Somewhere, over the rainbow, a blog is born. A blog for Kansas. A blog for America. A blog by a reporter with a difficult-to-pronounce last name. But most importantly, a blog that is AMERICA'S ONLY PLACE dedicated to the vital intersection of politics and Sunflowers. The Heartland gods nod in wise approval.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

All apologies

Sorry for not posting for a few days, and apologies to the people who have written to ask what's up. I'm on "vacation," but that's hard to pull off in DC, so I'm heading to NY for a few days to contemplate my destiny -- over which I, like everyone else, exercise complete control. Plus, I wanna see the new MoMA, so there.

Back atcha on Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Ongoing discussions

Took time off from a story about obesity I'm working on to catch a panel at the Center for American Progress featuring Donna Brazile, E.J. Dionne, Thomas Frank and Will Marshall. It's looking like the Democrats have gotten over their post-election shell shock and can talk about political solutions in measured and reasoned ways.

But not everyone's enamored with Frank's thesis. He and Marshall, who heads the Progressive Policy Institute, got in a little dust-up during the Q&A, with Marshall deriding what he sees as Frank's theories on false-consciousness among Heartland voters (they're being tricked into voting against their interests!) and Frank rejoining that critics who charge him of being guilty of intellectual condescension are "anti-intellectual" themselves.

It's interesting to see Frank interact with a crowd. He provides a lot of red meat for the left, and his focus on economic populism is articulate and easy to understand. He easily got the most applause of the speakers. He also prompted a lot of under-the-breath murmuring. Several people in the audience nodded knowinly when Marshall, the last panelist to speak, noted that none of the previous three speakers even mentioned national security issues. It seems that some on the left are "getting" it, and others aren't. And the continued vigor of American politics is going to depend on which groups gain the upper hand. Too early to tell at this point.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Monday dispatch

For a much better synopsis than the one I wrote of the Ramones at the Hungarian Embassy, click here.

Almost, almost -- not quite. No intelligence bill last week, as House conservatives derailed a painstakingly hammered out proposal. Sen. Pat Roberts said yesterday that some concerns and pressures were unfounded -- for a transcript of his "Fox News Sunday" appearance, click here.

Abortion was part of the $388 billion spending bill passed over the weekend, but so were Wichita projects. And Jim Ryun and family get a message as advocates for home-schooling.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Hey, ho! Let's go!

Only in Washington moment #349: Last night I'm at the Hungarian Embassy, listening to the Hungarian ambassador participate in a two-person panel discussion with Tommy Ramone, the only surviving member of the Ramones, as they talked about how their rock'n'roll careers were shaped by growing up on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain. After the conclusion of discussion, the moderator -- a writer from Rolling Stone -- the ambassador, and a man in the audience formed a power trio and played several Ramones covers, with Tommy joining in at the end to do vocals on "Blitzkrieg Bop."

Then, the chairs were cleared for a wine-and-cheese reception.

Sen. Sam Brownback held a well-publicized hearing on pornography addiction yesterday, while in Wichita, his good friend U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren indicted 15 Kansans on child porn charges. Coincidence? ... White House political director Matt Schlapp, former chief of staff to Rep. Todd Tiahrt, could become the Freddie Mac's next chief lobbyist, the Hill reports. His pay would, uh, increase.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

'90s nostalgia

So all the C-SPAN TVs are on the Clinton library dedication, and Bono and the Edge sing "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" for about 20 years' worth of political celebs. When is the big '90s nostalgia wave going to hit? Doesn't it already seem like "a simpler time," when all the Clinton scandals diverted America while, barely attended to, Middle East terrorists plotted a new era that we all thought would be defined by dot-coms?

You just never know.

Circle the wagons

Congressional Republicans rallied to Tom DeLay's defense yesterday, changing a rule forcing indicted leaders to step down in a preemptive move against the continuing ethics probes against "The Hammer." Todd Tiahrt is probably DeLay's best friend in the Kansas delegation, but his public profile's been low on this one so far.

If you haven't seen it yet, Kathleen Sebelius gets a mention as a Democratic ticket possibility in 2008, according to Time. Can't get the article without a subscription to the mag, though. Meanwhile, pop culture interest in the Heartland continues its post-election rise. Check this out:

Variety reports that out author Clint Catalyst (Cottonmouth Kisses) and gay filmmaker Darren Stein (Jawbreaker) are teaming up for a new ABC series to be titled The Flyover States. The drama deals with a widowed New Yorker who returns to her Arkansas hometown only to discover that big cities aren't the only hotbeds of sin and vice.

Amazing discovery ...

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Here come da judges

Amazing how stories gain more prominence when they're needed to fill the news vacuum. Arlen Specter and the Judiciary Committee continue to draw attention, as Kansas pro-life activists don't want him running the committee.

We don't trust him," said Mary Kay Culp, director of Kansans for Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group.

Judicial nominations have been a sore spot for conservatives for some time now, but the issue's really starting to percolate post-election.

Attended a breakfast with Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., this morning. He's head of the House Intelligence Committee, and he's saying chances of a reform bill passing have gone from 10 percent to 50 percent this week, but he's not upping it any higher than that. Sen. Pat Roberts, meanwhile, is still in limbo -- his fate's in the hands of Bill Frist (and by extension, Bush) as to whether he'll continue to lead Senate Intel next session. Hoekstra said he's liked working across the Hill with Roberts, but he'll deal with whomever ends up in the spot.

