Instapun*** Archive Listing

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September 5, 2004 - August 29, 2004

Friday, September 03, 2004


Get Ready...

THE UNKINDEST CUTS. After a Republican Convention in which no one attacked John Kerry's service record or mentioned the Swift Boat Veterans, the Democrats are boiling mad at the opposition for daring to mention Kerry's voting record in the senate. Any kind of criticism of the Democratic nominee is immediately construed as an attack on his patriotism. That's why Kerry and John-Boy felt obliged to commit the extraordinary rudeness of staging what amounted to a nomination-speech rebuttal moments after President Bush left the dais. Did the Prickly Pair respond point by point to the programs and policies laid out in the President's speech? No. There was no sign that they had even read it. Rather, they wanted to demonstrate their superiority to the Republican smear machine by smearing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. In a midnight rally so hysterically vicious in tone that it seemed to lack only a burning cross to complete the scene, Kerry railed:

"For the past week, they attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as commander-in-chief," he said.

"Well, here's my answer. I'm not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq," he said. "The vice president even called me unfit for office last night. I'm guess I'll leave it up to the voters whether five deferments makes someone more qualified to defend this nation than two tours of combat duty."

Of course, nobody attacked his patriotism, despite unethical statements to that effect by the mainstream media. The two speeches most directly critical of Kerry -- Zell Miller's and Dick Cheney's -- expressly praised his military service and acknowledged his patriotism. That they challenged his fitness to serve as commander-in-chief is clearly not a personal attack, but a legitimate political argument grounded in the senate voting record no one is supposed to speak of. With mounting rage, Kerry continued his rant.

"Let me tell you what I think makes someone unfit for duty," he said. "Misleading our nation into war in Iraq makes you unfit to lead this nation. Doing nothing while this nation loses millions of jobs makes you unfit to lead this nation.

"Letting 45 million Americans go without health care makes you unfit to lead this nation. Letting the Saudi royal family control our energy costs makes you unfit. Handing out billions of government contracts to Halliburton while you're still on their payroll makes you unfit. That's the record of George Bush and Dick Cheney."

"It's been an amazing thing to watch the Republican Convention for the last week. I've come to the conclusion they'll say just about anything, won't they?"

Now isn't that an amazing statement to pop from the mouth of someone who had just uttered more unsubstantiated slander than all the speakers at the Republican Convention put together? "Say anything" is going to be the unifying strategy of the Kerry campaign and its mainstream media whores from here to the election.

The first shots of the new strategy were already being fired in this morning's edition of the New York Times. Senior Op-ED Whore Frank Rich opened his column with the following:

Only in an election year ruled by fiction could a sissy who used Daddy's connections to escape Vietnam turn an actual war hero into a girlie-man.

Oh really, Frank? A fighter pilot is a sissy? If weren't so obvious that you don't care about facts, it would be wise for you to check them. However, the strategy is "say anything" and he proceeds to do just that:

Though pundits said that Republicans pushed moderates center stage this week to placate suburban swing voters, the real point was less to soften the president's Draconian image on abortion than to harden his manly bona fides. Hence Bush was fronted by a testosterone-heavy lineup led by a former mayor who did not dally to read a children's book on 9/11, a senator who served in the Hanoi Hilton rather than the "champagne unit" of the Texas Air National Guard and a governor who can play the role of a warrior on screen more convincingly than can a former Andover cheerleader gallivanting on an aircraft carrier.

Sounds like fighting words to me. Anyone else wondering what sort of credentials give Frank Rich the right to bray about "sissies" and "Andover cheerleaders"? Here's a clue:

In October 1998, Random House published Rich's latest book, "Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993." In 1987, Rich co-wrote "The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson" with Lisa Aronson.

Previously, Rich was a film and television critic for Time magazine. He was also a film critic for the New York Post and film critic and senior editor of New Times magazine. Rich was a founding editor of the Richmond (Va.) Mercury weekly newspaper. In addition, Rich has written about culture and politics for publications including The New Republic, Esquire and The Washington Monthly.

Rich graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1971 with a B.A. in American History and Literature. While in school, Rich was editorial chairman of The Harvard Crimson, an honorary Harvard College scholar, and the recipient of a Henry Russell Shaw Traveling Fellowship. He is a Phi Beta Kappa.

