THE WEEK IN FEARING FEAR ITSELF

Big week on the not-trampling-over-all-of-our-values-and-freedoms-in-the-same-of-security front. I’m skeptical of how much difference the McCain ammendment committing us not to torture will make on the ground, but it’s a good sign that even after sending Dick Cheney out of his undisclosed location and onto Capitol Hill, Bush wasn’t able to keep Congressional Republicans on the reservation (the anti-anti-torture reservation, that is). The ultimate result, in which Bush met McCain much further than halfway from his original “waterboarding is freedom” position, shows him to be a weakened President and puts this nation back on record against willfully inflicting abusive pain on prisoners. The urgency of the issue, and the limitations of legal language like McCain’s in addressing it, are reinforced in Human Rights Watch’s announcement today on pervasive torture in secret US-operated foreign prisons:

Eight detainees now held at Guantánamo described to their attorneys how they were held at a facility near Kabul at various times between 2002 and 2004. The detainees, who called the facility the “dark prison” or “prison of darkness,” said they were chained to walls, deprived of food and drinking water, and kept in total darkness with loud rap, heavy metal music, or other sounds blared for weeks at a time. The detainees offer consistent accounts about the facility, saying that U.S. and Afghan guards were not in uniform and that U.S. interrogators did not wear military attire, which suggests that the prison may have been operated by personnel from the Central Intelligence Agency…Some detainees said they were shackled in a manner that made it impossible to lie down or sleep, with restraints that caused their hands and wrists to swell up or bruise. The detainees said they were deprived of food for days at a time, and given only filthy water to drink. The detainees also said that they were held incommunicado and never visited by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross or other independent officials.

This “dark prison” report follows Friday’s New York Times revelation that President Bush has been authorizing the NSA to spy on Americans without even going through the secret courts designed for the purpose, which should shake any confidence one might have that better laws will fully set this administration straight. Bush apparently believes that he is authorized to personally designate Americans as surveillance targets based on the congressional resolution authorizing him to go to war in Afghanistan.

That Congress showed much less deference on Friday, when Bill Frist could only muster 52 votes for cloture on the Conference Committee’s version of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization, which took out all the civil liberties protections that Russ Feingold and others managed to get into the version passed unanimously by the Senate. In a striking victory for sensible privacy protections over fear-mongering, Feingold, Leahy, and company have kept the Senate from approving the Conference Committee Draft. It’s also a huge victory for Feingold personally, who has gone from being the only Senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act to leading a charge to continue debate on the bill which saw more Republicans cross over to oppose cloture than Democrats crossing over to support it. Looks like the Democratic leadership, rather than marginalizing him, is now trying to pull him into the party establishment, handing him a seat on the Intelligence Commission.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, made the news for her own sorry contribution to the discourse on patriotism and freedom: a proposal to ban flag-burning. Hers is ostensibly a compromise position in that it’s a bill rather than a constitutional amendment, and it only applies on public property or when someone is intimidated. But legitimating speech restrictions based on how uncomfortable the speech makes other people feel makes a mockery of free speech. She should know better.

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ON EMBOLDENING

In the wake of Russ Feingold’s call last week for a clearly-defined timetable for withdrawl of American troops from Iraq, President Bush has been stirring himself from his vacation long enough to offer a series of iterations of the same tired argument that announcing plans to withdraw troops would be letting the terrorists win (a category which, to review, includes smkoing pot, buying knock-off merchandise, and treating intelligence claims with skepticism, but doesn’t include buying an SUV, writing gay people out of the constitution, or renewing the PATRIOT Act). The latest edition of this argument, deployed for the liberal policy threat du jour, is dressed up in tactical sounding language about “emboldening” terrorists, but the thrust is nothing new: There are evil people who must be defied, and they want us to take troops out of Iraq, so we must do the opposite. Comforting rhetoric for some, but not much of a military strategy.

