Tuesday, August 31, 2004


What you want to do if you’re running a campaign is tell a story. The conventional wisdom is that it’s the message that really matters, but I’m here to tell you that it’s the narrative that trumps all. It’s no easy thing – you have to craft a tale that seamlessly integrates the candidate’s life story with his vision of where he wants to take the country. When it’s done right, it’s a thing of beauty. When it’s done wrong, you lose.

Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign ably illustrates a winning narrative. Clinton put himself forward as the “Man from Hope,” a man from humble origins who was thus uniquely in touch with the dreams and aspirations of ordinary Americans. His platform extended this theme – the Clinton Administration would at long last reward the previously under-appreciated Americans who played by the rules and yet could still not get ahead.

Of course history has shown the Clinton campaign narrative was risibly false bullshit. Whatever you might think of the Clintons, you’d have to admit the phrase “play by the rules” and all that it implies doesn’t really apply to them. And of course the “Man from Hope” jazz suggested an affinity for his native state that really wasn’t there. Or maybe he relocated to Chappaqua only at Hilary’s insistence.

But the Clinton narrative still gives us some guidelines to follow. To wit, have a few bold themes and cling to them tenaciously. Pound them over and over. Don’t over-burden them with nuance. And whatever you do, don’t contradict them or allow others to contradict them.

The Bush narrative is following the formula closely. Here’s what we’ve got so far: Bush is a man of resolve; he’s steady and tested. He’s capably led us through danger, and he will continue doing so. Those are the themes that Giuliani and McCain hit last night; the other speakers will pound them some more later in the week.

While the President and his surrogates will pay lip-service to a domestic agenda, there won’t be much talk about any of that stuff. To do so would take attention away from the narrative’s central concepts: Strength, resolve, courage. To be successful, Bush and his team will have to hew to these points with discipline and resolve. Therefore, additional comments about “not winning” the war on terror should perhaps be relegated to the post-November 2 era.

The Kerry narrative was also simple and painted in bold strokes: He’s a war hero, and he’ll be a champion of the forgotten little guy. The Democratic convention was entirely devoted to those two themes. 70% of its time was spent reflecting endlessly on Kerry’s four months in Vietnam; the remainder was devoted to documenting the horrors of being a 21st century ordinary American, horrors that John Kerry uniquely understood and would address.

The problem is, Kerry’s life both past and present contradicts these themes. The DNC posited that Kerry was the leader of a band of brothers; it’s an inconvenient fact that the vast majority of those brothers detest him. It’s an even more inconvenient fact that Kerry implied (a nice word) that his band of brothers was actually a cabal of war criminals.

And then there’s the part about being in touch with ordinary Americans. Ross Perot was a billionaire populist, a seeming oxymoron but he was able to pull off the act to some degree. Kerry can’t, or is unwilling to. See, if I were Kerry, I would have decided to eschew the Sun Valley and Nantucket vacation homes for the campaign season. I would have put the $8,000 bike in the garage next to the hibernating SUV and dusted off the 12 Speed Huffy. And I certainly wouldn’t windsurf in Nantucket while bedecked in flowery spandex. Ordinary Americans who play by the rules don’t windsurf in flowery spandex.

But Kerry is stubbornly clinging to his rich guy past-times. By publicly engaging in these activities, he’s making himself a joke. He’s Dukakisizing himself. But worst of all, he’s making his narrative incoherent. And that’s a failing that’s invariably fatal.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Monday, August 30, 2004


Bill Kristol was just on FoxNews irresponsibly disseminating a rumor that he began the previous day on FoxNews Sunday with Brit Hume. Since I love the rumor and fervently wish for its accuracy, it is my pleasure, nay my responsibility, to continue its irresponsible dissemination.

Reading the tea-leaves, Kristol has concluded that McCain might be poised to replace Cheney on the ticket. Here’s the logic: After his convention speech tonight, McCain is flying out to New Mexico to hook up with the President and introduce him to the American Legion convention and then he’s going to travel with the President to Nashville. Kristol wonders what could possibly occasion this flurry of McCain activity. He speculates that Bush and McCain could make an announcement together in New Mexico and then later in the week triumphantly wing their way back to New York.

Kristol also perceives a couple of other portents. For the last several weeks, Dick Cheney has been pretty much playing Tupper-ware parties in Fargo. And last week, Karl Rove said that he wants to model the RNC along the lines of Roosevelt’s 1944 convention where Roosevelt positioned himself as a successful war president and dropped his Vice President in favor of a far more popular and less controversial politician.

Left unsaid in Kristol’s analysis but clearly implicit is that dropping Cheney for McCain would be pure political gold for the Bush administration. Whether deserved or not, John McCain has become a virtual political saint in this country. Both parties, when they seek to prove the right-ness of one of their positions, eagerly seek out a McCain quote to serve as support. Indeed, the one thing that both parties seem to agree on is that John McCain’s word is final. How many times in the past several months has the Kerry campaign implied that they have McCain’s imprimatur on a key issue? Presumably McCain’s presence on the Republican ticket would put an end to this unseemly inter-party fawning.

A more pressing question is whether true Conservatives can live with John McCain’s presence on the ticket and with it his de facto coronation as the 2008 front-runner? On behalf of all true conservatives, I’m here to answer with an emphatic yes. Look, I’m no McCainiac – far from it. While I find his life story inspiring, I also think he’s the vainest politician of our time, and his repeated thumbs to the administration’s eyes grew tiresome years ago.

But, and this is the big thing, he’s right on the war on terror. I’m passionate about the full range of issues that most conservatives are, but for me the war on terror trumps them all. By a lot. And McCain has been out front on the GWOT since day one. He was rattling his saber at Saddam before we were even in Afghanistan. Since he’s so right about the biggest issue, I can live with everything else. Besides, Churchill wasn’t much noted for his modesty either.

None of this is meant to denigrate Dick Cheney. I’ve always been a big fan, still am. But the stakes of this election are huge. If subbing McCain for Cheney will make a huge difference, as it likely will, it’s the proverbial offer we can’t refuse.

Besides, I have a feeling Cheney will make a bang-up Secretary of State.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Sunday, August 29, 2004


Today debuts our new weekly feature, the Soxblog Mailbag. Andrew Sullivan engages in a similar endeavor, but the letters he deems fit for publication invariably focus on how wonderful he is. While many of you know how much I love such letters, I fear that publishing a series of them wouldn’t be particularly interesting.

What we’re shooting for is letters that express an opinion, hopefully in a witty and/or engaging manner. Agreeing with me is certainly not required (although of course appreciated).

Letter #1 comes from our old friend Chops:

Reading your Howell Raines post reminds me of the “Seinfeld” episode where George Constanza has to break up with this accountant who wears kimonos to coffee shops. "Why don't you want to date me anymore," the woman asks (or something to that effect). "Is it the kimono? Is it the chopsticks in my hair?"

After much prodding, Constanza finally breaks down into a ball of confession, quasi sobbing and wailing. "IT IS THE KIMONO," Constanza exclaims, in a hysterically-knowing semi-monologue, "IT IS THE CHOPSTICKS. BUT IT'S SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. YOU'RE PRETENTIOUS. YOU'RE PSEUDO-INTELLECTUAL. PAPIER MACHE (the way she prounced it, "PAP-E--A")? WHAT THE HELL IS PAPIER MACHE?"

That's how I feel about the Howell Raines types. They're pretentious. They're pseudo-intellectual. They like playing these "I'm-smarter-than-you" games that essentially amount to an intellectual version of "Beat the Joneses’ SAT score."

Letter #2 comes from my buddy Chris, quoting media bully Chris Matthews:

Democrats, including Chris Matthews of MSNBC have yet to consider that they might just have nominated a complete dud. Perhaps Kerry’s not. But SERIOUSLY have they not yet at least considered that possibility? Well as Mr. Matthews so often sort-of says "If you're happy (with your candidate) tell your face."

Letter # 3 comes from Kerry Challenge co-champion Shayna, who I’ve come to think of as the rightful heir to Daniel Patrick Moynihan – a principled liberal who will defend her ideas logically and with the relative absence of ad-hominem attacks. While politically I don’t agree with her on much, hers is a voice worth hearing:

I don't think there's much mystery in why the Swifties are willing to go to such lengths. Kerry deeply and completely pissed off a lot of people in the years after Vietnam. O'Neill has made a career out of hating him. That's some serious commitment. Some of the guys now bashing Kerry penned formal commendations prior to his separation. The Vietnam Vets for Peace and their ilk did, and does, generate some major rifts.

None of which changes the fact that, no matter what happened over there, Kerry was voluntarily in harm's way while Bush was working on a political campaign. As you pointed out in the "Kerry's Brain" episode, both men had significant family connections - Kerry could very likely have taken the same easy way out Bush did. If service to country thirty years ago is the salient point, this would be a bad place for Bush to fight.

Reader Kevin writes in with this Week’s Letter # 4:

Let us recall the ultimate attack by the Left Wing Slime machine: November 2, 2000, days before the Presidential election, the story about G.W.Bush's 1976 DUI conviction hit the press.What did Bush do? He went out and told the press what happened. He admitted his error: "I'm not proud of that. I made some mistakes. I occasionally drank too much, and I did that night. I learned my lesson." Did he whine about it? No. "Bush said the timing of the initial news report, just days before Americans elect a new president, was interesting." [Source: NYTimes, 02-Nov-2000]Now, Senator Kerry, on the other hand has been caught lying about his record (Christmas in Cambodia at the very least). Does he admit his mistake? No, he's hiding from the press, blaming the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, and trying to change the subject.

Is he whining about it? First he attacked with "Bring it on!" About 24 hours later he switched to "Make it stop," and sent in former Senator Max Cleland as his designated whiner.

And reader Geoff made me laugh out loud with the facetious Letter #5. Tongue planted firmly in cheek, he writes in response to my listing the horrors of American history as slavery, Japanese interment, and capitalism run amok:

Once again you have shown what a right wing nut fascist you are. You intentionally failed to mention the greatest crisis in the history of The United States of America. No, I am not talking about the Civil War. I'm talking about THE MACCARTHY ERA. Have you no shame?