So he's a theater critic. There's a notoriously courageous group of men. Did any of you discover any mention of military service in these paragraphs? No, I didn't either. Even if he had a student deferment (odds anyone?), he would still have had time to enlist after graduating from Harvard. But that didn't happen. He was editorial chair of the Harvard Crimson, a newspaper that in those days was slightly to the left of the Hanoi Daily News. Perhaps Mr. Rich fancies his apprenticeship writing bucketloads of anti-war propaganda as a tour of duty in "The Revolution." Otherwise, we'd have to posit that a person who has not served in the military has no right to call someone who did a "sissy." If it weren't so unfair, I'd make a remark about the picture in his bio, but I won't -- just because someone looks like a sissy theater critic doesn't mean he is one. I'll give him a pass on that.

But it's "say anything" season, and all the Bush faithful out there better hadn't get too complacent about short term good news like the latest Time Magazine Poll. Even before there was any certain proof that Bush was acquiring a meaningful lead, the Democrat Gorgon Susan Estrich had actually documented the "say anything" strategy. She is careful to establish the superior Democrat morality before she gets down to brass tacks:

The trouble with Democrats, traditionally, is that we're not mean enough. Dukakis wasn't. I wasn't. I don't particularly like destroying people.

Not mean enough? Who has spent the past year calling the President a 1) deserter, 2) a liar, 3) a betrayer of his country, and 4) a possible traitor who might have known about 9/11 in advance. Try 1) Terry McAuliffe, 2) every Democrat but Joe Libermann and Zell Miller, 3) Al Gore, and 5) Howard Dean.

Except that I haven't gotten to Susan's real point yet. She should have italicized the "enough." You see, she's prepared to go all the way this time:

I'm not promising pretty.

What will it be?

Will it be the three, or is it four or five, drunken driving arrests that Bush and Cheney, the two most powerful men in the world, managed to rack up? (Bush's Texas record has been sealed. Now why would that be? Who seals a perfect driving record?)

After Vietnam, nothing is ancient history, and Cheney is still drinking. What their records suggest is not only a serious problem with alcoholism, which Bush but not Cheney has acknowledged, but also an even more serious problem of judgment. Could Dick Cheney get a license to drive a school bus with his record of drunken driving? (I can see the ad now.) A job at a nuclear power plant? Is any alcoholic ever really cured? So why put him in the most stressful job in the world, with a war going south, a thousand Americans already dead and control of weapons capable of destroying the world at his fingertips.

It has been said that in the worst of times, Kissinger gave orders to the military not to obey Nixon if he ordered a first strike. What if Bush were to fall off the wagon? Then what? Has America really faced the fact that we have an alcoholic as our president?

Or how about Dead Texans for Truth, highlighting those who served in Vietnam instead of the privileged draft-dodging president, and ended up as names on the wall instead of members of the Air National Guard. I'm sure there are some mothers out there who are still mourning their sons, and never made that connection. It wouldn't be so hard to find them.

Or maybe it will be Texas National Guardsmen for Truth, who can explain exactly what George W. Bush was doing while John Kerry was putting his life on the line. So far, all W. can do is come up with dental records to prove that he met his obligations. Perhaps with money on the table, or investigators on their trail, we will learn just what kind of wild and crazy things the president was doing while Kerry was saving a man's life, facing enemy fire and serving his country.

Or could it be George Bush's Former Female Friends for Truth. A forthcoming book by Kitty Kelly raises questions about whether the president has practiced what he preaches on the issue of abortion. As Larry Flynt discovered, a million dollars loosens lips. Are there others to be loosened?

But all this is acceptable because George Bush 41 played hardball with Dukakis 16 years ago and short-circuited Susan's White House career. A kind eye might see her as simply wanting to win. A sterner eye might see her as a frustrated bitch consumed by a personal -- and not terribly liberal -- desire for revenge. Here are her closing words. What do you think?

The arrogant little Republican boys who have been strutting around New York this week, claiming that they have this one won, would do well to take a step back. It could be a long and ugly road to November.

To me it sounds like Frank Rich isn't the only Democrat with a testosterone fixation.

At any rate, be prepared, all you Bush supporters. It's going to get unspeakably vile out there. Stiffen your backbones and brace for the onslaught to come.