In Iraq, as elsewhere, there may be a certain number of fanatics willing to sacrifice anything under any circumstances, but there’s a much larger number of people who weigh their choices based on an array of perceptual, factual, emotional, and social, factors which drive one towards or against an act of terrirism. Bush would have us believe that an announcement of a schedule for American withdrawl would inspire more of these people to take Iraqi and foreign lives. This would require that there be a significant number of angry people not currently “emboldened” to take action because it seems futile, who on hearing that US troops would be leaving would decide that insurgents could make a dent after all and would suddenly become violent, targeting – according to Bush’s rhetoric – the very troops whose tenure in Iraq had just been announced to be temporary. The sad truth is that terrorists are indeed making a dent in Iraq, and they seem to be plenty emboldened. More credible, I’d say, is the opposite theory: the creation of a clear timetable for American withdrawl, with doing little to satiate insurgent leaders, would deprive them of their greatest recruiting tool and send a signal well beyond Iraq’s borders that the United States government does not have imperial ambitions in the country. As Feingold himself argued two months ago:

When I was in Baghdad in February, a senior coalition officer told me that he believes the U.S. could “take the wind out of the sails of the insurgents” by providing a clear, public plan and timeframe for the remaining U.S. mission. He thought this could rob them of their recruiting momentum. I also think it could rob them of some unity. All reports indicate that the forces fighting U.S. troops and attacking Iraqi police, soldiers, and civilians are a disparate bunch with different agendas, from embittered former regime elements to foreign fighters. The one thing that unites them is opposition to America’s presence in Iraq. Remove that factor, and we may see a more divided, less effective, more easily defeated insurgency.

MURDER IN LONDON

Thursday, my Mom and I watched the news of the attacks in London just before each heading off for out-of-state trips, by airplane and train respectively. Four days later, the Times reports on the limited progress of the intelligence investigation, and the Guardian offers an account of the limited progress of the recovery effort:

They could only begin to guess the full horror of the work going on in the tunnels directly underneath them as teams endeavoured to retrieve the bodies or the remains of those who still lie among the mangled wreckage of the Piccadilly line tube train. Rescue workers battled with temperatures which were rising above 60C (140F) in their attempt to retrieve all those who had fallen victim to Thursday’s bombs within 48 hours. As well as the heat, rats, dust and the risk of contamination from asbestos have all hampered the operation. Besides this, there was initial concern that the tunnel might collapse. Refrigeration units stood near the scene to store the bodies – and body parts – before they were taken to a temporary mortuary at the barracks of the Honourable Artillery Company in the City. Scotland Yard’s senior identification manager, Detective Superintendent Jim Dickie, said the extreme heat was a “significant factor” in the recovery operation between King’s Cross and Russell Square tube stations. The affected carriage is about 100ft below the surface. The space is so small that only a limited number of rescuers can work inside the tunnel at any time and teams have to return to the surface periodically, so harrowing are the conditions, which one rescue worker described as “hell on earth”. Deputy Chief Constable Andy Trotter, of British Transport police, warned that it would be some time before the “methodical and meticulous” but “extremely difficult” recovery operation was finished.

In the wake of the murders in London, the burning question, as Ivo Daalder reminds us, is not how we best exact retribution but how we reach the point which our current leadership has done so much to further distance – the defeat of Al Qaeda:

What the bombing did is to remind anyone who needed to be reminded that the job of destroying Al Qaeda remains undone. The Iraq War is a major reason why we have not succeeded — it has been a giant distraction (in terms of manpower, intelligence, energy, money, and high-level attention) from this essential task…When the right advocates “retaliation” it has in mind not Al Qaeda, but a state (Iran and Syria, mostly)…Even after London, they still don’t get the threat we face — which is why they call for retaliation whereas we call for getting back to the main business of destroying Al Qaeda.

But as Nathan observes, a full commitment to peace and security demands a longer-term perspective:

The best way to fight terrorism is to drain the pool of public support. Supporting the victims of the Tsunami in Indonesia was one of the best ways possible to improve the image of the US in that country. A serious commitment to aid in Africa, aside from being the right thing to do, is the best use of money to fight terrorism as well. If we took the money wasted in Iraq, we could build global support and allies around the world through a crusade to end poverty, even as we’d have additional money to secure our vulnerable facilities against the crazies left over. London shows our current strategy has failed. Let’s try a new one build on global justice abroad and intelligent security at home.