The Pacific Research Institute isn't only doing appearances in Washington toting Kansas's "economic freedom," it's taking the show on the road. A reader pointed me out to an appearance they're doing in New York on Thursday, maintaining that New York (last in freedom, according to their criteria), could learn something from Kansas. Perhaps, indeed. Interesting, though (and PRI pointed this out themselves ) -- their "free states" versus "less free" states tend to mirror the Red-Blue presidential map. Shocking, coming from a libertarian think tank ...

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Thomas Frank, Nov. 23

Here's your chance to cheer or boo (or better, yet, just ask intelligent questions to) Thomas Frank. He's on a panel at the Center for American Progress, John Podesta's leftish think tank, on Nov. 23. Details from CAP:

The 2004 Election and the Future of Progressivism


* Donna Brazile, Chair, Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute
* E.J. Dionne, Washington Post columnist and Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
* Thomas Frank, author of "What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America"
* Will Marshall, President, Progressive Policy Institute

Moderated by:
* Ruy Teixeira, political analyst and Joint Fellow at the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation

Thomas Frank asks, "What’s the matter with Kansas?" After the election, many progressives are now asking, "What’s the matter with America?" Progressives seem increasingly befuddled by voters who claim to support an array of progressive policies but, as Frank argues, consistently vote "against their material interests." Frank attributes this to a decades-long campaign of conservative cultural populism that demonizes progressives and portrays them as out of touch with mainstream American life.

If true, how should progressives respond? How do they reach these voters? And will they be able to do so in the near future? Five leading political experts will debate these questions -- and more -- in what promises to be one of the most lively and important political panels since the election.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Program: 9:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. Breakfast will be served. Admission is free.

St. Regis Hotel - Chandelier Room 923 16th Street NW, near the corner of K StreetWashington, DC 20006

To RSVP: Call 202.741.6388

Wheat and freedom

Being the Wheat Wonder of the World, Kansans had reaction to Ann Veneman's Ag secretary resignation, which can be found here. My contributions got trimmed by the copy editors, but in an Ozblog exclusive, here it is:

Sen. Pat Roberts thanked Veneman for her service. Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays, said the new secretary should be someone who connects with Midwest farmers.

"I think someone who knows the nuts and bolts of farm programs heading into the next farm bill would be helpful," said Moran, who chairs the commodity crop subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee.

Moran has himself been mentioned as a possible Veneman replacement. Last fall World Perspectives Inc., a Washington D.C. firm that does global agricultural research, said Moran "has the skill to shepherd a farm bill through Congress."

But Moran said "the phone hasn’t been ringing.

"It would be hard to deny the president," he said, adding that "I don’t think anyone seeks out the job of Secretary of Agriculture."

Take that, copy desk!

That was one small part of my yesterday, which mainly was spent in an Alexandria courtroom following the latest development of the 767 tanker scandal. This story is far from over, but the most visceral Kansas impact -- the jobs -- is an abstraction at this point. Still, the saga has potentially huge Boeing implications, and it's worth watching.

Also worth watching is the continued Ohio-vote-count process. The conspiracy talk is dying down, but uncomfortable points keep being raised, like these from the Moderate Independent:

And the reality is that: the voting technology used was fixable; the man in charge of the company who made and programmed most of the e-voting machines was one campaign’s operative; and – again, this actually occurred – the exit polls said something entirely opposite of what the election tally said.

Could someone please tell me what's wrong with leaving a paper trail?

Today Congress is back in session, and I see from my mail that Kansas is first in the U.S. Economic Freedom Index, according to Forbes and the Pacific Research Institute. Undoubtedly ink will be used on this topic as well.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Buzz Merritt

I'm printing this one verbatim. It's Bill Raspberry's column today, talking to a legendary former Eagle editor about journalism and politics.

Accepting Our Shades of Purple

By William RaspberryMonday, November 15, 2004; Page A25

Davis "Buzz" Merritt, retired editor of the Wichita Eagle and a leader in the civic journalism movement, tells this true story:

There was a big fight over a proposal to dam a river in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Ranchers wanted the dam so they could have water for their cattle. Environmentalists opposed it because of the threat to a certain variety of fish found in the stream.

"I sent a reporter out to talk to the people about it," Merritt recalled the other day, "and he came back initially with our usual approach to these things: the three points the ranchers insisted on and the three points the environmentalists insisted on, and so forth. But neither of us liked doing it that way, so we sent him back to talk to more people.

"And that's when he came across a rancher who was also an environmentalist -- and the story we told through this man's ambivalence was fairer, more helpful and far more insightful than anything we might have done following the old approach."

Merritt thinks the story illuminates the problem with much of today's journalism -- and not just the televised talking-head shouting matches. I think it also says a good deal about the journalistic analysis (including my own) of the recent presidential election.

It has become routine for reporters to look for typical partisans in every fight and to tell our stories through their irreconcilable arguments. It is a tendency that plays us false more often than we care to admit.

We acknowledge from time to time that the red state-blue state paradigm we use to describe America's almost evenly split electorate leaves out the voters whom Sen.-elect Barack Obama of Illinois characterized as blue people in red states and vice versa. The fact that in all but the two states that apportion their electoral votes a scant electoral college majority is enough to turn an entire state red or blue tempts our analyses to these oversimplified images, even when we know that the states are all varying shades of purple.

But perhaps worse, it tempts us to think of the electoral majority in each of those states in equally oversimplified terms. We imagine that we know what particular voters in Massachusetts or Mississippi think on any number of issues. It seems not to occur to us that any member of that majority might have cast an agonized vote, drawn one way by one set of considerations and the other by a different set.

Like that Flint Hills cattle rancher and environmentalist.