Thanks to those who played this week. Submissions for next week’s Soxblog Mailbag will be accepted throughout the coming week.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Friday, August 27, 2004

WEEKLY WRAP-UP, 8-27-2004

This week’s wrap-up of things that I found interesting but not worthy of a real post:

1) Allen Barra, the Wall Street Journal’s phenomenally sloppy in-house sports statistician, wrote a piece yesterday detailing why he thought Paul Hamm shouldn’t keep the gold medal (or something like that). In order to illustrate his point (if in fact he had one), Barra directed our attention to the “Pine-tar” baseball game involving George Brett of the Kansas City Royals and the Billy Martin led New York Yankees.

Barra wrote: “In 1983, (Goose) Gossage, pitching in relief for the New York Yankees, gave up a key home run to Kansas City's George Brett in what would become one of the most famous rules disputes in baseball history. The ‘Pine Tar Incident’ erupted when Yankees manager Billy Martin invoked an obscure rule when he saw that Brett's bat was illegally smeared with pine tar. (Pine tar is sometimes used to cover incisions in bats that have been corked, though there was no charge that Brett's bat was corked.) The league subsequently invalidated Brett's home run and ruled him out on the play.”

Amazingly, Barra is literally wrong on every detail except for the dramatis personae. After Brett’s homerun, Martin emerged from the dugout to protest the amount of pine tar on Brett’s bat, demanding that he be ruled out after the fact. The umpire agreed, ruled Brett out, and in so doing sent Brett into a crazed temper tantrum that played on Sports Center for about six years hence. Indeed, it was Brett’s reaction to being called out that is the event’s signature. It’s remarkable that Barra has forgotten this.

As the aggrieved party, it was therefore the Royals who protested to the league office. The league office allowed the homerun, overturning the ruling on the field. Barra uses the incident to support his thesis, but since the nature of the actual incident is exactly the opposite of what he reports, it instead contradicts his thesis.

You know, I really enjoyed Barra’s book on Wyatt Earp and find his writings generally enjoyable. But this kind of sloppiness – man, it’s unbelievable.

2) In the L.A. Times yesterday, Ron Brownstein wrote, "WASHINGTON — President Bush heads into next week's Republican National Convention with voters moving slightly in his direction since July amid signs that Sen. John F. Kerry has been nicked by attacks on his service in Vietnam, a Times poll has found."

I sent out that quote in a few emails along with a quip saying, “Is he putting in for a fourth Purple Heart?”

But now I realize – my quip was too easy. Brownstein’s language was probably a deliberate tweaking of the Kerry legend. Kerry has had to deal with such nonsense from liberal malefactors at the Boston Globe for decades. Really – the Globe hates him, always has. Apparently he’s now worked his charm on the national press corps as well.

3) I apologize for the lack of weekend postings the past few weeks. But I’ve come up with a solution. Best of all, it’s a solution that will require minimal effort from me. Sometime this weekend I’m going to post a reader mail column. Submissions are being eagerly welcomed at Soxblog world headquarters. You got something to say, this is your chance!

Please note: Abusive emails may well be published.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight


The man who killed the New York Times, Howell Raines, resurfaces this morning. That’s probably a good thing for me since Raines confirms every negative impression a conservative blogger might want to peddle regarding the mainstream media. Raines' reappearance comes in the form of a characteristically obtuse op-ed piece in today’s Washington Post. He takes on a subject that has become near and dear to many Soxblog readers – presidential intelligence. A couple of sentences in particular stand out: “Does anyone in America doubt that Kerry has a higher IQ than Bush? I'm sure the candidates' SATs and college transcripts would put Kerry far ahead.”

Readers of this site know what I think about this line of “thinking” – it’s quite possibly wrong, but definitely unsupported by the available facts. And yet Raines makes his assertion as if its obvious truth is so manifest that anyone living on the Eastern Seaboard would be bright enough to grasp it. He certainly doesn’t feel his claim is at all questionable; he doesn’t bother to provide any evidence to support the contention, and why would he? Would “anyone in America” doubt Kerry’s superior intellect?

Not to put too fine a point on it or to engage in ad hominem mudslinging, but this is the kind of half baked reasoning and asinine opinion making that got Raines deposed at the New York Times. While he might praise nuance and careful thinking, Raines himself was never sufficiently complex to grasp that Jayson Blairs’ skin color alone didn’t ensure his quality as a newsman. Raines was also unable to understand why America failed to be electrified by his Jihad to get Carly Fiorina into the Augusta National Golf Club, a subject that appeared on the front page of the Raines-run Gray Lady something like 712 times. Raines also seemed to not understand why the daily and sundry fatwahs issued on the Times editorial page seemed to come and go without a benumbed American public taking any notice. Surely his ultimate sacking at the hands of the puppet wielding Pinch Sulzberger remains a mystery to Raines to this day.

Okay, so Raines was in over his head as publisher of America’s paper of record. The frightening thing is that guys like Raines used to decide what was and wasn’t news. They were biased and sloppy and often not particularly bright, and yet they shaped the country’s agenda. So if they deemed Dan Quayle a nitwit, a nitwit he became. If they decided that Iran-Contra represented the worst abuse of power since, well, ever, the hunt for the President was on. And often they felt no need to support their gut instincts with facts. Look at the sentence I quoted again: “I’m sure the candidates’ SATS and college transcripts would put Kerry far ahead.” Since Howell’s sure, there’s certainly no reason to dig into the matter any further. As we know, when Howell’s sure of something, Howell’s always right.

Raines is mercifully gone from the Times, but similar biases remain. At a confab this week on the 2004 campaign, the Times’ deputy national editor Alison Mitchell commented regarding the Swift Boat controversy, “I'm not sure that in an era of no-cable television we would even have looked into it."

And why would they have? Isn’t Kerry’s heroism, like his superior intelligence, so obvious that even tolerating a dissenting view would be an obvious waste of time? Why would the Times even look into something so clearly trivial as the fact that 17 of the 23 officers who served with him in the Mekong apparently detest him and ardently dispute the tales of his heroism?

Happily today, the Howell Raineses of the world no longer have the playing field to themselves. Thanks to the internet, anyone who wants to engage in punditry can now do so. And while blogging has given the world the dubious blessing of millions of boring individuals recording their daily banalities, it has also given the world the daily analysis of people who happen to be a lot smarter, more thorough, and infinitely fairer than guys like Howell Raines.

Glenn Reynolds is a Yale law grad and a law professor. Mickey Kaus, well I don’t know his background but he’s obviously “wicked smaht.” The law professors at the Volokh conspiracy – well I’d bet their college transcripts and SATs would be “far ahead” of Howell Raines’ or Alison Mitchell’s.

But these people are also fair. They’ll follow where the facts lead. In the modern dynamic, there’s a new “Woodward and Bernstein” and their names are Reynolds and Kaus. Just as virtually the entire mainstream media back in the early 70’s took no interest in a seemingly innocuous break-in at the Watergate hotel, the mainstream media today have little tolerance for any questioning of their often incorrect conventional wisdom. So if John Kerry perhaps lied about Cambodia or embellished other aspects of his service, they don’t want to hear it. After all, everyone knows John Kerry was a Yale educated Rambo, right?

The sloppiness and the biases of the Howell Raines types have long been transparent. I remember 20 years ago my high school physics teacher Vin Bronson (a rarity - an angry, frustrated, conservative, Massachusetts public school teacher) hilariously railing at the “New York Nihilist” and the “Boston Bolshevik” to his often bewildered students. One of his students wasn’t bewildered and would usually respond with something like, “Can you believe what that Oliphant wrote today? How can he get away with saying such things?”

If it had been a different time, Mr. Bronson would probably have had a blog that would have been read by more people a day than read Oliphant in a month. And Oliphant wouldn’t have been getting away with anything.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Thursday, August 26, 2004


I wrote a few months ago that for some people American history is little more than slavery, Indian persecution, capitalism run amok, and Japanese internment. For such people, the American character is best illustrated by the sad events at Wounded Knee or Mai Lai. These individuals took an undisguised delight at the revelations that emerged from Abu Ghraib this past spring.

Fortunately, such people are a very small minority in America. They make their presence felt in colleges (Noam Chomsky) and in Hollywood (Michael Moore), but in actuality their numbers are quite small. But there was another far more lethal group that took delight in the Abu Ghraib scandal – the political opportunists.

These people smelled blood from the first. They saw a chance to wound President Bush and to claim the scalp of Donald Rumsfeld. I don’t claim that people like Ted Kennedy or Al Gore or the New York Times editorial board hate America. They don’t. But make no mistake – they harbor something very close to hatred for the current administration and will seize any opportunity to wound that administration.

Well now the scope of the scandal has become clear. According to the Independent Panel Review filed yesterday, there have been 50,000 detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and other venues in the war on terror. There have been 300 allegations of abuse that have triggered 155 investigations. 66 cases of abuse have been documented, 1/3 of which happened at the point of combat so therefore aren’t really relevant to a discussion regarding jailed prisoners.

That leaves 44 documented cases of abuse. Assuming the same rate same rate of actual abuses to investigations continues, ultimately there will be roughly 80 cases of abuse total. 80 out of 50,000. According to this report, .16% of prisoners were abused. So what does that mean? I would have loved it for one of the major newspapers to have put the figure into context.

Here’s what I mean: .16% means 1 out of 600 prisoners were abused. In an American jail holding 600 prisoners, would it be unlikely to find one case of abuse in a one year period? What would one be likely to find in a doubtlessly humane Swedish prison? What would be the results of an Independent Panel Review looking at the certainly even more humane Egyptian jails? I wonder.

The charge against Rumsfeld and the other big-wigs at the Pentagon is that their leadership failed; the argument goes that if they had led competently, such events never would have transpired. But in order to gauge the efficacy of Rumsfeld’s prison administration skills, you’d have to know how successful prison administrators fare. There has to be a metric.

So let’s find a state that has 50,000 prisoners and then let’s find out if that state had more or fewer than 80 cases of abuse last year. If it’s more than 80, maybe we should subject the state’s prison commissioner to the tender mercies of the New York Times editorial board.

I haven’t done the research so I don’t know what would be a good rate of abuse for a prison administrator. Maybe we should even consider softening up the grading curve for the defense department. After all, the DOD had to work within the confines of relatively primitive Iraqi facilities, not the gleaming modern penal institutions that happily dot the American landscape. Maybe Rumsfeld has shattered all records for penal efficiency and humaneness and that henceforth state prison commissioners will beat a path to his door (in 2009) to learn his secrets. I don’t really know, but I will admit .16% sounds pretty good to me, especially given all the reports of “widespread” abuse that had been bandied about by the hopeful mainstream media.