This is what we’ve been reduced to? Osama bin Laden cares what happens in Iraq, and so those of us who aren’t fans of Osama bin Laden should support the continuation of the same broken policy? If Bush is going to quote bin Laden as the man best suited to explain why we should stay in Iraq, he could at least offer the whole quote:

I now address my speech to the whole of the Islamic nation: Listen and understand. The issue is big and the misfortune is momentous. The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world’s millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate. The whole world is watching this war and the two adversaries; the Islamic nation, on the one hand, and the United States and its allies on the other. It is either victory and glory or misery and humiliation. The nation today has a very rare opportunity to come out of the subservience and enslavement to the West and to smash the chains with which the Crusaders have fettered it.

Shouldn’t be a surprise, even to the folks in the Pentagon and the think tanks who planned this war, that Osama bin Laden sees it as a fantastic opportunity to divide the world between Muslims and non-Muslims and recruit more jihadists. The question is why we gave it to him. And to answer by quoting bin Laden, with the implication that the world, or at least the American political scene is divided between backers of Bush and backers of bin Laden, only compounds the outrageousness.

From Ruth

Let’s do the world news. First – Bolivia – now there’s a 2005 popular uprising I can get behind. This stuff makes Kyrgyzstan look like t-ball. From WaPo, this is how we do it:

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Bolivia’s interim president vowed to hold elections as he took office Friday, leading indigenous groups to start lifting roadblocks after weeks of massive protests.

Eduardo Rodriguez, the former Supreme Court chief, was sworn in as interim president late Thursday, taking the place of President Carlos Mesa, who resigned in an effort to halt protests he feared could push Bolivia toward civil war.

Protesters from the indigenous majority have been clamoring for more political power and gas and oil nationalization — in opposition to a European-descended elite.

“One of my capacities will be to call for an electoral process,” Rodriguez said after he was sworn in. “I am offering a short mandate with the help of Congress.”

The crisis has shown the increasing power of Indian groups, which could determine the next presidency. That would herald another shift to the left in Latin America, where there is growing opposition to U.S. diplomatic and economic influence.

Both the political mobilization of the Indians and the peaceful, democratic, pretty much successful resolution of the massive protests are quite heartening for a nation with a lot of democracy problems and a lot of race problems. There’s no telling yet where Rodriguez will end up but elections are the right way to start. A-.
Next up, Canada, where bad things are happening in high places. NYT:

TORONTO, June 9 – The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a Quebec law banning private medical insurance in a decision that represents an acute blow to the publicly financed national health care system.

The high court stopped short of striking down the constitutionality of the country’s vaunted health care system nationwide, but specialists across the legal spectrum said they expected the decision to lead to sweeping changes in the Canadian health care system…

The Canadian health care system provides free doctor’s services that are paid for by taxes. The system has generally been strongly supported by the public, and is broadly identified with the Canadian national character. Canada is the only industrialized county that outlaws privately financed purchases of core medical services.

But in recent years patients have been forced to wait longer for diagnostic tests and elective surgery, while the wealthy and well connected either sought care in the United States or used influence to jump medical lines.

The court ruled that the waiting lists had become so long that they violated patients’ “life and personal security, inviolability and freedom” under the Quebec charter of human rights and freedoms, which covers about one-quarter of Canada’s population.

Medicare waiting times are undeniably ridiculous in Canada. (The province of Newfoundland has only one MRI machine.) But that these health crises threaten equally the rights and freedoms of those Canadians who cannot afford private care, either currently abroad or apparently soon in Quebec, should have been the foremost concern for a high court mandating solutions. This is bad news for Quebecers and, by precedent, soon enough for residents of every province. The good news is that the vast majority of Canadians know it stinks and willfight it, and consequently so will the obsessively poll-reading Liberals. The Globe:

Prime Minister Paul Martin vowed Thursday that Canada’s public health-care system would remain intact, despite a Supreme Court of Canada ruling opening the door for private care in Quebec.

“We’re not going to have a two-tier health-care system in this country,” he told reporters following Thursday’s ruling.