"I believe there are a whole lot of environmentalist ranchers out there," Merritt told me, accepting my use of the term in its more universal sense, "but we as journalists don't want to hear them. Ambivalence is just not all that exciting."

But neither is it all that rare. Scores of public controversies are reported as to-the-mat battles between unyielding opposites -- in part because our journalistic habits send us looking for these irreconcilables. What, we ask ourselves, is the point of seeking out a minister who believes that gay and lesbian couples should be treated fairly, even sympathetically, but who draws the line at church-ordained marriage? And it's a cinch such ambivalent people won't seek us out.

We ridicule people who insist that, on one issue or another, they are just a little bit purple. And yet I dare say most Americans are just a little bit purple on most issues.

Acknowledgment of this fact -- in our politics and in our journalism -- might go a long way toward the healing our country clearly needs.

Buzz Merritt doesn't even remember how the Flint Hills fight turned out -- he thinks the dam wasn't built. But he knows he likes the way the Eagle's journalism turned out.

"I thought it was a story that wound up not merely describing the gulf between the sides but also illuminating the possibilities for resolving it," he told me. "That's what ambiguity does."

Roberts on Fox News

MR. WALLACE: I'm Chris Wallace. The plan to overhaul U.S. intelligence is blocked in Congress -- next on "Fox News Sunday."

The CIA in turmoil -- is the shake-up there to fix a broken agency or conduct a political -- (inaudible). We'll talk with Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Representative Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House panel.

Bill Clinton opens his presidential library but does it tell the full story of his years in office? We'll ask Robert Reich, who served in the Clinton cabinet, and conservative commentator Bill Bennett.

Plus scandal rocks U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan, and he survives. We'll ask our panel, Brit Hume, Mara Liasson, Bill Kristol, and Juan Williams. And our Power Player of the Week has a story to tell that's more than 200 years in the making. All right now on "Fox News Sunday."

And good morning again from Fox News in Washington. Let's get a quick check of the latest headlines. Congress failed on Saturday to approve legislation that would reshape the U.S. intelligence community. Some House Republicans rejected the compromise because they said it would reduce military control over battlefield intelligence and failed to crack down on illegal immigrants.

President Bush at an economic summit in Chile pressed other world leaders to present a united front against nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, and there was an unusual scene last night. As the president and Mrs. Bush arrived for a banquet, his secret service agent was stopped by Chilean authorities. The president stepped into the middle of the dispute and literally pulled his agent through security.

And Iraq's electoral commission announced today that national elections will be held there on January 30th.

With intelligence reform blocked, turmoil at the CIA, and new concerns about Iran and North Korea, we thought it was just the right time to talk with our first guest today -- Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Congresswoman Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House panel. Welcome to both of you, good to have you here today.

A major overhaul of U.S. intelligence was blocked yesterday by some House Republicans, despite the support of the president, by all of the Senate, and by the Speaker of the House. I'm going to start with you, Senator Roberts. What happened?

SEN. ROBERTS: I don't think it was only House Republicans. I think some of us who have been working for reform perhaps underestimated this strong undertow of opposition to this and support for status quo, and I think if you want to assess blame or at least discuss the reason why, change is tough. We have tried intelligence reform for 24 straight years and have not been able to do it. This is the 25th year. When Eisenhower came in as president, he tried to change the Department of Defense -- couldn't do it. It took us five years to get the Goldwater-Nichols jointness reform by the military done.

So this is just the first year. The good news is that the president has provided authority to the CIA director that sort of tracks what we would like to do. We'd like to do more, and also set up a National Counterterrorism Center. But there has been a lot of opposition to this from the first. Some of it is turf, you know, quite frankly; some of it is from the Pentagon; some of it, quite
frankly, is from the White House despite what the president has said, and there are those who just really believe that in the middle of a war, somehow, somehow this reform is going to endanger that very close relationship between -- or that lash out between the intelligence committee and the war fighter. That is a false claim as far as I'm concerned. And so you put all those factors together and, unfortunately, intelligence reform went down and, as far as I'm concerned, Congress gets a big fat F in regards to that effort.

MR. WALLACE: Congresswoman Harman, let me ask you about this -- did the president push hard enough for this. Did the Pentagon basically go around and, in a sense, sabotage the president's efforts? Did Speaker Hastert not have control of the Republican caucus? What happened?

REP. HARMAN: Well, I think Pat Roberts gives the Senate too little credit. They passed the bill 96-2. Fifteen out of 17 of their conferees signed up for the conference report yesterday before things came unglued in the House. Senators Collins and Lieberman did a masterful job leading the Senate through this. The problem was in the House, and the problem was that some members of the House Republican majority dug in, they never wanted a bill, they never will want a bill, and it was unfortunate that Speaker Hastert couldn't go around them and more unfortunate is that the president, as commander-in-chief -- not the secretary of defense, the president as commander-in-chief -- couldn't get the secretary of defense to stop his opposition, which has been ongoing for months and which emboldened some of these House folks to dig in.

MR. WALLACE: So you're saying while the president was pushing for this reform, the secretary of defense --

REP. HARMAN: -- was resisting it -- in public. It was absolutely clear in his testimony before Congress that he opposed this bill. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Richard Myers, sent a letter in about three or four weeks ago that made it much harder for us to get the compromise we did. It was a very good bill in which the Senate and the House Democrats moved a long way toward the objection of some of these House Republicans. I thought it was a fair, tough compromise. The stars and the moon were aligned, and these few folks, sadly, embarrassed the speaker of the house, embarrassed the President of the United States and set us back, I think, a long way.