You know who else I bet doesn’t know whether .16% represents a good or bad failure rate? The Boston Globe editorial board. But their ignorance causes them no restraint; once again today, the Globe calls for Rumsfeld’s resignation because of his leadership failure.

If you didn’t know better, you might think that for the Globe and others, Abu Ghraib has been about politics all along.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Max Cleland cries foul! Again!

Max Cleland has found a permanent role for himself in the American political scene. He has appointed himself the arbiter in charge of determining when a politician has become a victim. I see Max’s role developing. Whenever a politician doesn’t like what his opponents are saying about him, Max Cleland will rush in lamenting the unfairness of it all. He will tell his own tale of woe, and relate it to the current victim’s predicament, and then do a little more lamenting. The cameras will be there, the New York Times will be there, there’ll be some other veterans milling about. Everyone will salute Max’s heroism and courageous life story. And, best of all, no one will closely scrutinize the often dubious nature of Cleland’s charges.

Max was at it again today. With a caravan of adoring media types in tow, Cleland traveled down to Crawford to hopefully get a face to face to with the President in order to express his outrage over the Swifties’ anti-Kerry ads. Of course, the President isn’t like a professor with office hours who can accept drop-by visits from every aggrieved former Senator who happens to be in the neighborhood. Cleland knows this, but the fact that he couldn’t get an audience with Bush allowed him to amp up the outrage at the obligatory press conference.

And what a press conference it was. The recklessly unsupported assertions flowed fast and furious. First Cleland insisted that Bush personally was behind the Swifties and orchestrating their every maneuver, the President apparently taking a holiday from being an ill-informed dunce. Next Cleland asserted that Bush habitually assaults Vietnam vets. He said that Bush personally went after McCain, Kerry and himself. He repeated a few times that Bush ran ads in 2002 comparing him to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, a charge that is an outright falsehood.

On that last charge, a few facts. Cleland in 2002 was opposed by Saxby Chambliss, not George W. Bush. Chambliss ran a hard-nosed campaign which focused on Cleland’s insistence that the potential Homeland Security Department be staffed by unionized workers. Chambliss alleged accurately that Cleland supported the potential department’s unionization as a sop to his Union supporters. Chambliss also asserted, again accurately, that there was no possible way that allowing Homeland Security Department employees the right to strike would strengthen the department or the country. Chambliss also pointed out that Cleland was hindering the birth of the department over the unionization issue.

At no time did Chambliss question Cleland’s patriotism. He did most definitely question his priorities. Chambliss stated that Cleland cared more about his union supporters than the country’s security. Maybe it was a fair charge, maybe it was an unfair charge. Maybe it was unduly harsh politics. But there was nothing about the charge that was even close to being unprecedented in the rough and tumble of American politics.

But the heart of the Max Cleland “Permanently Outraged” campaign is that he and others upon whom he visits favor should somehow be above the rough and tumble of politics. Cleland’s personal story is indeed a sad and noble one. He served his country and paid a very high price. But he’s dead wrong – when you enter the political arena, regardless of your background, you can expect no quarter.

Max is also wrong on strategy. Americans don’t want leaders who whine. Bush knows this, and that’s why you’ve never heard him complain about the “fear and smear” (Kerry’s term from yesterday) machine at any time in the past four years. Bush has been compared to Hitler, accused of being a deserter, and charged with wanting to repeal the Constitution. If he’s outraged or hurt, he hasn’t shown it.

But Max, now apparently Kerry’s ranking surrogate, goes to the cameras and bemoans the unfairness of it all. He cries foul. He makes unsubstantiated charges. But most of all, he paints himself and the Democratic nominee as victims.

If you were John Kerry, and your strength as a leader were in question, would you want to be portrayed in such a way?

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


We all remember the 2000 Presidential election, especially what happened down in the Soxblog winter home of Palm Beach County. Legions of befuddled blue-hairs, baffled by the complexities of the butterfly ballot, attempted to vote for Gore but instead punched the hole for Buchanan. In the hours immediately after the election, several opinion makers opined that those votes should go to Gore.

Proving the maxim about stuck clocks being right twice a day, Pat Buchanan immediately put an end to such nonsense. While conceding that he obviously got a few thousand votes that were cast in error, he sharply said that it didn’t matter: “Those votes now belong to me.” He was making an important and obvious point: Once a vote is cast, the deed is done. If there’s no closure on such an important topic, it becomes an invitation to chaos.

I was reminded of that controversy by the new controversy that has arisen surrounding American Paul Hamm, the gold medallist gymnast. Apparently American Hamm won his medal because the judges screwed up. Of course, the judges always screw up; that’s what makes gymnastics such a stupid sport. Please, no letters on this point. The participants are most definitely athletes, but the activity is no more a sport than ballroom dancing or stand-up comedy. All sports require at least a modicum of officiating, but when the end result is constantly subject to the ridiculous whimsy of incompetent judges, you don’t have a real and honest competition. A display of excellence, yes. A competition, no.

But what’s special about this latest judging screw-up is that it came before American Hamm’s competitor even began his routine. The judges apparently should have given the guy more points for the difficulty of his routine. If they had properly determined the routine’s difficulty, a matter of simple pencil and paper calculation that takes place before the routine begins, American Hamm’s South Korean opponent would have won. Many apparently think that American Hamm should be stripped of his gold medal because of the nature of this judging foul-up.

Not so fast, the proud Americans on NBC told me last night. Al Trautwig and Tim Daggot were having none of this global sophistry. Daggot replayed the South Korean’s routine and showed an obvious mess-up that had eluded the judges’ normally keen eyes. If they had seen that, and judged the routine based on its proper level of difficulty, American Paul Hamm still would have won.

Having handled the gymnastics oriented minutiae, Daggot then passed the rhetorical baton to play-by-play guy Trautwig. Trautwig normally announces real sports for a living, so he would have none of this doubtlessly French inspired perfidy. Although his follow-up to Daggot’s insightful analysis was at times less than coherent, he made a salient point: The final decision must be made on the field of play. If it isn’t, it will lead to madness, or at least endless second guessing and ever mounting reversals. In other words, the judges’ decision, even if stupid, has to be final, else there will never be closure in a sporting event. With the Trautwig way, you may have undeserving winners, but at least you’ll have winners.

We have yet another case of the stuck clock maxim proving correct- Trautwig is 100% correct, at least generally speaking. Regarding the specifics of the Hamm case, I fortunately do not know enough about gymnastics to render a remotely informed decision.

Let me wrap this up by illustrating Trautwig’s point with a deeply personal anecdote. The 1976 New England Patriots were the best team in the history of the franchise, even finer than the Super Bowl winners of more recent vintage. The Patriots qualified for the playoffs and journeyed to Oakland to play the Raiders who had lost only once during the regular season. The Raiders’ one loss? A 48-17 drubbing at the hands of those cocky young Patriots.

The Patriots lost the playoff game because of an indisputably awful call. Referee Ben Dreith erred egregiously when he whistled a roughing the passer penalty on the Patriots’ Sugar Bear Hamilton in the game’s final seconds; there were about 114 replays that proved as much. If he doesn’t make that call, the Patriots win the game (and the 9 year old James Dwight doesn’t enter into a depression from which he has yet to fully recover).

So what should be the remedy in such situations? Alas, there isn’t one. The Raiders and their miscreant fans know that they were undeserving winners that day. And the Patriots and their once long-suffering fans got to nurse a grievance that was finally (and wonderfully) addressed by the “tuck-rule” game of 2001. But on that day in 1976, there was no justice.

Such is life. Such is sports. Patriot fans eventually got over their hurt from that day. Maybe there’s hope that our Democrat friends can someday put the 200 election behind them.

Is it so wrong for a man to dream?

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Monday, August 23, 2004


Here’s what we know about John Kerry and his service in Vietnam:

1) John Kerry went to Vietnam and served 4 ½ months in the combat theatre.

2 ) John Kerry enlisted and offered himself up for service, but he apparently was not seeking the amount of “excitement” that being a Swift boat commander wound up providing.

3) John Kerry was highly decorated for his service in the combat theatre.

4) John Kerry’s first purple heart was awarded under somewhat suspect circumstances.

5) John Kerry has “embellished” (to be kind) one aspect of his 4 ½ months “in country” and has done so in a serial fashion, including from the United States Senate floor.

6) John Kerry was beloved by those who served under him.

7) John Kerry was apparently detested by a large amount of men who served alongside him in other boats.

8) His detractors and his supporters (those under him and those along-side him) have widely differing views of Kerry’s comportment during combat.

Before trying to reconcile the contradictions between numbers 6 and 7 above, let me state again, as I did a couple of weeks ago, that none of this should matter. The reason for looking at someone’s past experiences when he seeks office is to try to figure out what kind of leader he’ll be if he wins.

In the current case, 35 years have elapsed since Kerry’s Vietnam service. The essence of the man has been on wide public display for over three decades. If you think he was a champ investigating BCCI and was a voice of cautious sanity when it came to Central America, then you probably think he’ll be a pretty good president. If on the other hand you’ve looked at his adult career and judged him to be a naked opportunist characterized by extreme ambition, then you’re unlikely to vote for him regardless of his conduct in battle.

But back to the question: Why do the men who served under Kerry adore him while many of those who served along-side him detest him? There are a few possible explanations:

1) The men who served under him know him best. To others, his tireless ambition may well have been a turn-off while his best characteristics were, to them, hidden.

2) Kerry’s fellow commanders were jealous of his success.

3) Kerry’s fellow swift boat commanders were permanently and irrevocably outraged by Kerry’s anti-war antics when he got home. Those who served under him, meanwhile, had become so enamored with their commander that they were far too fond of him to be upset by anything he might do outside the combat theatre.

4) Kerry’s specialty was keeping his own boat safe; this won him the affection of those under him just as surely as it earned him the enmity of those on the other boats who had to pick up the slack for his particularly cautious boat.

Frankly, we’ll never know the true nature of Kerry’s heroics or lack of same. It’s become like “Rashomon” with an “Apocalypse Now” soundtrack. My gut tells me that everyone thinks they’re telling the truth. There’s certainly nothing phony about the Swifties’ hatred for John Kerry. They mean what they’re saying and while they may be financed by Republican partisans, they themselves are not political players. Similarly, Jim Rassman and his cohorts obviously believe in what they’re saying and doing. As is the case with Kerry’s antagonists, I see no cause to doubt there sincerity.