UPDATE. Yesterday, InstaPunk sent an email to Andrew Sullivan suggesting he end his personal torture by declaring his support for John Kerry. It seems he took the advice. After a reasonably even-handed review of the President's speech, he closed his daily blog this way:

I will add one thing more. And that is the personal sadness I feel that this president who praises freedom wishes to take it away from a whole group of Americans who might otherwise support many parts of his agenda. To see the second family tableau with one family member missing because of her sexual orientation pains me to the core. And the president made it clear that discriminating against gay people, keeping them from full civic dignity and equality, is now a core value for him and his party. The opposite is a core value for me. Some things you can trade away. Some things you can compromise on. Some things you can give any politician a pass on. But there are other values - of basic human dignity and equality - that cannot be sacrificed without losing your integrity itself. That's why, despite my deep admiration for some of what this president has done to defeat terror, and my affection for him as a human being, I cannot support his candidacy. Not only would I be abandoning the small government conservatism I hold dear, and the hope of freedom at home as well as abroad, I would be betraying the people I love. And that I won't do.

InstaPunk is glad to have been of service at this difficult time. Maybe Mr. Sullivan will be able to calm down a bit now.

Thursday, September 02, 2004


One of the pictures above is of a bird of prey. Guess which.

IN TIME OF WAR. It seems like the Democrats and Andrew Sullivan are pretty upset about Zell Miller's speech last night. They're calling him hateful. I suppose if anyone's going to confuse anger with hatred, it would be that lot. They see hatred everywhere because it's about the only emotion they're capable of feeling anymore. Zell also seems to be leading by example in following up his rhetorical attack with a personal confrontation: his lambasting of Chris Matthews is all over the net. Wondering if he would like his supporters to do the same for him, I found myself tempted in that direction by Sullivan's outrageous over-reaction to the speech and, for that matter, all the doings at the Republican convention. Every speech, every interview seems to send him farther off the deep end. You can browse his blog here. I was finally deciding to shrug and leave him to his not inconsiderable (apparently) personal demons when I came across a paragraph of his Zell Miller review that began, "I'm not easy to offend, but this speech was gob-smackingly vile." That was the tipping point. I wrote him an email.

Not easy to offend? Read your own blog entries of the past few days. Everything offends you. And you appear to be half-blind. The kind of policy discussion you want to occur within the Republican party cannot occur because of the circumstance Zell Miller is so "vile"-ly angry about: the Democrats have turned politics into total war against the President of the United States. Republicans have had to close ranks and suppress even their own internal dissent for the sake of survival. What part about this don't you get? Your wistful yearnings toward John Kerry have made you touchy, ham-handed and thick-headed. Zell's rhetoric was mild compared to what the Democratic convention speakers would have spewed forth if they hadn't been sternly disciplined into concealing the irrational fury and hatred that has eaten their minds and hearts in the years since November 2000. Your constant outrage at things Republican has become a threadbare cloak for your emotional bent: Announce for Kerry. Go ahead. All this agonizing and rationalization is going to damage your health.

Then I signed it and sent it. Hateful? No. Angry? Maybe just a little. Anyone else feel tempted to write a pundit?

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Lady's Night

DUBYA'S SALVATION. Sometimes men really are as stupid as women tend to think they are. This is especially true when men try to understand things that are principally intended for women. I've spent most of the day reviewing blog reactions to last night's convention speakers, something I normally don't do. What got me started was the (to me) puzzling reaction of Brit Hume's panel to the performances of the Twins and the First Lady. Fred Barnes, Mort Kondracke, and Mara Liason were mostly faint in their praise of Laura Bush and from mildly to severely critical of the girls. Only Chris Wallace -- memorable for his immediate pan of Teresa Heinz-Kerry's speech -- continued to bolster my respect for his acumen by praising both. I was curious to see what the rest of the geniuses out there had to say, hence the hours of blogging.

Mostly, the bloggers and columnists agree with Fred and Mort. The Twins were terrible, an embarrasment, "cringe-inducing," a Republican mistake. Laura Bush was solid and likable but a letdown after Arnold and far from a homerun. These views are represented to one degree or another by such normally acute observers as Jonah Goldberg, Roger L. Simon, Glenn Reynolds, and many many more bloggers and blog-responders.