MR. WALLACE: Let me just briefly explain -- what the bill would have done was taken some of the control the Pentagon now has over intelligence agencies that they control and given it to this new director of national intelligence. Let me ask you, Speaker Hastert said yesterday that he may bring Congress back on December 6th to try again. Why will things be any different?

REP. HARMAN: Well, if the thought is that we will change the bill further, and therefore it will be more palatable to these committee chairs who oppose it, that will unglue all the careful
.compromises and the blood on the floor and all the metaphors you can pick that went into this, and I think you may satisfy them but then you'll make this national director of intelligence an ineffective office. That isn't the point.

And just one more point, Chris -- the compromise that was worked out about making sure that the chain of command between the war fighter, the secretary of defense, and the president would not be interfered with was drafted by the council to the vice president of the United States. This is the handwritten language that was presented on Sunday. Everyone, including the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee agreed to it but yesterday somehow that wasn't enough.

MR. WALLACE: When we were talking earlier, Senator Roberts, I asked you about chances that this could get turned back and approved in a couple of weeks, and you said, "Slim or none."

SEN. ROBERTS: Well, I said slim or none, and slim left town. I just don't see it as of December 6th. Somehow or other that we have to get a coalition to prove and to try to convince people who have very strong differences of opinion who believe that somehow the war fighter will be endangered in the middle of a war due to intelligence reform. I want to point something out. I'm a former Marine -- there are no ex-Marines. I'm a former Marine, all right? I serve on the Armed Services Committee. No bill that I have seen, even the one that I introduced that went even farther than this, had anything to do with doing any harm to tactical intelligence in regards to that war fighter in the field.

Now, there is a misconception here, and the misconception is this -- and the secretary of defense has said it, and I'm not trying to pick on Secretary Rumsfeld, but this is what he said. He said the military is the primary consumer of intelligence. That's wrong. The primary consumer of intelligence is the President of the United States and then the Congress and then the military is the majority consumer. There is no reason, if we do intelligence reform, that these agencies we are talking about, these so-called "combat support agencies" will not continue to support the war fighter. Nobody is against that. But the primary consumer is the President of the United States, and I will tell you, after a WMD report that we issued in the Senate after the House/Senate investigation, after Dr. David Kay and after Charles Duelfer and the 9/11 report, if somebody doesn't understand that there is a systemic problem in the intelligence community, all 15 agencies, and that we need reform, they're like an ostrich. And so consequently
I know that some people care about turf; I know some people obviously care about immigration -- I do, too. We can do that at some later point. But this idea that somehow the Pentagon would be hurt by this, that is a canard.

MR. WALLACE: I've got a lot to talk to you about and limited time, so I want to get a brief response from both of you on this -- what are the real-world consequences of what happened in Congress? Is the country endangered by the failure to pass intelligence reform?

SEN. ROBERTS: I don't think you can ever say that if you passed a bill you can prevent an attack, but you can certainly say that we have systemic problems and challenges -- I like to call them "challenges" in the intelligence community -- a lack of accountability, so on and so forth, but this latest performance of the Congress indicates we have a big problem in the Congress, too, on how we really take a look at and do our job in regards to congressional oversight of intelligence.

REP. HARMAN: And let me just say after that, we've had massive intelligence failures. Pat Roberts has it right. Now we're talking about Iran and the danger of Iran's nuclear potential. Have we got our intelligence right? I think few people around the world have confidence that we do. This reform would have put a unified command, not a new bureaucracy but a unified command in charge of all of these difference intelligence agencies to make sure that they share information and that they vet their analytic products and that we do a better job, and that's all we were going to do in Congress. Everyone agreed to it except for a couple of committee chairs and they, unfortunately, made the House speaker unable to -- (inaudible) --
SEN. ROBERTS: One add-on -- just -- one add-on, and I'm sorry to take this kind of time, but this failure that we found in the Senate report on the WMD -- this was not only a failure on the part of American intelligence, it was a failure on the part of every intelligence agency all throughout the world -- even the Russians, even the French, even the U.N., even the Brits, everybody. And so consequently, it was an assumption train, it was groupthink --

REP. HARMAN: -- that's right --

SEN. ROBERTS: -- and so what we do to try to reform our intelligence also impacts the world -- the world community intelligence in the middle of a global war against terrorism. It is global in its reach in terms of the reform we're trying to achieve.

MR. WALLACE: All right, I want to move on, if we can, because there's a lot to talk about to the turmoil that's going on inside the CIA right now. We have high-level resignations, high-level firings of people, daily leaks from an agency that is supposed to be secret. Senator Roberts, is new director Porter Goss -- is he involved in fixing an agency that is broken and, as you say, has had massive intelligence failures, or is he involved in a heavy-handed purge?

SEN. ROBERTS: Well, I don't think it's a heavy-handed purge, by any means. In the first place I, perhaps, am prejudiced. I'm a friend of Porter, so is Jane. Anybody that didn't expect Porter Goss to go down to the CIA and start to make changes, I just don't know -- you know, they must be living somewhere else.

I had along talk with him. He is very worried about the leaks. He made a statement, and I have the memo right here that some people quoted, and they just put in one line, and he says we do not make policy. We avoid any political involvement, especially partisanship. He says right in here, "We provide the intelligence as we see it but the facts alone speak to the policymaker." I think he's just trying to straighten out the CIA as best he can. Now, he could have done it, perhaps, or some other people on the staff, perhaps more deftly, but we have so many leaks over there and so many criticisms, that has to stop.

MR. WALLACE: Congresswoman Harman, let me ask you, you have said the agency is in freefall, you've talked about the possibility of an implosion. Is it really that bad?