So what really happened out there? Can we really know? I have my opinions (like you probably do) but I recognize I can’t support them; thus, I decline to commit them to posterity.

I will, however, say this much: I’m a believer that over the course of a life, certain Homeric themes emerge that recur time and again and ultimately dominate the narrative. Through the good times and the bad times certain aspects of character continually emerge and wind up dictating the story. It is unusual for a selfless man to be selfish, and it’s uncommon for a cautious individual to be reckless. The loyal are seldom fickle, the foolish rarely wise, and the haughty infrequently humble.

Yes, 4 ½ months of John Kerry’s life are a mystery. But there is ample evidence of what kind of man he is to be found in the other 59 years, 6 months. Most of you know my feelings; there’s enough evidence out there for everyone to make an informed decision.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Friday, August 20, 2004

WEEKLY WRAP-UP - 8-20-2004

If you keep readin’ ‘em, I’ll keep writin’ ‘em. Here it is – our second consecutive weekly wrap-up.

1) The new Swift Boat ad is devastating. The ad specifically targets Kerry’s conduct upon his return stateside from Vietnam. To today’s sensibilities, Kerry’s post-war conduct of coming home and slandering his brothers-in-arms is unacceptable.

2) There’s an interesting study out about the effectiveness of the first Swift Boat ad. The upshot: People hated the ad. They thought it was unfair. They questioned its veracity. It made them angry. And it made them a lot less likely to vote for Kerry and no less likely to vote for Bush. Aaah, the mysteries of advertising.

3) Some people complain that the Olympics are taped and packaged to maximize the drama and thus the viewers can’t appreciate the games for their organic value. I’m not among the whiners. Thank god the Games are packaged to make them more exciting! I shudder to think how tedious these things would be if we had to sit through all the dull stuff to get to the purportedly exciting parts.

4) There will be a change in terminology coming over the weekend. James Taranto wrote in to say that “Dukakize” and “Dukakization” would be far more euphonious words than the ones I coined. He’s clearly right. Thus, over the weekend, “Dukakisize” and “Dukakisization” will be erased from Soxblog’s history much in the way Trotsky was erased from the Soviet Union’s history. If you see “Dukakisization” running for its life in Mexico, you’ll know why.

Have a great weekend. I’m not sure if there’ll be any posts, but I’m going to try.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight


There’s an old Yiddish saying that translates as, “Either the lord of the manor will die, or his dog.”

The saying comes from the following story: A great landowner in Russia summoned one of the peasant Jews to his estate. He ordered the Jew to teach his dog to speak Yiddish. If the Jew failed to teach the dog Yiddish, the landowner vowed to kill the Jew. The Jew responded that it was a tough demand and he would need time to think about how to meet it. He went home to his wife who began crying that she was about to become a widow. The Jew told his wife not to worry, that he would think of something.

The next day the Jew returned to the lord of the manor and told him that he could indeed teach the dog to speak Yiddish, but since it was such a tricky language it would take him five years to do so. The Jew returned to his wife triumphantly, saying that through his cleverness he had saved his life. His wife was unimpressed. “Big deal,” she said, “I’ll be a widow in five years instead of right away.” Her husband told her not to worry: “Either the lord of the manor will die, or his dog.”*

For the Jewish people, that saying has been a shorthand for acknowledging that troublesome situations will often go away if they’re just given enough time to do so. There’s wisdom in this philosophy – Ronald Reagan himself often said, “Don’t just do something - stand there!”

But this ancient piece of Yiddish folk wisdom also evidences a profound sense of powerlessness. No surprise there – for two millennia, the Diaspora Jews were utterly powerless. And of course, often in Jewish history the strategy proved unsuccessful; frequently neither the lord of the manor nor his dog died. The pogroms of Eastern Europe and the Holocaust are two prominent examples where time did nothing to mitigate horrendous situations. Indeed, as time passed the situations grew worse.

There’s a powerful urge in all of us to ignore problems and hope that time makes them go away. It’s not just “the folks” (as Bill O’Reilly might say) who behave this way. World leaders do also. When Neville Chamberlain hailed his agreement with Hitler as “peace in our time,”, was that anything other than a world leader assuming or perhaps just hoping that the lord of the manor would die, or his dog?

Chamberlain’s strategy was disastrous and such a strategy whenever confronted with real dangers will usually be similarly ineffective. In 1981 Israel had to deal with the reality that Saddam Hussein (utilizing a French made nuclear reactor sold to him by none other than Jacques Chirac) was getting close to developing nuclear weaponry. Israel had a choice: She could take decisive but dangerous action or hope that the old piece of Yiddish folk wisdom would prove true and that time would somehow solve the problem.

Menachem Begin was Israel’s Prime Minister at the time. Begin was no saint, but one thing he could never be accused of was being unable to act decisively. In spite of division within his own Cabinet and fear at how Israel’s allies would react, Begin green-lighted “Operation Babylon” which targeted Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor for destruction. On June 7, 1981, eight Israeli pilots demolished the reactor and forever derailed Saddam’s nuclear ambitions.

The world now faces a similar crisis. Today it’s the unhinged mullahs in Iran who are trying to develop nuclear capabilities. Their intransigence is such that yesterday they threatened a pre-emptive attack against US troops in the region.

How will the world deal with the gathering storm that is the Iranian nuke? Europe will no doubt want to wait for the lord of the manor or his dog to die. Indeed, one or the other might happen. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the Iranian people will retrieve their country from the theocracy that has oppressed them for the past 25 years.

But is the risk of an Iranian nuke a tolerable one? Can we afford to wait? The whole issue regarding the Bush pre-emption doctrine boils down to whether or not you buy the piece of Yiddish folk-wisdom. My concern? John Kerry does buy it, and he’s actually got a chance of being president.

(The saying and its explanation are adapted from Richard Ben Cramer’s “How Israel Lost”. In spite of providing a link, I do not recommend you purchase this book. At a later date, I may make a post listing my reasons for this suggestion.)

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Thursday, August 19, 2004


It first happened in 1988. The Democrats nominated a very serious man from Massachusetts to be the President. Michael Stanley Dukakis was a man of substance; thoughtful, bright, accomplished, a three term governor who had presided over, nay created, an economic Miracle. As the Lord had split the Red Sea, Michael Dukakis brought high-tech to the 128 loop and the peasants were happy. After eight years of Presidential rule by a simple-minded actor, Michael Dukakis would be the perfect antidote. After all, this was a man of grace and gravitas.

Problem is, he also was a little ridiculous. He was a short little thing with enormous fulsome eyebrows. He spoke in a manner that recalled a robot, a particularly emotionless and lifeless robot at that. He had done some things in the past that suggested liberalism run amuck. And by the end of the campaign, he was a national punch line. He was the little guy who looked like Snoopy in a tank; he was the cold fish who responded to a question about his beloved wife’s potential rape and murder with a five-step plan. He was lampooned and ridiculed to such an extent that like Dan Quayle, no amount of time will be sufficient for his image’s rehabilitation. He was the first to be DUKAKISIZED.

But he won’t be the last. John Kerry is well on his way to a Dukakisization of his very own. I have long suspected that the Bushies’ plan all along has been to Dukakisize their opponent. Like his political mentor (Kerry was Dukakis’ Lieutenant Governor), Kerry is also a man of some substance. He was of course the most highly decorated soldier in the history of the United States armed forces and was the finest student ever to attend Yale. And his leadership in the Senate needs no recounting.

But Kerry is also a bit ridiculous. Just as Dukakis was the dour diminutive guy with the fur above his eyes, Kerry is unusually lanky and has a face so long it seems to have come out of one of those fun-house mirrors. There are also aspects of his personal life that lend themselves to caricaturization. He’s on his second billionaire wife; he’s got something like 5 houses, and none of them are split level ranches in Peoria if you know what I mean. And he engages in a seemingly endless array of rich guy activities: Wind surfing, snow-boarding, piloting, weekending in Nantucket. For the legions working “two or three jobs who can’t get ahead,” such gratuitous wealth-flaunting could prove grating.

And now come a couple of stories that make Kerry look just plain silly. In a recent interview, Kerry boasted of a phone relationship he enjoyed with acting legend Marlon Brando. Ever an insightful mind when it came to world affairs, Brando had some advice for Kerry on how to handle Nicaragua. And it’s a good thing he did. According to Kerry, “I took his advice on a couple of angles. A couple of points.” (Note: If you plan to make fun of this exchange, don’t go for the obvious and already done to death “Apocalypse Now” parallels. Go for “The Godfather.” Watch: “I asked Brando what we should do about Ortega and his cozying up to the Soviets and whether or not we should rethink our ties, and he said, ‘Senator, keep your friends close, but your enemies even closer.’ I never forgot that.”)

And then there’s this other item from yesterday’s New York Daily News. Enterprising gossip columnist Lloyd Grove managed to find Kerry’s love interest of the early ‘90s, “aspiring novelist” Lee Whitnum. It will come as no surprise to those familiar with Kerry’s war time heroics that according to Whitnum, “John is 100% male.” But heading into Dukakisization territory, Whitnum reveals some disturbing bedroom intimacies: “John would whisper French phrases in my ear. I would say, 'Speak to me in French!' and so he'd do it. I don't know what he was saying. I don't speak French."

The thing about Dukakisization isn’t that the caricatures are fair or accurate. The salient point is that they take hold in the public mind and that the victim becomes a national punch-line. The Bush campaign is determined to Dukakisize Kerry. And the Kerry campaign and the Senator himself are determined to help.

(In the coming weeks, Soxblog will take a leading role in monitoring and documenting the Dukakisization of Kerry. Stay tuned.)

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


This is a very difficult essay with a high degree of difficulty. There are several tricky elements to it, and the judges will ruthlessly scrutinize my technique. The introduction has proven especially problematic. It’s been giving me problems since the Worlds back in 2003. But if I can somehow stick the dismount, I may still medal.

Every four years, like clockwork, phrases like “stick the dismount” and “split-time” invade the vernacular. That’s right, it’s time for the Olympics, that quadrennial celebration of esoteric, bizarre and sometimes just plain silly sports.

I have great respect for all Olympic athletes. Well, maybe not the synchronized swimmers. Or the rhythmic gymnasts. Or anyone on the U.S. Basketball team. But you probably get my point. The Olympians personify commitment and discipline and a lot of other good things that all of us would like to have. I’ll even apply that compliment to the synchronized swimmers and rhythmic gymnasts. (The bling-wearing, brick laying U.S. basketball team, however, is out of luck.)