Would that Bush were making such utterances. Canadian health care is strong and deeply embedded in the national culture, but in the mean time, things are going to get worse for the middle and lower classes in Quebec – with doctors and money fleeing the public system – before they better. D.

Lastly, something seems to be going down at the G8:

WASHINGTON, June 9 – The United States and Britain have reached an agreement on how the billions of dollars that the world’s poorest nations owe to international lenders can be erased, removing the last impediment to an accord long sought by the richest nations, a senior official involved in the negotiations said Thursday.

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and his British counterpart, Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, will present their proposal to a meeting of the finance ministers of seven of the Group of 8 industrial nations on Friday in London, the official said.

Apparently, the richest nation in the history of the world has been convinced by a fast-talking Brit to cancel some debt for some desperately poor countries. From a greater good standpoint, I would like to extend a mazal tov and yasher koach to the President for finally getting on the not-evil train. From a political standpoint, I think Blair should have taken that I-screwed-myself-in-Iraq-for-you thing a whole lot of miles further. And let’s not all get out the party hats and streamers just yet because it doesn’t seem like the debt is going soooo far away, and we still have AIDS and malnutrition and diarrhea and war and stuff. All being stops on the aforementioned train that Bush and the US could do some serious image upgrading and, you know, serious moral good by perhaps visiting at some point. In the meantime, B for this class and a B overall for the week.

Thursday while I was on a community service project with Mexican students in Puebla, a few seven year-old boys who I’d been playing with for a while told me matter-of-factly that they didn’t like Americans because we all wanted (loosely translated) “to conquer Mexico.” I suggested that the US in fact had no designs on its southern neighbor, and we discussed the difference between the policies of a country’s government and the sentiments of its people (turns out they’re not big fans of Vicente Fox either). So quick, someone call Karen Hughes and tip her off that it’s not just in the Middle East that they “hate us for our freedoms.” Unless, that is, there may be some other reason that hearts and minds the world over are finding the concept of America as an arrogant imperial power more credible than they might have a few years back.

Not much new to say about the State of the Union Address because, well, it didn’t say much new. Substance-wise, it was more of the same, rhetorically, it was flat, and as for the delivery – well, no surprises there. Bush is still trying to pull a fast one on the American people with his social security numbers; when he said that FDR could not have imagined today’s economy, it was hard not to wince at the steady rollback of the New Deal of which Bush’s agenda is but the latest example. His allusions to FDR in defending his foreign policy were equally unpersuasive. If Bush expects plaudits for courage for politely suggesting to his allies in Saudi Arabia that their people get more opportunities to express themselves (meaning what? Voting for American Idol?), then we really are defining deviancy down. The moment shared between the Iraqi and American women was indeed poignant. It was, I couldn’t help thinking, an interesting echo of the moment shared between grieving Iraqi and American mothers in Farenheit 9/11. Whether one agrees more with George Bush’s or Michael Moore’s view of the architects and consequences of that war, there’s a great deal of chosen and unchosen sacrifice and suffering that should be sobering for all of us. Bush’s stated commitment to the advancement of liberty, of course, didn’t stop him from once more floating the writing of bigotry into the constitution. Just another reason that Bush’s eager exclamations of liberty fell as flat as his last line about the long and twisting road to freedom, a pale shadow of a truly great American’s promise (more urgent and more seemingly distant than ever) that “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Live-blogging the debate:

0:01 “A few” things is all you want to change about the PATRIOT ACT? Gonna be a long night…

0:03 Bush doesn’t see how you can lead this country if you change your mind…I think a lot of Americans are coming to realize you can’t lead the country so well if you never change your mind…

0:05 Touting that 75% of Al Qaeda leadership captured figure was probably more effective before Condi admitted we don’t know how many Al Qaeda leaders there are. That must be some amazing math…

0:06 “I wasn’t happy when we found out there wasn’t weapons there.” I understand, electorally, why that would be the case, but on some moral level, shouldn’t that be a relief?

0:09 No, he didn’t say “we must pass a global test before we use force” – he said we must pass one after we use force. Not much to tout from that first debate for you, is there?