REP. HARMAN: Well, the story should be about Porter Goss's vision -- punishing leakers is just fine. I'm still waiting for us to find the leaker in the administration who leaked the name of Valerie Plame, the undercover agent in connection with Joe Wilson.

MR. WALLACE: Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife.

REP. HARMAN: Absolutely. Finding and punishing leakers is fine. Finding people who are accountable for the failures leading up to 9/11 is fine, but the story continues to be about the heavy-handed tactics of staff. I've been called a "vicious partisan" by a number of folks for saying this, but what I'm thinking about is the new crop of baby spies and the post-9/11 recruits who are out in the field whom I just met with two weeks ago all over the Middle East who are taking risks that they didn't take before, and have training that they didn't have before, to find those who would cause us harm. They're undermined by this disarray -- let's just call it "disarray in Washington," and Porter Goss, I think, needs to get more control over the management of his agency, articulate a vision for where we're going and target his attacks at the few who really are doing a bad job in this agency. The hardworking men and women in the ranks of the CIA and our intelligence community do a great job, and they merit our support and our tools.

MR. WALLACE: Representative Harman, Hadn't the CIA gotten too political? They allowed a senior analyst on staff to write a book, "Imperial Hubris," that was very critical of the president. There were a number of leaks during the campaign that, I've got to say, sure look like they were designed to hurt President Bush.

REP. HARMAN: I'm not defending leakers, let me be clear, and I don't know Michael Scheuer, the author of that book, and I really
don't understand how it was that he was able to publish that book while he was in the CIA, but I don't think that's the point. I think the point is how do we fix our massive intelligence failures? We had a great idea on the floor of the Senate and the House yesterday, and it went down because a few people dug in and were supported by the secretary of defense in their opposition.

I think the right answer is intelligence reform, a unified command across the agencies, and then Porter Goss, who was nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate and has every right to make changes articulating a vision of how the CIA, once again, can speak truth to power and be nonpartisan, which is what he promised.

MR. WALLACE: All right, I want to get into one more subject, Senator Roberts, and that's Iran. There's been a lot of talk this week that Iran is developing a key element in the development, the production, of a nuclear weapon and that they are also working on systems to deliver it. How solid is the intelligence about Iran stepping up its nuclear program?

SEN. ROBERTS: We're trying to confirm it right now in the Senate Intelligence Committee. We're holding hearings. That's about all I can say about it. We're obviously very worried about it; we're very worried about their lack of cooperation with the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Commission and our allies. We are working with the Germans and the Brits and -- who is the other one -- I think Belgium. I can't tell you.

REP. HARMAN: It starts with F.

SEN. ROBERTS: Well, you know, that's the word we can't repeat, but, at any rate -- and ourselves -- and I know the secretary of state has made some very declarative statements. We are looking into it. But there is a danger there and, again, you're going to have to use some kind of diplomatic unified effort if we possibly can. We're talking about sanctions with the U.N. I wouldn't hold my breath on any action by the U.N. But, yes, Iran does pose a very serious problem, and we have to really work on it, just as we're working on the situation with North Korea with the six-party talks.

MR. WALLACE: Let me just finish up with you on this, Congresswoman Harman -- after all of the intelligence about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction turned out to be wrong, how persuaded are you by what you're hearing from the administration now about this nuclear program in Iran?

REP. HARMAN: Well, I'm a much more sophisticated consumer of intelligence than I used to be, and I'm glad that Pat Roberts is holding hearings. I hope our House committee will do the same thing. As I said, I was just in five countries in the Middle East meeting with intelligence officials -- ours and theirs. And one thing we all agreed on, which is we don't know enough yet about the extent of the development of nuclear capability in Iran. We need to know precisely
before we frame public policy. That's the whole point of improving our intelligence capability -- not just in the U.S. but around the world. We may have seen this movie before. I want to see a new movie, and I want the movie to have real heroes in it who I think are these new junior recruits out in the field who are going to get a solid, actionable, accurate information. I want them to have our full support.

MR. WALLACE: We have to close the curtain on this movie. Congresswoman Harman, Senator Roberts, thank you both so much for joining us and Happy Holidays, although I suspect this is not going to be the happiest Thanksgiving for either of you. Thank you so much.

SEN. ROBERTS: Thank you.

MR. WALLACE: Coming up -- what does Bill Clinton's new library say and not say about his presidency? Back in a moment.

Intelligent designs

Congress returns for its lame-duck session this week, and the time is right to chip at abortion, writes the KC Star's Matt Stearns. Sen. Sam Brownback said abortion-rights supporter Arlen Specter's spot on Senate Judiciary is a hot topic among his constituents. He's also expressed hope his Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, which would require any woman considering an abortion to be told her fetus might feel pain during the procedure and that an anesthetic be offered for the fetus if the woman is 20 weeks or more pregnant, will have a better shot at passing the next Congress, though no action is expected this week.

Let's hear it for the school board of Dover, Penn., which is mandating the teaching of "intelligent design" along with evolution in schools! The rural district 20 miles out of Harrisburg (hometown of crypto-Christian '90s alt-faves Live) maintains it just wants all points considered, while a good portion science teachers think they're nuts. More importantly, this guarantees that should the Kansas Board of Education do the same thing -- a real possibility -- they won't be alone in facing ridicule among national media. Always good to have friends.

David Broder injects reason into the "omigodbushwonnowwhat?" sentiment:

The exaggerated reaction to the election among many liberals was set off by the belief that Bush owes his victory to a bunch of religious zealots bent on imposing their views on the whole society. That impression was based on exit polls showing that Bush won overwhelmingly among the 22 percent of voters who said moral values were the most important issue to them.