But does anyone else find it odd that the world spends a fortnight watching seemingly pre-pubescent Romanians jump and tumble and otherwise demonstrate the skills that they cultivated at a modern day gymnastics gulag? The other night when I implored Mrs. Soxblog that it was late and time to head to bed, she responded, “I don’t want to miss the Romanian vaulters!!” I swear, that’s not a phrase I ever thought I’d hear uttered in our house. And the whole competition seems so arbitrary. These people train like lunatics for their entire lives and if they slip in the middle of a dance element during the floor exercise, the dream dies.

And there’s also the lack of head to head competition. The heart of sport is the mano-a-mano duel. Pitcher vs. hitter, linebacker vs. quarterback, face vs. puck. Many of the Olympic events completely lack that feature, and some that have it like fencing are really too goofy to watch. Now if the fencers had real swords, that would be good television.

Unfortunately, as I implied above, Mrs. Soxblog has gotten hooked which means it’s my job to try to be hooked. After all, she’s been more than a good sport what with allowing the Red Sox and their troubling season near constant residence in our living room. It’s only fair that I try to return the favor.

If I can make it through just a couple more days of gymnastics, Tim Daggot and Elkie Whatshername will be gone from my life forever. Or four years. And then, the thrills of track and field will lie ahead. The spectacle of the 400m Hurdles qualifying heat awaits.

And now, for the dismount, to show I’m at least a little in the spirit of things: Michael Phelps and most of our athletes are a credit to us all, but most of all to themselves. “USA! USA! USA!”

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight


Why do they hate Bush so much? I swear, I’ve been asked that question 50 times in the past month. We’re reaching a point where there’s almost a consensus that the hatred for Bush is unprecedented, that it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen.

Victor Davis Hanson took a crack at the subject last week. His take: The left’s “unhinged odium” (aah, VDH sure can turn a phrase) is a result of who Bush is – a conservative anti-intellectual with a clear world view who has eschewed Harvard Yard for Crawford, Texas..

Always astute reader “Chops” wrote in last night with his analysis. His take is similar to VDH’s , but with an added twist: “When the country decided (on a state basis, not popular, I know, I know) that they wanted the alleged knucklehead over the all-knowing ex-Vice president, it made the intellectuals look silly. They knew that most Middle Americans were a bunch of Patsy Cline-lovin', NASCAR-followin', ‘Mama's Family’-on-the-Superstation- watchin' dolts. They also knew that most of these people, with their Kiwanis clubs and their swap meets would never be members of the Harvard club. But the liberals of this country also realized, to their deep-seeded despair, that they themselves would be excluded from a club. A PLACE CALLED THE MAINSTREAM CLUB. And that's the reason why hard-line Democrats hate George W. Bush.”

I think both VDH and Chops are right to some degree, but I think they’re missing the biggest piece to the puzzle. Historian Paul Johnson (“History of the American People,” “Modern Times”) often refers to certain historical figures as “good haters.” For instance, an irritable guy like John Adams who perennially dwelled in a state of high dudgeon was an unusually “good hater.” A guy like Ronald Reagan obviously wasn’t.

For whatever reason, modern liberalism has attracted an unusual amount of good haters. Think about it: The politically active baby boomers in the late ‘60s developed a virulent hatred not just for their government but for the young men who served in the military. Although it’s an inconvenient fact that 21st century liberalism is desperately trying to lock in the attic, the treatment of the troops returning from Vietnam was a national disgrace. Who was it that called the honorably serving troops “baby killers” and literally spat on them as they returned from their tours of duty? The haters on the left.

The left has managed to hate every political foe that it has faced over the past 35 years. Nixon was despised; so was Reagan. Another fact that the modern left is scrambling to forget: Reagan was the subject of intense opprobrium because the left was convinced he wanted to blow up the world and had a callous indifference to the poor. Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Steve Earle – they were all singing the same tired songs about Reagan that they currently croon about Bush.

But you don’t have to go back decades to find detested Republicans. Indeed, Bush’s predecessor as de facto national leader of the Republican Party was a figure of much loathing. Bush isn’t the only recent Republican to win the dubious honor of being compared to Hitler. Does anyone remember Newt Gingrich?

People are what they are. If they’re given to hate, they’ll find something to hate. The left’s vice of choice is hatred. Does anyone think liberals would find Mitt Romney or Bill Frist any more palatable than they currently find W? Or if one of them should someday become President, will we spend 8 years wondering what it is about Bill Frist or Mitt Romney that inspires such loathing, all the while missing that the answer lays not with the object of the hatred but with those doing the hating themselves.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Why have the big media so conspicuously ignored the Kerry Christmas in Cambodia story? Surely it’s not because it lacks newsworthiness. When a central point of someone’s self hagiography turns out to be accuracy impaired and that someone has a really good chance of being president, it’s gotta be news. Right? Kerry’s entire national political persona is based on his Vietnam heroics. If a key part of his long running self-aggrandizing testimony turns out to be false, how can the big dailies and the networks fail to even mention it? How can this be?

The media habitually develop quick shorthand ways to describe national political personalities. For reasons that I don’t even pretend to understand, the media cling to these brief descriptions even when evidence mounts that they’re wholly inaccurate. In fact, no amount of facts on the ground can alter these initial impressions that rapidly morph into conventional wisdom. If George W. Bush secluded himself in Crawford for a weekend and emerged with a workable scheme for cold fusion, the New York Times would still dismiss him as an intellectually incurious dipshit and wonder why the dunderhead has yet to cure cancer.

There are so many examples of this phenomenon, I’m struggling just to pick a couple for illustration. Let’s start with George H.W. Bush. Because he spoke like an Ivy League weenie with an unusually nasal voice and patrician bearing, Bush 41 struck a lot of people as a wimp. Many media members dismissed him as such when he first ran for President in 1980 and found ammunition for the charge when Ronald Reagan bested him in New Hampshire. Of course, Bush 41 was no wimp. He had been a notably intrepid pilot in WWII and had ably run the Cold War era CIA. But these facts didn’t square with the media’s shorthand, so for his entire stint on the national stage Poppy had to battle the “Wimp Factor.” That’s what a 1988 Time Magazine cover story called it, anyway.

Ronald Reagan’s shorthand definition was perhaps most memorably provided by Washington insider Clark Clifford: Reagan was an amiable dunce. The media bought that line of thinking and relentlessly promulgated it. To them, Reagan was a Hollywood dullard who took afternoon naps and didn’t understand the world. You’re more likely to see a New York Times editorial praising Bush 43’s intellectual acumen than you were to see a similar piece on Reagan. But what do you know? Reagan left behind a series of writings that were as impressive as those of any president’s since Lincoln. Was it possible that this humble grad of Eureka College was not only not a moron, but actually quite bright? Believe me, the media never even asked the question.

The key part of the shorthand for John Kerry is that he’s a fearless war hero. One of the reasons for this particular shorthand having arisen is that the media and the left wanted an anti-Bush. It’s no coincidence that the Kerry shorthand is the exact opposite of the Bush shorthand.

The other reason that explains the genesis of this shorthand is pure intellectual laziness. Going to war doesn’t by definition make you a hero. There’s a difference between “dutiful” and “heroic.” There’s even a difference between “courageous” and “heroic.” Whether John Kerry was a hero or not is a subject for debate; the fact that he dutifully served is not. But the fact that he dutifully served does not necessarily make him the hero that his campaign and the media have so eagerly made him out to be.

So why won’t the media scrutinize their shorthand for Kerry? Is it more intellectual laziness? Perhaps it’s political bias? Whatever the case, it’s likely that they’ll stubbornly cling to Kerry’s war stories testifying to his own selfless heroism regardless of what contrary evidence comes to the surface. Hell, they never stopped believing Reagan was a dunce.

One thing’s for sure: President Bush will solve the riddle of cold fusion before the mainstream media gives this story the attention it deserves.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Monday, August 16, 2004


The conventional wisdom goes something like this: The undecideds in a presidential race go to the challenger because, as far as the undecided voter goes, the incumbent has had four years to close the deal and has failed at the task. So if the incumbent isn’t sitting on a lead in the polls down the stretch, he’s toast. Thus, the election is now Kerry’s to lose.

I’m not sure where this particular nugget of CW originates from, but Charlie Cook and ABCNews’ “The Note” have been peddling it the past week. Admittedly I’m unfamiliar with the historical polling data, but I have a hard time believing that the undecideds rushed to McGovern in ’72 or Goldwater in ’64. I also find it somewhat implausible that Mondale in ’84 or Dole in ’96 benefited from a last minute rush of the ambivalent to their sides. The one challenger who I remember clearly benefiting from a last minute charge of undecideds into his column is Reagan. I wonder how applicable 1976 is to 2004.

See, I think undecideds behave differently in different times. I think back to 1992. My future business partner at the time was struggling. He was being victimized by the sluggish economy. He felt if there wasn’t a change, he would go out of business. So he voted for Clinton, even though he was disturbed by the allegations concerning Clinton’s personal conduct. This wasn’t an unsophisticated man. The guy was a Harvard grad who had been published in the Atlantic Monthly. But he had decided that on the economy, Bush 41 was a failure and someone else should have a chance.

But do people process things the same way in a time of war? If the nation is in peril, do they feel that dissatisfaction with the incumbent alone is enough of a reason to give his opponent, whoever he might be, the election? Or is there a stronger tendency to stick with the devil you know, so to speak.

Franklin Roosevelt and his advisers certainly felt that in a time of war the urge to stick with the known quantity is a strong one. Roosevelt’s slogan in 1944 was something like, “You Don’t Change Horses in the Middle of the Stream.” Note that there’s not even a hint of self promotion in that slogan. Ironically given his previous rhetoric, Roosevelt was playing on people’s fears of the unknown quantity.

I think FDR and his people had it right. In dangerous times a presidential challenger will have to affirmatively close the deal, not just depend on the incumbent’s failure to do the same. If there’s a lack of compelling evidence suggesting the challenger’s superiority, the electorate will indeed decline to change horses in the middle of the stream. What's more, if the stream is overflowing with Jihadi lunatics intent on Jihadi mayhem, the reluctance to take a flyer on the new guy becomes all the more pronounced.