Mostly men, of course. And there's the rub. They weren't the target audience and they're not quite imaginative enough (at least today) to understand what they witnessed. Bush's weakest major demographic is women. All of the months of Democrat demonizing of Bush have taken their toll with women, who may be great at trusting their own instincts but are also prone to believing gossip, especially oft-repeated gossip. What have they been hearing from the malicious Democrat grapevine? That Bush lied. That he recklessly went to war and continues to seek out opportunities to put the lives of American youngsters at risk on the battlefield. That he's a spoiled power-elite rich kid with an irresponsible past and a tendency to let others do the hard work for him. That he's a whacked-out fundamentalist Christian. That the "compassionate conservative" of the first campaign was a sham and a disguise for the rabid right-wing ideologue underneath. That he is somehow sinister, conspiratorial, and not to be trusted.

Last night, the Twins and Laura Bush blew all of that claptrap out of the water for millions of American women who aren't going to be persuaded by the logic or factual arguments of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. The Twins are clearly not the spawn of some dynastic clan which sits at table with the Illuminati. They are just like millions of other American girls their age -- awkward, corny, goofy, a bit lascivious, intentionally disrespectful, and full-time flirtatious. But they also evidently love their parents, both of them, and their performance was not the one we would have expected if they had a cold and distant father for whom they were doing a public family duty. Who would make sex jokes at a party convention if you had the kind of dad who was going to land on you like a ton of bricks afterwards? The Twins were a HUGE plus for George W.

As to the First Lady, I can't even begin to understand how so much pundit brainpower could fail to perceive the immense impact of her speech. She was, by her mere presence, an eloquent and elegant takedown of the pretensions of Teresa Heinz-Kerry. Mrs. Bush is mannerly, intelligent, warm, and modest, yet confident and beautifully clear eyed. Her smile is the kind that delights both the spouse and the children. She is the kind of woman that women like (unlike Heinz-Kerry), which is far less common than most men understand. Women who look at her know that she is good and strong, and they know that she really does love and admire her husband. Therefore, they know that he must possess sufficient virtue to have earned that love and admiration. Her low-key descriptions of her husband walking in the garden, wrestling with issues of war and terror, cannot be contrived. A false word would cloud such pure eyes and diminish the beautiful smile. She is a completely genuine person, and by her association with George W. Bush, she washes away from him much of the dung that has been slopped on him. Her speech may be the single most important one of the convention. It was a grand-slam homerun -- with her two daughters and husband on base..

To those who think it presumptuous for a man to speak so confidently on such matters I will say only that I have made a determined effort, over many years, to understand the deep differences between men and women. I have done so during an epoch when such differences have been dismissed as politically incorrect nonsense or twisted into pro-feminist propaganda (the only permitted sex differences are those which favor women; e.g., the nicer, more perceptive, more cooperative spiel). I have used my conclusions many times to make fun of feminism, female mental processes, and women generally. Now there is a positive use for what I've learned, and I offer it in all humility. But if you suspect that I am wrong, search the Internet for reviews of the Twins and their Mother by female pundits. If you read carefully past the partisan posturing, you will discover that I am right about this. Even fanatical Democratic women are going to have a hard time criticizing Laura Bush, and if they seem to underrate her impact on voters, look for the fear behind the words.

George W. Bush's wife is the most potent weapon in his arsenal.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Showdown in the Big Apple

Communists for Kerry versus Billionaires for Bush

RETURN OF THE IDEALISTS. Sure, we could talk about important things, such as the big speeches by John McCain (good) and Rudy Giuliani (better), but USA Today has hired Michael Moore to analyze those for us, so why engage in superfluous chit-chat? Besides, it looks like the real action at the Republican Convention is happening outside Madison Square Garden, where a hundred thousand (give or take a few) mostly unwashed and unkempt young deadbeats are acting out their hatred of George W. Bush in a kind of mass tantrum. Absolutely nothing they do or say is important unless a handful of anarchists succeeds in committing an act of real violence, like the burning of a float that reportedly occurred yesterday. Otherwise, they couldn't be any more dreary to look at -- in person or in photos -- a near exact reproduction of the loutish hippie-radicals of John Kerry's salad days. The attire is a throwback to the sixties, as are the signs and slogans, many of which are frankly plagiarized from the decades-old signage of SDS. Their demeanour is equally derivative, hostile to clean-looking strangers, loud and laden with obscenities. An old, tired, drab and humorless imitation of the drab and humorless original.

