Faneuil Hall to the same level of consciousness as Independence Hall and the Statue of Liberty."

I hope Menino doesn't intend to pursue that particular vision. One of the things that makes Boston's historic sites so compelling -- and so different from those in other cities, including Philadelphia -- is that they are still being used, and are not simply monuments to the past.

The reverential hush that surrounds Independence Hall, with its velvet-roped exhibits of where the founders met and debated, may be appropriate to that particular venue. But I'd hate to see the same thing happen in Boston.

For that matter, the National Parks Service hasn't exactly done a kick-ass job at the current visitors center, at the Old State House, which has the feel of a little-noted afterthought.

Before moving ahead, Menino needs a commitment that things will be a lot different if the agency relocates to Faneuil Hall.

Why don't we just go back to paper ballots? I'm serious. We'd have to wait longer for the results. But the problems of technology appear to be insurmountable.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman today writes about the massive potential for fraud that exists with touch-screen voting machines, which leave no paper trail. It wouldn't be difficult to program such a machine to throw an extra vote to Candidate X for every 20 ballots that are cast.

The best question comes from Congressman Rush Holt, of New Jersey, who has filed legislation requiring both a paper trail and open software standards. When told by opponents of his bill that there has never been a problem with the new technology, Holt asked, "How do you know?"

posted at 8:26 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, December 01, 2003

Another gay news day. After a week away, same-sex marriage is still a huge news story, and it's likely to remain that way for some time to come.

The big news, of course, was the Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll showing that 50 percent support the state Supreme Judicial Court decision ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed, and that 38 percent are opposed.

That's not quite the "solid margin" that the Globe portrayed it as, but it's surely better than the reverse would have been. For legislators trying to decide whom to pander to, it sends a powerful message.

On Friday, former state attorney general James Shannon argued that the man who currently holds that job, Tom O'Reilly, has a reading-comprehension problem. Reilly has been trying to fudge it, saying the SJC would be satisfied with a civil-unions law, even though such a law would fall short of full marriage rights. Responded Shannon:

It is hard to understand how any of our political leaders can argue that the recent Supreme Judicial Court decision could mean anything but extending civil marriage to same-sex couples.

Which brings us back to today:

  • New York Times conservative columnist William Safire comes out cautiously for same-sex marriage, joining his right-leaning colleague, David Brooks (no longer freely available online), who was quite a bit more enthusiastic about it last week. And syndicated conservative columnist George Will yesterday came close to endorsing it, albeit not without some inane blather about polygamy. (At least this time Will left the critters out of it.)
  • Syndicated columnist Robert Novak explains why same-sex marriage is the last thing that George W. Bush wants to deal with during his election (whoops! I almost said re-election) campaign. Even better, the Prince of Darkness's online column is accompanied by an ad promising "Relationship-minded Gays & Lesbians Pictures, Profiles, Chat and More!"
  • Today's Globe surveys state legislators and finds that it's by no means a slam-dunk that a joint session of the House and Senate will approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage when it convenes in February. The earliest an amendment could go on the ballot is in 2006. If the legislature fails to approve it in February, it would be even later (if ever) than that.

Keller on Kerry. For some reason I don't think Jon Keller likes John Kerry. Yesterday, WLVI-TV (Channel 56) broadcast a Keller at Large half-hour special on Keller's encounters with Kerry over the years.

And though I suspect Keller would have something critical to say even if Kerry walked on water, the program contained some valuable insights into why Kerry's presidential campaign simply hasn't taken off.

While acknowledging Kerry's bravery in Vietnam, in his later opposition to that war, and in his dogged pursuit in the Senate of international money-launderers, Keller noted that Kerry has committed "many instances of fence-straddling and rhetorical trimming."

The issues range from Iraq to education reform, from the Clinton "scandals" (where Ted Kennedy was much more forthright in supporting the president) to the Title V septic-system regulations, about which Kerry professed zero knowledge even though environmental groups had hailed him for supporting the legislation that created those regs.

For good measure, Keller whacked Kerry for buying an $8600 motorcycle during a year when he gave only $175 to charity.

Kerry's big tactical mistake was to refuse an interview with Keller. No doubt he could have chewed up long chunks of the clock, shifting the focus away from what Keller wanted to say and toward what he wanted to say.

Then again, Kerry's entire presidential campaign so far has been one tactical mistake after another. Democrats who are terrified at the prospect of Howard Dean's winning the nomination in a year when foreign policy is likely to be the biggest issue can only be disheartened by Kerry's inability to rev it up.

More shameless self-promotion. I'll be on The Pat Whitley Show, on WRKO Radio (AM 680), on Tuesday at 10 a.m. to talk about Little People. And on Wednesday at 7 p.m., I'll be doing a reading and signing at the Barnes & Noble at Boston University, in Kenmore Square.

posted at 9:16 AM | comment or permalink


Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.

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