So the battle for the undecideds will come down to the following issue: Will Senator Kerry be able to affirmatively close the deal as a man worthy of being president? The Kerry campaign has tried desperately to position him as a generic war hero who just happened to spend two uneventful decades in the Senate. They apparently figured that if Kerry remained the mystery product distinguished only by war-time heroics, that would be enough to win the undecideds.

That dubious strategy began to take on serious water last week, but the real harm has yet to be felt. The vast majority of the American public that knows anything about Kerry knows that he was a war hero. But very few know that he spent a scant four months in the combat theatre and that in the ensuing decades he cultivated an ugly reputation for embellishing the exploits of those four months. As we’re already seeing, Karl Rove and friends are going to make sure America is aware of these facts.

But there’s an even bigger problem looming for Kerry. Towards the end of next month, John Kerry will be in prime-time three times in ten days debating the president. Unlike the DNC, this time the undecideds will be watching and paying attention. Even granting the arguable proposition that Kerry’s the most gifted debater since, well, ever, this represents a problem for Kerry. Trust me, people – the man is an unappealing figure. But for people who have been expecting a war hero/cum debating powerhouse, the disappointment will be profound.

Charlie Cook’s normally a pretty astute guy. When he unveils the CW, you’re wise to listen. If this were a normal year, Cook would probably be right. But 2004, the first presidential election after the first major attack on the American homeland in almost 200 years, is no normal year.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Friday, August 13, 2004


This may be a new recurring feature, or it may be a one time thing. We’ll see how I feel next Friday afternoon. Here, in an effort to tie up some loose ends, I offer the following:

1) A few people wrote in this morning unsure of what my point was in regards to the sordid McGreevey episode. Let me clarify: Moral lepers should stay out of politics. If you’re a moral leper, or if you have moral leper instincts that you can’t control, remain in private life. This is a non-partisan stance I take. Although I didn’t post anything on it, several correspondents know that I celebrated millionaire Illinois businessman and apparent sex perv Jack Ryan dropping out of his Senate race against Barack Obama. As you might recall, his ex-wife alleged that the man wanted to have sex with her in a public place – a Parisian sex club.

I don’t want to come across as a crusading moralist, but this is just unacceptable. One really has to wonder what Mr. Ryan’s problem is. Whatever the case, it’s for the best that he and his issues will remain in private life.

Besides, weren’t there any sex clubs in America good enough for him and his Hollywood starlet wife? Snob.

2) I love the reader mail. As many of you have found out, I read them all and respond to most of them. If you didn’t get a response, it meant I tabled your letter after reading it and intended to respond and just forgot. Don’t be discouraged – please write again. Not to patronize the audience, but you’re a really smart bunch out there and I love to hear from you. (Re-reading this post, I see that last sentence reads like something Andrew Sullivan would write. My apologies.)

3) A charter reader wrote in today and asked if many of the non-conservatives that found the site via Mickey Kaus’ Slate link last week are sticking around. It seems like a bunch are, for which I’m grateful. I think one of the main reasons is they know I read their emails when they have a beef and will often engage in some spirited email give and take. The following exchange is illustrative:

READER: It's very common for lawmakers to do things like this ("I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it") because of the way in which laws are made. In fact, it's perfectly possible for someone to end up voting against a bill that they originally sponsored because of the changes put into it in the interim. Both Republicans and Democrats do this stuff constantly.

ME: True enough, but what's not common is to find a lawmaker who constantly tries to take both sides of every tough issue. Like abortion ("life begins at conception.") Or Iraq.Thanks for writing. Please do so again if the urge should ever strike.

READER: Don't worry, it won't. Sarcastic bitch.

ME: Haven’t I warned you about self-medicating?

That’s all for now. Please check back over the weekend. There will be at least one new post, maybe more if the hurricane remnants keep me from the golf course on Sunday.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight


Pity the Garden State! First Tony Soprano goes on a hiatus that will take him away until 2006 at least. And then Bruce Springsteen elevates his sophomoric politics of rock n’ roll to new heights. But this? Jim McGreevey was already a local laughingstock because of the “Machiavelli” scandal. Now the whole nation gazes in wonder at New Jersey’s dysfunctional politics. I have a feeling in the coming days New Jersey citizens will have nostalgic pangs for the days long gone by when the rest of America just chortled at the Turnpike and Newark.

Actually, I’m a little sickened at how this McGreevey thing is playing out and how McGreevey has positioned himself as a victim who had to go on a painful voyage of self discovery. When you put yourself forward to lead millions of people, you imply that you are capable of doing so. That means that whatever “issues” you might have, you have them under control.

Let’s say you run for President. And let’s say you have a history of weakness for the bottle. By seeking the office, you are assuring the American people that you have those demons under control. In this day and age, the President has to be available 24/7 for four years. Hopefully eight. If George W. Bush fell off the wagon, I wonder how much of the mainstream media would be commending or lamenting his struggle with this particular demon.

Similarly, Bill Clinton when he ran for President doubtlessly knew that he had something of a weakness for the ladies. Our Willie wasn’t too particular in his Arkansas days; sure he preferred the beauty queens but he would pretty much take a run at whatever his state troopers/Praetorian Guard could corral. When he sought the Presidency, news of this proclivity surfaced. Clinton assured the American people (on “60 Minutes” no less!) that while he had caused pain in his marriage, those days were long over. In other words, if the American people chose to grant him the office that he sought, he would keep it zipped.

Famously, he didn’t. And the damage to the body politic is still rippling forth. It wasn’t just that he lied about his indiscretions with a certain zaftig intern. And it wasn’t even that he perjured himself in a court of law. It’s that in a dangerous world the entire American government was forced to suspend operations to rally around the philandering and mendacious chief executive. In the midst of the scandal, the Clinton administration tried to take out Osama Bin Laden. “Wag the Dog!” the media cried. And the efforts to get Bin Laden practically ceased. When Bill Clinton trotted out his Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, to repeat the lies that he had just told her, it told anyone paying attention that the government would now be consumed with propping up the politically ailing Commander in Chief. All because he couldn’t control his urges.

And like I said, the ramifications ripple forth. Outraged gay activists have been wondering why McGreevey stepped down since what he did was no worse than what Clinton did except the genders were switched. So is that it? Bill Clinton has become our gold standard for acceptable behavior of elected officials?

And a fawning media, while being careful to lament the impropriety of putting one’s lover on the state payroll, pays homage to McGreevey’s personal journey and implicitly condemns society for forcing poor Jim to take 47 years to come to grips with what made him “different.”

Well, if you believe the New Jersey media who for years have snickered among themselves regarding McGreevey’s sexual orientation, McGreevey has known precisely what it is that makes him “different” for quite a while and had acted on it not infrequently. Moreover, I have seen few media accounts that acknowledge that a key component of the ex-Governor-to-be’s personal journey was the outrageous and total betrayal of a wife and infant child. McGreevey proudly proclaimed himself yesterday a “gay American.” He neglected to mention that he’s also a lying and deceitful and crooked American.

There’s doubtlessly going to be further revelations that show why McGreevey really resigned. The speculation is that his ex-lover is about to do some real trashing and that McGreevey never would have given up if yesterday’s news represented all the damage. That’s a shame because even if there are no further revelations, McGreevey had to go. We have a right to demand better of our politicians than betrayal; we have a right to expect our leaders to behave in a somewhat moral manner. We have a right to demand more from a Governor than James McGreevey gave.

Even New Jersey-ites deserve better.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Thursday, August 12, 2004


Tuesday night I was at Fenway Park. The Red Sox snapped their one game losing streak and hopefully began the run that will get them in to the playoffs where they’ll be better positioned to rip my heart out once more. But the Sox’ victory isn’t what I’ll remember about Tuesday’s game. Around the second inning, a helicopter began making lackadaisical laps around the park, flying barely above the light-towers and passing right over the playing field and the stands.

There was a time when such a thing wasn’t unusual. In the pre-9/11 world, the skies above Fenway were jammed with small crafts pulling advertisements for Windshield Replacement services and the like. The occasional helicopter also wasn’t noteworthy. Post 9/11, for obvious reasons, such air traffic has been prohibited.

I know it was several news cycles ago and we as a nation have since become fixated on the testimony of purported butter churner Amber Frey, but at the start of the week there was a news release from the Homeland Security Department that Al Qaeda might use helicopters in an attack. I called Fenway’s security office to ask what that thing was doing up there; clearly alarmed, they said it shouldn’t be there and sure enough within a minute or two it zipped away never to be seen again. While it’s a little reassuring that Fenway’s security office can get such prompt results, it’s highly doubtful that a real Al Qaeda attack would have been so easily thwarted. The most disturbing thing about the situation? There were over 35,000 people at the ballpark. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who called the authorities. I was certainly the first.

This came on the heels of even stranger events earlier in the day. I have a friend who works in a small university town and whose mid-sized company shares its office building with several professors. My friend arrived at work on Tuesday to see several dozen smallish boxes stacked in the hallway outside his office. Upon closer examination, he saw that all of the boxes were labeled “ORM-D” which is a hazardous materials ground transport label required by the federal government. They were sealed/glued in the way a manufacturer would seal them and had “plastic bottles” written on the side, and said “do not cut below this line”, “handle with care”, etc. The boxes also bore the name of one of the university’s professors, a professor of Islamic studies.

My friend called the landlord to complain. The landlord responded that the boxes belonged to Professor So-and-So and that he’s a building tenant who’s in the process of relocating to the Middle East. The landlord suggested that theywere filled with his academic materials. My friend insisted that they were too small for packing books and that they were clearly not moving boxes of any kind.

Approximately 50 people in the building had seen the boxes and their disquieting labels. Throughout the morning, according to my friend, everyone was discussing how odd this was and indeed how it was quite disturbing. But nobody did a thing.

My friend is fortunately a man of action- he called the FBI. One last word about my friend: he’s a CFO type in the best sense of the term – reliable, responsible, definitely not the type to engage in hysterical hyperbole. (Not that it has anything to do with the story at hand, but he’s also a very fine golfer in spite of a putting stroke that could charitably be described as iffy.)

It has to be acknowledged that this professor’s activities, much like those of the helicopter later in the day, were in all likelihood completely innocent. But still, something so obviously suspicious should clearly be questioned.