0:10 Kerry appealing to what voters see about Iraq on TV is much more effective, somehow, than Bush appealing to what he sees about Iraq on TV…

0:13 Bush saying he’s more optimistic than Kerry about Iraq: Effective rhetoric. Bush saying Kerry’s copying his plan: Not so effective rhetoric.

0:15 “I’ve made some decisions that have caused people not to understand the great values of our country.” What? Whose fault would that be? I mean, is that just because the great values of our country are really hard to understand?

0:17 True, people love America who don’t like America’s decisions. That’s why so many of them are hoping Kerry wins. But doesn’t acknowledging the difference between criticism and America-hating remove one of your justifications for ignoring the criticism?

0:18 Calling Bush on broken promises from 2000: Key. Keep at it. And combining that with the firing dissenters angle is a key move too.

0:19 “The military’s job is to win the war. The President’s job is to win the peace.” Amen. Stick it to him for claiming criticizing the policy demoralizes the troops.

0:21 “…Iraq, where there wasn’t a threat,” is probably a poor turn of phrase after repeating that you agreed there was a threat.

0:22 Nuclear proliferation in Russia – hammer on this one. And commititng to halt any kind of development of any kind of weapon during a Presidential campaign is, to Kerry’s credit, a more courageous move than some Democratic Presidential nominees have made.

0:23 So now being a partner to the world, according to Bush, means renouncing nuclear aspirations. Someone should tell that to, I dunno, maybe President Bush…

0:26 “We need to be lighter and quicker and more facile.” More facile? Well, Bush is doing all he can for that goal…

0:27 OK, Kerry, we get that you’ve got a lot of military support…

0:28 Reagan’s foreign policy? Come on.

0:28 George Bush sure does love Poland. Which is heartwarming, especially now that they’ve said they’re backing out.

0:29 Anne is really excited to be at this debate. And not to have been attacked by terrorists.

0:30 “What was it, 1993 or so?” Way to make the Democratic Party’s job harder.

0:31 Slam him on saying tax cuts for the rich are more important than security for everyone. Clobber him. Please. Yes. Keep going.

0:32 “We’re doing everything we can to defend the homeland.” Really?

0:32 “If Iraq were to fail it would be a haven for terrorists.” As supposed to now, when it’s a, well, a…

0:34 “…the tax cut for the middle class.” First-class chutzpah. Did you just say you’re only concerned about working Americans being targeted by terrorists?

0:36 If Bush is for generic drugs, does that mean he’ll be reforming his AIDS policy?

0:37 “The President just didn’t level with you right here again.” Yes. “…into the pockets of the drug companies, right out of your pockets.” Yes.

0:38 Somehow, one President who managed to erode Medicare isn’t an impressive comparison to one Senator who didn’t completely positively transform the Medicare system.

0:41 Is there really polling out there that says that the only Doctors women are concerned about are OB/GYNs? Cause these two sure make it sound like it.

0:42 Did you just call him Senator Kennedy? Much like confusing Saddam and Osama – is this a screw-up or a subliminal message? Or maybe my reception just isn’t so good.

0:43 If “defensive medicine” means being extra careful to stay within regulations, maybe there are worse things Doctors could do.

0:44 Compassionate conservatives: Neither compassionate nor conservative. Disucss.

0:45 “We have a deficit.” How in touch of you. But wait – it’s all Bill Clinton and Osama 0bin Laden’s fault.

0:46 Bush citing today’s economic report? I come from the school of thought that calls that chutzpah (also the one that says if you want to increase demand by giving people money, it has to be the folks who are low-income enough to change consumption habits based on the extra money).

0:48 Kerry channels Robert Reich’s argument that real patriotism requires sacrifice. Or rather, he dances around it. So close…

0:50 Kerry calls Bush on the broken promise of $5 million jobs. And Enron. Nice.

0:51 Kerry’s long stare at the camera to promise never to raise taxes on folks making $199,000 a year, even if necessary to get healthcare for those making a hell of a lot less, is anything but comforting to me. And, I suspect, to a bunch of the low-income folks I registered this summer to vote.

0:54 Has Bush read the jobs report he’s citing?