But as columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. has pointed out, even if he had won every vote in that bloc, Bush wouldn’t have gotten close to a majority. The real Bush success was in fighting John Kerry to a near-standoff among self-described moderates.

And the Washington Post recently had an excellent piece about all the post-election e-mail forwards, including "Sorry, Everybody," "Jesusland," the vote conspiracies, etc. I assume all that will fade, though not soon enough. And Republicans will figure out what to do with increased power, and Democrats will figure out how to temper it while restocking themselves for '06. And we can hope people act for the best, and thump 'em when they don't, and The Republic Shall Survive.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Faces of the Fallen

So I was reading through the Post's "Faces of the Fallen" section this morning, looking for the photo of my friend's boyfriend and thinking about history.

You look at the two-page layout of the last two months' dead in Iraq and you wonder what it contributes to in the end. We just don't know until we get there. Once we get there, we'll have to figure out where we were and why we took the path we did (and whether a different path may have been better). A white newspaper page doesn't carry as much information as one yellowed with time. The Nov. 13 "Faces of the Fallen" is a stop on the way to somewhere, but we don't know the destination.

I don't think there's any doubt the United States can "win" the Iraq War, if winning means a stable Iraq sometime in the foreseeable, or even nonforeseeable future. Countries simply don't stay unstable for all infinity -- even Israel and Palestine someday, somehow will be resolved. The questions will be whether the victory was worth the cost for the United States and whether or not the effort triggered greater losses. To a certain extent, those answers will always be unknowable.

Enter the historians. Unknowable or not, whether the death toll hits 1,163 (the current count) or 11,630 or 116,300, at some point the Iraq War will be "over" and ready for the history books. At first the narratives will be conflicting, fueled with the emotions of the times. Then a general narrative will settle, and inevitably, that narrative will take less and less space as it gets crowded out by more recent events. Hey -- 50 years from now, our grandchildren are going to be taught that Vietnam was just a bloody sidestep on the 40-year path of Victory in the Cold War. The vets will pass away, feeling redeemed. Belief in America's destiny will be reinforced. And every Memorial Day and Veterans Day we'll know the peace that yes, we're sad for the fallen, but really, thus it had to be.

I suppose it's inevitable. If you weren't there, you didn't feel it the same way, and you don't want to relive the passions that tore at people as it happened. If you're writing history, it's probably from the victors' view, and the wounds don't make the prettiest sight. And people read the books and learn the lessons, which they take to the next conflict, the next war.

And it's probably part of why we live in such an imperfect world.

So be it -- but I don't think that will mean anything to my friend today. It's been hard, with the funeral and the frustration and the conversations that weren't had, and this isn't going to help her out today. I'll call her later. She's probably starting her day about now, and I doubt she knows what's in the paper.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Mysteries of Ohio

Now, when I was just a little boy
Standing to my Daddy's knee
My poppa said, "Son, don't let the man get you
Do what he done to me."

'Cause he'll get you.

Tickets to see John Fogerty tonight. Some of my friends have mocked me for this, but they're clueless. Besides, my horoscope today says they're troubled, and I'm not. I quote from the Gemini forecast in today's Washington Post: "You know what you want and it is eternal inner peace."

Inner peace. Hey -- I'd like a tall soy latte, a scone and eternal inner peace. Yes, I'd like whipped cream on that. Thank you.

Charles Krauthammer weighs in on the values debate today and sees Dems going overboard. Today's cautionary tale goes to the left:

Ten years and another stunning Democratic defeat later, and liberals are at it again. The Angry White Male has been transmuted into the Bigoted Christian Redneck. ...

Whence comes this fable? With President Bush increasing his share of the vote among Hispanics, Jews, women (especially married women), Catholics, seniors and even African Americans, on what does this victory-of-the-homophobic-evangelical voter rest?

Krauthammer notes that this just plays into the "conservatives-are-bigots" trope that allows the left to feel good about itself after it loses elections. Salve for the soul, but not a political strategy.

But that's not what I want to talk about. Ever since the election, I've been getting e-mail after e-mail about voter fraud in Ohio, which has been chronicled by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and few others until the past couple days. His blog, here, is worth reading. Recounts are still possible, and while the odds of it reversing the election are about nil, the weird reports out of Ohio and media reaction to it both give pause.

I've never seen a good explanation of why new electronic voting machines don't/can't leave a paper trail, and I can't fathom why people who make them wouldn't want one, especially in today's political environment. I mean, conspiracy theories are inevitable -- if you were Diebold wouldn't you, if for no other reason, at least want something solid to point at and say, 'This is it. Now shut up."? You're inviting attacks on your credibility, which can muddy a clean election by even raising the possibility of a conspiracy.

Meanwhile, given that all this is out there, it does seem like there could be more attention to it, but once again, media mechanics get in the way. Once Kerry conceded, the "Troubled Election" story was ruled "over." The reporters got sent back to wherever they were, and everyone wanted the Who's Next piece on who's going to be in the cabinet, etc. Meanwhile, lots of people in Ohio, and to a lesser extent Florida, were saying, 'wait!'"

Here's the deal: U.S. media are overreliant on officials as news sources. There are reasons for this. An official is an official, and considered a respected authority by the fountains of democracy, the voters. Non-officials are seen as more partisan and less accountable. American press doesn't want to be partisan, and they want accountable people in their stories -- ergo a bias toward officials. So when all the officials say the same thing, the press doesn't have much to hang its hat on. A notorious example of how this goes wrong was the runup to the Iraq war, when Saddam Hussein's WMD programs were taken as an article of faith by all Republican and a majority of Democratic officials. The naysayers tended to get pushed to the fringe in news stories as a result.