But there are exceptions, which we note with pleasure. At least three smallish groups we know of have dared to inject the exhausted protest tradition with a sense of fun and satire. All three are present for the festivities in New York. All three have websites. They are the Billionaires for Bush (BFB), Communists for Kerry (CFK), and the Protest Warriors (PW), a right-wing group with ties to CFK. In the website competition, the right-wing groups appear to have less funding but funnier art, comedy bits, signs, and products for sale. The BFB site is slicker, better written (spelling counts, boys, even on the righthand side of the aisle), but its attempts at spoofing the news are burdened with too much detail, as if the liberal mentality can't resist trying to instruct its readers even if humor escapes in the process.

Yet if press accounts are to be trusted (I know, I know), when it comes to live demonstrations, BFB has crafted a witty and highly entertaining approach to conveying its ideas to the public. A writer named Emma Chastain observed a confrontation between BFB and CFK in New York the other day and offered a kind of review in the New Republic (username igotalotta, password billions.)

As Sunday's protest march approached the Flatiron Building, right-wingers dressed as left-wingers screamed at left-wingers dressed as right-wingers--while staying in character--to the delight of the marchers passing by. As a billionaire might say, "It was too meta, darling!"

Billionaires for Bush, a merry band of pranksters, aims to undermine the right wing by impersonating its cruelest and greediest members. Communists for Kerry, which hopes to be the Billionaires' bęte noir, satirizes the left by advocating a ban of the GOP and Christianity. Both groups trade in irony. But only one has been to charm school.

According to Ms. Chastain, the BFB crew stayed superbly in character, with light-hearted and spontaneous responses to their environs:

The day was hot and muggy, but the Billionaires were unfazed. Men wore wool blazers, hats, and velveteen smoking jackets. A few members wore head-to-toe seersucker. The women wore satin gloves and cupcake ball gowns; some were brave enough to march in high heels.... As the Billionaires began their march down Fifth Avenue, they smiled and chanted, "Four more wars! Four more wars!" "Reappoint Bush!" and "Hands off Halliburton!" At posh landmarks, witty remarks were made and picked up by the rest of the marchers. Trump Tower appeared on the left, and someone cheered, "Trump--one of us!"... A van full of cops crawled alongside the protest, its passengers grinning and waving. "Thank you for working without a contract!" one billionaire said to an amused policeman. "Move it along," said a cop, "no one's making money standing still." "We make money standing still!" protested a Billionaire.

The CFK contingent, on the other hand, did not rise to the occasion of encountering the BFBs.

Sourness tainted the fizzy atmosphere of the march when the Billionaires collided with Communists for Kerry. The Communists wore great outfits--red shirts, clumping boots, and fake beards--but their satire lacked punch. The wittiest they could manage: "Foreign Policy? Ask France First." The Communists, unlike the Billionaires, haven't figured out that people will willingly listen to any message, even one they disagree with, as long as it is delivered through smiling lips. Unlike the effervescent Billionaires, they tried to get laughs by shouting angrily and insulting their audience, a tactic the most amateur comedian at Caroline's knows to avoid. "Bush-haters of the world, unite!" bellowed the Commies, and "Viva la revolución!"

Still, Ms. Chastain acknowledged that the CFKs had the tougher role to play:

The majority of Sunday's crowd... was less interested in observing faux Fidel Castros than in chuckling at a passing Billionaire who remarked, "It's all about trickle down. I overtipped my sommelier last night." By the time the Billionaires broke into choruses of, "Let them bow, let them scrape / Let them peel us all a grape / The election is paid for by us," the Communists for Kerry had clearly been bested. Their unequivocal defeat suggests that a decades-old piece of conventional wisdom about American politics--that the left takes itself too seriously and that the right is better at projecting sunny good humor--holds even when left and right are being played by each other.

Another problem for the CFKs is that their true mission is to serve as an unsettling mirror for more traditional leftist protesters. In future, the organization might benefit from carrying a few signs and wisecracks aimed directly at the billionaires. "Greetings from the politburo to our generous comrade Ms. Heinz-Kerry." "Please convey our socialist good wishes to our ally George Soros." "Where is our great partner in revolution Marc Rich?" And even neo-communists should be able to remember that icons like Fidel love to rub shoulders with rich and famous Americans who come to bow and scrape before him. Fidel should be delighted to see a whole troupe of leftist billionaires. Good manners need never be dispensed with. The Kremlin in the glory days of Soviet communism was fully capable of high hospitality and politesse when entertaining American politicians, diplomats, and, yes, billionaires (See the career of Armand Hammer.)

Practice makes perfect. No doubt the CFKs will do better in their next encounter. Revolutions aren't won overnight, you know.

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