0:55 Funny thing is, actually he did, by statistical fluke, get named the most liberal Senator because he missed so many votes.

0:56 Bush is actually citing the “Clear Skies Act” as if it helped, you know, clear skies. And now the “Healthy Forests Bill”! He should be slammed for this in, say, 30 seconds.

0:58 Instead, Kerry’s touting how many Republican/Clintonian things he voted for. Oy. Now he’s slamming him though. Somewhat.

0:59 “The halls of Europe”? Wonder what those look like.

1:01 “How can the US be competitive in manufacturing and maintain our standard of living?” “A reviewed, muscular, transnational labor movement.” Sorry – just fantasizing.

1:04 If anyone doubted that Bush’s plan is for the US to compete with third world dictatorships for deregulation and exploitation of labor, well, why did you ever doubt that?

1:05 I’d say “That’s news to me” is one of those expressions Bush should be careful about using, joke or not – it’s a little close to home.

1:06 I really, really wish that we had a Democratic candidate who could do more to comfort the man who’s worried about his rights being watered down than the incumbent is doing right now.

1:09 Well, this is a somewhat better answer on the PATRIOT ACT than we got from Kerry at the beginning. And good call on not letting terrorists re-write the constitution. But when you mention Dick Durbin, my main thought is, “Shouldn’t he (or, say, Barack Obama) be running for President?”

1:11 “Parapeligic” shouldn’t be such a hard word for Kerry to say. But framing the research as a sign of respect for life is a good, George-Lakoff-approved move.

1:13 “Science is important, but so is ethics.” Since when is that the choice?

1:16 If by “allowing personal opinion to enter into constitutional process,” you mean allowing the constitution to enter into the constitutional process, then yes?

1:17 Dred Scott? Newdow is our generation’s Dred Scott? Screw you. And sorry to break it to you, Mr. President, but the mid-nineteenth century constitution wasn’t exactly ideal when it comes to equal rights for African-Americans. Nice to hear Bush doesn’t actually think property rights always have to trump human liberty though.

1:20 Good that Kerry’s tying abortion to class and to international family planning. Don’t particularly need him or his wife counseling me out of abortion.

1:21 If by “reduce the number of abortions in America,” you mean reduce access to safe and legal abortion, then yeah.

1:23 When Kerry explains the problem with Bush’s argument, and Bush responds by saying it’s actually simple and not responding to the criticism, I wouldn’t say straight-shooter is the term that comes to mind.

1:24 Is Bush’s biggest mistake an appointment he made?

1:25 So now, contra Cheney, there may have been little military mistakes made – they’re just not that important.

1:26 And it was apparently a mistake to appoint people principled enough to call him out on his mistakes.

1:27 Ah, the $87 billion. How we’ve missed hearing about it.

1:28 “He wants you kids to pay for it. I wanted us to pay for it.” True that.

1:29 Please don’t screw this up, John.

1:31 Well, no memorable sound bytes in that one for us or for them. And “respected at home and stronger in the world” still makes me groan. But optimism is recommendable.

1:33 Nothing so memorable from Bush’s closing either. Fitting, maybe, for a debate which had fewer “moments” than the two before or, likely, than the last one next week. My immediate reaction is that Bush failed to halt Kerry’s momentum going in. Bush was certainly much, much better than the last time – meaning he wasn’t a train wreck. But Kerry did more to respond to his opponent’s arguments, and to the audience’s questions, than Bush, and did so more effectively. Still, he missed a good share of opportunities – or dropped them half-way. And my last question before signing off would have to be: Right now, walking off the stage, is this the first time in the campaign that Bush is walking into a crowd he couldn’t vet first?

As I see it, what Kerry needs to do tonight is call George Bush more strongly than ever on his out-of-touch mentality and non-starter agenda on the economy, healthcare, housing, homeland security, and foreign policy (really shouldn’t be hard to do given the mountains of evidence and the damning lived experience of Americans, so he better not screw it up), and connect personally with the voters in the room and thus vicariously with the ones on TV (doesn’t seem to be his strong suit, but I’m rooting for him).