Same thing's going on here. Republicans, and mainstream Democrats, have reasons to move on -- it's the third parties carrying the ball on this one. And the tone of press reaction is consistent with similar situations, akin to how "history is written by the victors." It ain't a conspiracy, it ain't exactly dereliction of duty. It's how the free U.S. press has worked for centuries. Sometimes it works for better (keeping political smear rumors at bay, for example), and sometimes it works for worse. In Ohio, it appears to be working for the worse. But as of now, this blog will be tracking reports.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Ball, elephants

Got several e-mails yesterday from people taking me to task for linking to a laudatory farewell for John Ashcroft. I must admit, there was a certain shock-value appeal for doing that. I'm guessing from my e-mails that I have a Democratic majority reading this, and I thought it would be interesting to feature something that wasn't the standard Patriot Act-prayer meeting-clothe-the-Justice-Department-statue stuff you'll hear in lefty media. But if disdain for John Ashcroft is your thing, some good links are here and here. As for Ashcroft's successor, it looks like a good move for Bush, and the best example of identity politics being used to confound and wedge Democrats this side of Clarence Thomas.

Elizabeth Dole is in the running for head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. She'd be the first woman in the post, and Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts are behind her. Her challenger is Minnesota's Norm Coleman, who has Jim Talent in his ranks. (Brownback, BTW, is being cited as a promoter of an Orwellian conception of censorship, according to LA Citybeat.)

We've seen a lot of celebration among Republicans (some in this blog) of the new heights of their party -- but a word of caution to their party comes from The Weekly Standard, of all places. It envisions this scene at the Democratic Convention of 2008 and ties it to the current debate on where moderate Republicans like Kansas-raised Pennsylvanian Arlen Specter play in the party:

Fast forward four years. The Democrats have convened in late summer in Cleveland to nominate former Virginia governor Mark Warner and Senator Barack Obama. It is the third night of the convention, and the Democrats have chosen as their keynote speaker . . . Arlen Specter. Or Olympia Snowe. Or Chuck Hagel. Or some other GOP big who has grown disgusted with his or her inability to have any influence on Republican deliberations. So they have bolted, bringing a message that their party breached its pledge to govern with the interests of the entire country in mind.

The prevention of just this sort of scenario is at the core of the debate over Senator Arlen Specter's rise to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A national party would welcome the visibility of a member whose views are not always--or even often--in step with the majority's ideology. A national party intent on a generation of authority would avoid the mistake Democrats made when they drove every pro-life official from its leadership ranks.

Exactly. The temptation of any majority is for subgroups to start purges. The Democrats are paying for some moves they made a generation ago, and if the GOP doesn't watch it, they are in danger of becoming the caricature their enemies make them to be. Your ball, Elephants. Be careful.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Whatza matter

With the post-election hand-wringing, Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter With Kansas?" is back in the news, cited in all sorts of attempts to understand red states. Links talking about it in the battle for Heartland Hearts (and minds) are here and here and here and here. Way to catch the zeitgeist, Tom.

Knight Ridder reporter Mary Sanchez has a good piece on flyover stereotyping, talking about how media overreacts to the blue-state/red state paradigm. Note that she mentions the same NYTimes piece I cited yesterday:

Yes, the Midwest is conservative. Yes, people in Middle America value faith. Yes, people here believe in living morally.

But a two-word phrase from an exit poll can hardly explain the motives of this many voters. Deciphering what "moral values" means to every individual is a difficult task.

The easy answer is to latch onto another phrase in explanation. So we get gays and guns. In media circles, this sort of thing is called "flyover journalism." Reporters who aren't really connected to the people and places they are trying to cover take snippets of fact and use them to paint broad strokes.

A bigger truth may simply go back to the Bible Belt concept. For many Middle Americans, faith, more specifically going to church, plays a huge role in family background. And people turn to faith in times of uncertainty. A war in Afghanistan. A war in Iraq. Continued terror threats.

But this brand of religious conservative gets tweaked to mean backward as well. Take this comment from a New Yorker quoted in a New York Times story about the dismay blue state people feel toward the red state people:

"They're very 1950s," one woman was quoted as saying of the Midwest. "When I go back there, I feel like I'm in a time warp."

And herein lies the problem of perception. ...

.... So John Ashcroft is gone, and somehow I bet everyone reading this space has an opinion on that. Electing to bypass the Patriot Act/Gitmo controversies, I'm going to go with a link to conservative columnist Terence Jeffrey, who simply says, "Thank you."

He kept our homeland safe from terrorists.

That is the legacy of John Ashcroft's service as attorney general. No matter what else he achieves in his already tremendously accomplished career, history will remember him for this. Americans owe Ashcroft a great debt of gratitude for the central role he played in securing our neighborhoods and towns in the three years following September 11, 2001.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Tommy Ramone

Hey -- this has nothing to do with anything normally discussed in this blog, but it's possibly the most fascinating DC event I've seen. If you're in the area, I can likely get you an invite.

Tommy Ramone and Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi to Speak at the Embassy of Hungary, Washington, D.C.

Dialogue to focus on rock music and its role in political change

Washington, DC -- In an event co-sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Embassy of Hungary in Washington, D.C., Tommy Ramone of the seminal punk group the Ramones and Andras Simonyi, the Hungarian ambassador to the U.S., will speak at the Embassy of Hungary on November 18, 2004.