It’s a time of war, but it’s unlike any other time of war. Much of the nation doesn’t think we’re at war, or won’t take any steps to acknowledge the reality of the situation. Moreover, if you react to the threat, you’re certainly likely to receive some odd looks. The guys sitting in front of me at the Red Sox game, overhearing my cellphone conversation with security, certainly didn’t seem impressed with my terrorist detecting acumen. And I can already picture the emails I’m going to receive for ethnically profiling the relocating professor, even though you’d have to be quite obtuse to not acknowledge the situation’s oddities.

Here are the sad facts. We’re at war. We’re all on the frontlines, we’re all in danger. Those of us who are cognizant of these facts had better act when appropriate, because the ACLU and Bruce Springsteen aren’t going to do it for us.

Alert reader Stuart, probably somehow sensing my tension from earlier in the week, sent in some beautiful verse to soothe my jangled nerves:

"I had a talk with a deer today/ we met upon the road some way . . . between his frequent snorts/He asked me if I sought his pelt/cause if I did he said he felt/quite out of sorts!"

The author of this lovely stanza? John Kerry. If Bush wins the election, perhaps he will be sporting and appoint the vanquished Kerry Poet Laureate.

I’ll concede this much: If the ability to write poetry is indicative of one’s intellect, then I have lost and lost decisively the debate regarding John Kerry’s intellect.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Wednesday, August 11, 2004


A few letters came in the last few days that I have reluctantly decided are worth publishing.

My new number one fan and potential best friend Nigel wrote in over the weekend:

Mr. Dwight-

I enjoyed reading a bit of your blog today. Thanks for the entertainment. You are without a doubt the most laughingly bland and moronic blogger I have yet read. You screech on about John Kerry's lack of smarts and you admittedly can't even keep straight which prep school was attended by whom. Let's see....2 men, two schools. Such detail to wrap your head around. I understand how it must be so difficult for you. This sort of hilarity can't be written. It's only alive and well in the fantastic world of lunatic right-wingers.

Yes, if a man chose to attend one school it must mean, of course, that he was denied entry to another. Yes, of course. And if I shop in one particular supermarket it must mean that I have been barred from entering another…

You write from the Fox News school of opinion. The "Some people say..." school. "Some people say that John Kerry must have attended B.C. b/c he was denied admission to Harvard."Yes, some people say that.

But then again, some people are, well, dolts. You my friend are a dolt. But your blog is kind of funny in a 2nd grade sort of way. So thanks for the laugh.


You see what he did there? He sucked me in with an introductory sentence saying that he enjoyed reading my blog. And then, WHAM! A written 2x4 to the ole noggin. Doesn’t he realize I have feelings?

I do feel it’s necessary to point out a logical error in his otherwise thoughtful and insightful missive. Few supermarkets have competitive standards to determine who they will allow in to shop. Graduate schools, on the other hand, often do have such competitive standards. An easy error to make, and certainly not one that should cause us to question Nigel’s analytical abilities. It’s really a wonderful analogy, very fitting and appropriate.

This next one arrived last night so the writer was a little late waddling into the controversy. She kept it short and bitter:

“I don't think you're all that smart yourself.”

Pithy, and to the point. I like his/her style.

The last one isn’t a letter but rather a blog posting by neophyte blogger Dan in eyeofthestorm2004:

“The more popular bloggers--Glenn Reynolds, Mickey Kaus, Josh Marshall and Andrew Sullivan to name a handful--have a special responsibility. If a blog is mentioned on one of their sites, hit count will skyrocket and its information will flood into the blogosphere. After a while, it has the potential to leak into the mainstream media and eventually the public.This week, I believe that Reynolds and Kaus shirked their responsibilities, linking to a Republican blog known as soxblog which suggested John Kerry isn't too bright...Reynolds and Kaus fueled this, and that's inexcusable.”

My first reaction was to tell Dan to lighten up, but I remembered that’s what I said to the earnest young Ivy League grad last week and he responded poorly to the suggestion. I next had a nice email exchange with Dan, who truthfully seems like a good guy and who is producing a consistently entertaining blog.

But Dan does truly have to lighten up. Not only that, he’s wrong. The biggest blessing of the blogosphere is that information gets out there that otherwise wouldn’t make it through the traditional gatekeepers like ABC News and The New York Times. It’s the whole democratizing of punditry thing.

Neither Reynolds nor Kaus endorsed my “Kerry’s Brain” theory. But both obviously felt that the mainstream media’s implied assumption that Kerry’s smarter than Bush is worth scrutinizing. Perhaps the scrutiny will show Kerry is indeed a genius – his Yale debate coach was certainly impressed. What’s shocking is that Kerry had made it so far in a presidential race without anyone questioning the Nagourney-issued line that Kerry’s is a mind capable of astonishing complexity and nuance.

As much as I enjoyed Nigel’s letter, I’d still prefer thoughtful critics like Dan. Still, doesn’t Dan know? Soxblog isn’t a Republican blog; it’s a lunatic right-wing blog.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


Ulysses S. Grant became President as a direct result of his wartime successes. Grant wasn’t a visionary combat leader like his contemporary Sherman nor was he a brilliant strategist like his antagonist Robert E. Lee. Grant succeeded because he better than anyone else grasped the “terrible arithmetic” of the Civil War: If the Union traded the Confederacy soldier for soldier or even two Union casualties for every Confederate killed, the Confederacy would ultimately be attritted. The key to Grant’s success was that he had the iron will necessary to send tens of thousands of his men to a violent death in order to win the war. If that sounds like nothing special, consider that Grant had seven predecessors who lacked this peculiar talent.

The American people extrapolated from Grant’s success as a general that he would be a fine president. He wasn’t. As a president, Grant was an unmitigated disaster. It’s safe to say that the talents that he showed as a general, while remarkablY heroic and necessary in the Civil War, had little applicability to a peace time Whitehouse.

Dwight Eisenhower also became president because of his success as a general. Ike’s skill set, though, was a lot different from Grant’s. Ike commanded an enormous organization. He dealt with prickly underlings like Patton and difficult allies like Montgomery and DeGaulle. He also held his own with his superiors who were to a man giants: Roosevelt, Marshall and Churchill.

As was the case with Grant, the American people extrapolated from Eisenhower’s wartime triumphs that he would be a good president. In Ike’s case, the skills that allowed him to be so effective in World War II were directly transferable to the Oval Office. Be it handling difficult allies like Anthony Eden or again DeGaulle or his own contentious underlings, Ike proved to be an extraordinarily capable president.


Extrapolation – that’s the whole point of the Kerry campaign’s fixation on his 4 ½ months in Vietnam. We’re to believe that he was remarkably heroic and selfless during that period and that we can reliably extrapolate from those experiences to figure his potential effectiveness as president.

Putting aside the questions of what exactly happened with Kerry in Vietnam, there are fatal flaws in his campaign’s logic. Grant’s and Eisenhower’s war experiences came close to the time that they sought the White House, at least when compared to Kerry. Moreover, and more pointedly, their performances in war represented their fully developed adult selves. Kerry is asking us to see no distinction between the old man and young man versions of himself.

But there’s an even bigger problem. If Kerry’s true character was on display in Vietnam, if he’s truly man of limitless supplies of courage, selflessness, and leadership, where have those attributes been hiding the past 35 years? If they translate into the realm of politics, why has he been, as his own backers concede, merely an average Senator? Why have his Senate colleagues not responded to this remarkable natural leader? And why has this allegedly selfless man been so conspicuously ambitious and so averse to sacrificing his own interests for matters of conscience? Indeed, why has his conscience been so difficult to locate?

This week’s swift boat and Cambodia controversies, even though they center on events that are decades old, have a startling relevance to the 2004 campaign. The Kerry campaign is asking the American public to extrapolate to determine Kerry’s performance as president. Is it surprising that the American public will inquire, extrapolate from what?

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at soxblog@aol.com

James Frederick Dwight


The wait is over. We have our winners! Five days ago I challenged Kerry supporters to write an essay defending their champion's intellect The two entries that follow towered above the competition. (Actually, in spite of over 25,000 visitors to the site the last few days, they were the only entrants.) The first comes courtesy of reader Steve Tarlow, the second from Shayna Englin. Working with woefully limited tools, both proved remarkably game.

Without further adieu, their essays. My commentary regarding their efforts is at the bottom of the post.

Kerry’s Brain: A Defense (Steve Tarlow)

You’ve challenged me to support my contention that John Kerry does indeed have a first-class brain. In the last few days I’ve done some research (hardly exhaustive) on the subject and am now, as it were, reporting for duty.

For starters, I looked through some accounts of his school years. While I couldn’t uncover any academic records, I did find that at St. Paul’s, Yale and BC Law, he seems to have left a profound impression on many for his remarkable oratorical skills, his exceptional ability to think on his feet. He is still remembered vividly for these skills.

At St. Paul’s, where Kerry won many debating prizes and gained a reputation for intellectual seriousness, his Latin teacher was impressed enough by his talent at debate to declare him “one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known.”

At Yale more than one fellow-student saw fit to mention these extraordinary rhetorical and debating skills. To quote the Boston Globe, as a college debater he “won dozens of competitions against college students from across the nation and even across the Atlantic. In February 1966, Kerry and his partner, William Stanberry, Jr., won a match against a previously undefeated traveling team from Britain.” In fact his history professor and debate team coach, Rollin “Rollie” Osterweis, “frequently said before Kerry’s graduation that he was one of the greatest debaters ever to come from Yale.” He was, to no one’s surprise, voted the class orator and in that role spoke at graduation.

At BC Law, which he attended due to the influence of Father Drinan, whose first campaign he chaired, Kerry won The Grimes Moot Court Competition. On the BC Law web site, he recalls his time at BC Law thusly, “I learned what it means to apply critical thinking, to approach intellectual problems using the Socratic method, to try to come up with the answers for questions I’d never even thought to ask before … Once I honed the skill of critical thinking, I found that it could be applied in a lot of contexts.” Are these the words of an intellectual lightweight (or even light-heavy)? Is it any surprise that following law school, as a prosecutor, he is remembered by colleague J. William Codinha, as “probably the most natural trial lawyer on his feet I ever saw.”

In a recent “Atlantic Monthly” piece comparing the debating styles of Bush and Kerry, James
Fallows, while not at all dismissive of Bush, was clearly astonished at Kerry’s skills, marveling that “Kerry under pressure was engrossing in a way that reminded me of a climactic courtroom scene in a Scott Turow novel, in which a skillful prosecutor eventually traps an evasive witness. You could see him maneuvering, thinking, adjusting, attacking, applying both knowledge and logic, and generally coming out ahead. John Kerry’s formal speeches often seem to illustrate the main complaints about his style: that he is pompous-sounding and stiff. But these debates mainly make you think, This man knows a lot, he is fast, and he has an interesting mind.”