Good news is, Bush can’t just make hopeful, earnest promises this time around. Unless, that is, he manages to convince America that he’s been born again again since the last debate, and so his record from his first term, like the way he spent the early part of his life, is off-limits. I honestly think a partial acknowledgement of some mistakes, domestically or abroad, would humanize Bush and pull some of his 2000 supporters back onto the reservation. But his strategists, based on the two debates so far, seem to think that would bring down the whole house of cards. So his marching orders seem to be denying all errors and pinning all problems on terrorism or Clinton. Which offers some great opportunities to John Kerry to take him down – if he knows how to use them.

Some quick thoughts on the debate, before hearing many talking heads:

I thought John Kerry did a very, very strong job. He managed to appear erudite but not snotty and resolute but not haughty. He even smiled and laughed a little. He managed to repeatedly hammer home a few points (more of which I agree with than not) without sounding repetitive: The war on terror shouldn’t be fought and won’t be won alone. Hussein was a threat based faced by the President with the support of Congress and the international community, and Bush misused the former and squandered the latter. Iraq wasn’t central to the War on Terror until Bush made it a training ground for terrorists. Being resolute isn’t enough if you aren’t right. Screwing up the war is worse than screwing up the words. Bush has been crimminally negligent in shoring up Homeland Security and fighting nuclear proliferation. Of course, I would have liked to see Kerry taking a stronger, more progressive stance on Iraq going back years now, I’d like to see him fighting harder for an immigration policy which doesn’t treat immigrants as terrorists, I’d like to hear more about fighting terrorism by fighting poverty, about AIDS as a threat to international security – the list goes on. But this was a much stronger case for Kerry as commander-in-chief than we got at the Convention, and I think a good chunk of the genuinely undecided will agree.

The best I could say for Bush is he certainly managed to project a sense of sincerity. Arguing that your opponent is a flip-flopper packs a lot less punch in real time in a debate than in retrospect in a newspaper article. And he didn’t find many particularly creative ways to say so. While Bush argued hard (and seemingly unnecessarily) for the chance to rebut several of Kerry’s rebuttals, much of the time it was to dodge the actual question. We heard the word liberty a lot from Bush, but we didn’t get much of a case for his presidency and we got less of a plan for it. And the outrageous moments were hard to count: Bush repeatedly implying that criticizing military policy during war disqualifies you to set it; Bush arguing that protecting America as well as Kerry wants to would be too expensive; Bush confusing Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden (isn’t that why they rehearse); every cut away of Bush smirking or looking petulant.

Senator Trent Lott recently stumped for Bush in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Reagan declared his campaign by condemning “welfare moms” and championing “states; rights” not far from the graves of murdered civil rights activists:

— U.S. Sen. Trent Lott today told an enthusiastic Neshoba County Fair crowd that Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is “a French-speaking socialist from Boston, Massaschusetts, who is more liberal than Ted Kennedy.” It was a line that Lott said he’d been working on for a while, and it produced loud applause from hundreds of Mississippians gathered at Founders’ Square, the centerpiece of the historic fair.

Obviously a vile remark. Boilerplate red-baiting aside, condemning a man for speaking French is a cynical appeal to isolationist nativism. It’s an insult to this country to suggest that we’re stronger if our leaders can’t communicate with the rest of the world in any language but their own. But degrading the speaking of French isn’t just an insult to the international community. It’s an attack on the most vulnerable members of our national community, those who’ve immigrated here, increasing numbers of whom come from France and former French colonies, like the large and growing Haitian community here in Florida. An attack on Americans who speak French is simply another incarnation of the less-politically-expedient attacks on those who speak Spanish and the more-politically-expedient attacks on those who speak Arabic. This isn’t populism – this is a divisive attack on the populace. Don’t hold your breath for our “uniter” of a President, whose campaign equates criticism of his record with “political hate speech,” to condemn Senator Lott’s chosen attack on his challenger.

Nancy Pelosi just repeated her pledge never again to let Democrats go into an election without telling America who we are, what we stand for, what we would do if elected, and how that differs from our opponents. Let’s hope so. Especially on foreign policy and national security, where as every pundit has observed, tonight especially appears devoted to calming those concerned about differences between the parties.