Fallows’ piece accords with the findings (reported, I believe, in the New York Times a couple of months ago) of an expert on political speech who looks at the sentence and paragraph structure in candidates’ unscripted remarks in order to gauge the level of complexity in their thought. On this expert’s scale, George Bush did not fare at all badly; he was capable of stringing together thoughts in a cogent manner using basic conjunctions (real or implied); he habitually recognized and communicated simple connections between ideas. Clinton, interestingly enough, also fell into this category, while Dukakis, for instance, scored lower – he spoke in loosely connected declarative sentences. Kerry, in contrast to these three, came out at the highest level; he regularly and subtly elucidated the causal links between thoughts and sustained complicated arguments.

While I have unearthed no testimony to Kerry’s reading tastes, a quick perusal of his letters from Vietnam, as excerpted in Douglas Brinkley’s book, “Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War”, should convince you (and maybe even Mickey Kaus) that he is both well-read in a general sense and even has a bit of literary flair.

In sum, let’s not forget that all this debating success requires more than verbal dexterity; it entails the mastery of substantive material, the ability to research, organize and sift through sometimes arcane detail. In John Kerry’s case especially, I think we can safely dismiss the notion that these oratorical skills derive from mere glibness or charm. They obviously point to something beyond that; the presence of a healthy and energized brain.

Besides which, he’s a Red Sox fan. (Ed. – and that argues for his intelligence?????)

And Shayna Englin writes:

At the outset, a couple of confessions:

· I’m of the belief that is impossible to prove anyone’s intelligence, with the notable exceptions of giants in science. It is easy to make almost anyone look stupid. Indisputable evidence of intelligence is all but nonexistent.

· I’m also of the belief that intelligence only matters in context and in comparison – who cares if Kerry is smart if Bush isn’t, either? Those are our choices, and both can doubtless be judged lacking in comparison to easily spotted geniuses. Einstein, Hawking, yes, Moynihan – all would leave them both in the dust.

• I’m convinced that intelligence is in the eye of the beholder. Not a few people questioned the intelligence of even the late, great, Moynihan, particularly before his prescience on race and poverty became apparent.

My ambivalence about the exercise fairly confessed, I’ll address JFD’s arguments in reverse order.


Kerry has not held significant leadership positions – but he has been a well-recognized leader in the Senate’s investigative and oversight roles. Leadership positions are largely political- and fundraising- focused. A person who comes from a background as a prosecutor and a Lt. Governor, and comes in as the junior Senator to none other than Senator Kennedy, can have much more impact by not competing for committee assignments, but seeking leadership elsewhere.

Kerry chaired the POW-MIA Committee, and earned bipartisan respect for his efforts. He spent much of his first decade in the Senate leading the efforts to identify any living Vietnam MIA, and then to normalize relations with Vietnam. The results were controversial, as they were bound to be, but are well respected pretty much across the board.

In his first year as a Senator, Kerry uncovered the basis of what would become the Iran Contra scandal.

As chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations, Kerry launched investigations into international drug rings.

It’s hard to find a good argument that, had Senate remained Democratic, Kerry would not have continued in this vein. Even as a minority Senator, with no political cache and a surplus of political vitriol directed his way, Kerry proposed visionary money-laundering regulations that, in retrospect, could have helped prevent al Qaeda from building their resources.


Bill Clinton has been called many, many things. Stupid is not among them. Bill Clinton has repeatedly and over many years praised John Kerry’s leadership and intellect. The Senators who worked most closely with him for the longest tenure, Chuck Grassley and John McCain, are both effusive in the praise of his intellect (and leadership and honor, but I digress).


College grades don’t matter. The Kerry campaign should up and release the records – though, in fairness to at least this Kerry champion, I didn’t think college grades mattered in 1988 or 2000, either. Anti-intellectualism is a problem in a President; an intellectual who didn’t get good grades in college is not. Fixation on transcripts is ridiculous in almost every job interview context; it’s ridiculous here. And all of that said, even JFD’s massive influence in the world of politics shouldn’t be enough to cause the Kerry campaign to release the records – it wouldn’t be smart. They should wait until there’s some sort of public pressure and do it with fanfare. If they’re stellar; great. If they’re mediocre; fine. We’ve already determined that mediocre performance in college isn’t a disqualifier for the presidency.

But since JFD threw it out, I’ll bite.

Even though we don’t (yet) have Kerry’s transcripts, we do know quite a bit about what he did at Yale. We know that he was a champion on the debate team, and the debate coach at the time referred to him before and after his graduation as “one of the greatest debaters ever to come to Yale.” (If you’re a subscriber to the Atlantic Monthly, you can read all about it online. If not, buy the July/August edition). Stupid people don’t often excel at debate; I’d guess it would be particularly difficult to do so at Yale. His prowess stuck with him—William Weld is no dummy; Kerry won his only tough re-election race by squashing Weld in their debate.

JFD memorably argues that, as opposed to Bush’s partly merit-based admission to HBS, Kerry, even with his war record, media star status, and, yes, still-existing family connections, couldn’t even manage to get into Harvard Law School. Clearly, anyone who got into Harvard would go there, right?

Nope. In 1999 I was hours away from accepting a slot in Northeastern’s Public Policy program over a slot at Harvard’s Public Policy program because Northeastern offered me a full ride, plus a stipend. Harvard offered me nothing. A generous mother-in-law saved the day. I was this close to making myself vulnerable, thirty years from now, to some pseudonym-ed guy with a soap-box calling me stupid because anyone who got into Harvard would surely go there. (Ed.- Only if you ran for president.) Kerry was not wealthy. His family was not wealthy. Who knows what BC and HLS offered him? Connecting the dots requires some giant leaps – too giant to conclude from them alone that the man in question isn’t smart.


It is, as JFD points out endlessly, a dangerous world. It’s also a complex one. For example, a full-blooded war on terror (by which we mean a war on terrorism, I hope – a war on “terror” seems pretty silly, and I’d miss the scary movies) would have to include some reckoning on Saudi Arabia. But a full-blooded American economy is dependent on OPEC oil. No amount of domestic drilling or alternative fuel investment is going to change that any time soon. Taking on the Saudi propensity for producing and supporting terrorists would put at risk another crucial aspect of American life. Any solution is imperfect, and yes, complex.

Similarly, taking America to war is, as it should be, a complex affair. “I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it” is an inexplicably inelegant way of describing what happened with that supplemental spending bill. (Only veering a little bit from my lane, it’s hilarious to see Bush supporters bandy a verbal gaffe in the wake of, “They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”) There were several bills, one of them championed by the President, the other championed by many Senate Democrats. It was, in fact, possible on this bill as on most others to have agreement at the outset but disagreement on the specifics as they got piled on. It was possible to, as the Senator points out, vote for it and vote against it. The pesky process makes it very, very difficult to avoid the complexity JFD finds so troublingly empty.

JFD is correct that a “complex mind” is difficult to identify or define – much like an “intelligent mind.” Recognition that a complex world calls for complex solutions, ability to put together complicated, disparate pieces of information to form successful investigations, and ability to articulate it all in at least one format is evidence of both.

Bring It On.


I first want to respond by offering my test for intelligence. Actually, before doing so, I would like to offer a special piece of praise for Shayna’s snarky sarcasm and faux-sycophancy. Well done, indeed. I think intelligence is defined by two primary skills:

1) Intellectual Rigor - Can you master difficult matters? For instance, if you found trig an unsolvable riddle and couldn’t see the beauty in Hamlet, you may not be a genius. There are a couple of guys I know, both Harvard professors, of whom the following can truthfully be said: There is nothing within the realm of human knowledge that they can’t comprehend if they put their minds to it. Being curious about complex matters is clearly distinct from achieving a mastery of them. Wondering about things is nice, but understanding them is even better.

2) Unusual or Exceptional Insights - Are you able to see things that others don’t? Do you come up with answers to previously insoluble problems? Isaac Newton did; so did Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Newt Gingrich and George Marshall.

Admittedly, measuring these things isn’t easy. That’s one of the reasons grades have some relevance. School is the one time in life where your ability to comprehend complex matters is actually objectively measured. Now of course, the relevance of grades is limited because a lot of people don’t apply themselves in school. But if John Kerry worked like a dervish and still did poorly at Yale or Boston College, such information would be probative.

One thing that is definitely not “intelligence” is verbal dexterity. Being highly articulate often has some correlation with one’s intellectual capacity, but the two should not be confused of conflated. How well did Einstein express himself? Completely and utterly irrelevant, right? I’ll tell ya, being articulate and wearing eyeglasses are the two easiest ways to fool people into believing you’re bright.

That being said, verbal expression is a key component of successful leadership. A president who can express himself well is likely to be a far more effective leader than one who cannot. Can Kerry express himself well? His Yale debate coach apparently thought so. But it appears that expressing yourself as a politician and expressing yourself as a super-stud college debater might require a different skill set.

So I don’t think much of the many tributes to Kerry’s past verbosity. I don’t think those skills have made it to the 21st century, but even if they did I don’t think they have a lot to do with this conversation.

So, using my definition for intellect, does it matter how Kerry and Bush rank? I think we’ve had three presidents who qualify well on both fronts: Jefferson, Nixon and Clinton. All three saw things that virtually no one around them did. (Clinton, you’re asking, right? Obviously had intellectual rigor in spades, but what did he ever figure out that wasn’t already common knowledge? He pioneered the sickening Oprah-ization of politics. That whole feel your pain thing. Playing the sax on Arsenio. He realized the rules had changed before anyone else.)

The fact that all three were deeply flawed individuals does not mean we should eschew highly intelligent presidents. But it does mean that perhaps the key to being a great leader isn’t found in the head but instead in the heart. Lincoln had the resolve to see through the Civil War; Truman had the guts to end WWII and start the Cold War. Reagan was able to call the Soviet Union what it truly was and fought to defeat it. These weren’t intellectual struggles – they were of a higher order.

And that’s going to lead us to the real problems with John Kerry.

(And with that, the subject is now changed, although both Shayna and Steve are welcome to write responses that I’ll post if they so wish. Thanks again, guys.)