In the course of the evening, entitled "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World: Rock and Roll as a Force for Freedom on Both Sides of the Iron Curtain," Mr. Ramone and Amb. Simonyi will discuss their personal experiences with rock music and the impact that it made in their parallel lives on either side of the Iron Curtain. Mr. Ramone will be speaking about coming to America, the formation of the Ramones, and the beginnings of punk and alternative music.

Tommy Ramone, the only surviving original member of the Ramones, was born Tamas Erdelyi in Budapest, Hungary, in 1952. He and his parents fled the communist dictatorship in 1956, when Tommy was only four years old. They settled in New York, where Tommy went on to become the first -- and some would say most influential -- drummer of the Ramones.

Ambassador Andras Simonyi was also born in 1952, a few streets down from Tommy's home. He learned to play blues guitar at an early age, even working with such would-be stars as Hungary's Lokomotiv GT group. Although he went on to become a diplomat, he has never abandoned the guitar. He now plays in a band with American friends.

Tommy Ramone and Ambassador Simonyi met earlier this year in New York. As members of the same generation, and as fellow musicians, they had much to talk about. Both have a strong conviction about rock music as a force for freedom, but Tommy grew up on the free, and Ambassador Simonyi, on the unfree side of the Iron Curtain.

The dialogue between Mr. Ramone and Amb. Simonyi will moderated by Chuck D. Young, a writer for Rolling Stone, who has covered the Ramones for the magazine since their early years.

Picking back up

Some interesting exit poll numbers from Charlie Cook's column today:

Perhaps the most interesting, and maybe puzzling, exit poll finding is
that Kerry lost 11 points among the 13 percent of Americans who live in
cities with populations over 500,000, while President Bush jumped up 13
points. Among the 19 percent who live in cities and towns with
populations of between 50,000 and 500,000, Kerry dropped eight points,
while President Bush jumped nine points. I suspect that this is due to
President Bush's improved showings among African-American, Hispanic and
Jewish voters.

Among suburban voters, who make up 45 percent of the electorate, Kerry
held his own compared to Gore in 2000; each took 47 percent. President
Bush increased his share by three points, from 49 percent to 52 percent,
and Ralph Nader collapsed in the suburbs (and elsewhere). In smaller
towns with populations of between 10,000 and 50,000, which represent 8
percent of the vote, Kerry actually picked up 10 points over Gore,
moving from 38 percent to 48 percent, while President Bush dropped nine
points, from 59 percent to 50 percent. Among the 16 percent in rural
America, Kerry improved three points over Gore, while President Bush
remained the same at 59 percent of the vote.

Some of that's counter-intuitive, and I don't know yet what to think of it, but there it is to mull over.

Playing catchup today, my first day in the office in nearly two weeks. John Hanna w/Kansas AP has a think piece on Dennis Moore. For my observations on the KS races, click here, and for a look at what's up next for some delegation members, click here.

So the world keeps spinnin', and in the new political alignment, Sen. Sam Brownback is leading social conservatives in the second Bush term agenda, although his cloning ban is still a tough sell in Congress. Pat Roberts continues to be the focus of will-he-or-won't-he questions on Senate Agriculture.

And I'm still thinkin' of what to do with this blog. It seems to me that, with all the questions about Heartland political appeal and how Middle American views translate into politics, that that sort of focus might be worthwhile, since this is a Midwest/Plains-centric space and the readership reflects that. There's certainly a lot of understanding that needs to be done. Witness, for example, this chestnut from The New York Times published right after the election about NY voters' attitudes toward Flyover:

Dr. Joseph, a bearded, broad-shouldered man with silken gray hair, was sharing coffee and cigarettes with his fellow dog walker, Roberta Kimmel Cohn, at an outdoor table outside the hole-in-the-wall Breadsoul Cafe near Lincoln Center. The site was almost a cliché corner of cosmopolitan Manhattan, with a newsstand next door selling French and Italian newspapers and, a bit farther down, the Lincoln Plaza theater showing foreign movies.

"I'm saddened by what I feel is the obtuseness and shortsightedness of a good part of the country - the heartland," Dr. Joseph said. "This kind of redneck, shoot-from-the-hip mentality and a very concrete interpretation of religion is prevalent in Bush country - in the heartland."

"New Yorkers are more sophisticated and at a level of consciousness where we realize we have to think of globalization, of one mankind, that what's going to injure masses of people is not good for us," he said. His friend, Ms. Cohn, a native of Wisconsin who deals in art, contended that New Yorkers were not as fooled by Mr. Bush's statements as other Americans might be.

"New Yorkers are savvy," she said. "We have street smarts. Whereas people in the Midwest are more influenced by what their friends say." "They're very 1950's," she said of Midwesterners. "When I go back there, I feel I'm in a time warp."

And on that note, have a great day!

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Great "Blue" North

And now, a jaunt into a recurring motif of this blog -- gratuitous references to Canada. This actually relates -- the Great White North (or is it the Great "Blue" North, noting the yearnings of those who have been citing it?) has popped up in several notes I've received this week.

One D.C. friend forwarded me a world map with an electoral vote showing a Kerry landslide. In it, most of the world was blue except for the United States, Saskatchewan (Canada reference), Poland and a couple other spots. Point is, of course, that most of the world wanted Kerry president. A Minneapolis reader had a more pointed reference -- her map had the northern Great Lakes states, the northeast and West coast combined with the Big Blue Neighbor as "The United States of Canada," while the rest of Red America was called "Jesusland."

Interesting forwards. Funny, but if the sentiments behind them are being taken too seriously it shows, IMO, how folks on the left Still Aren't Getting It. No doubt that much of the rest of the world would have liked to have seen Bush lose -- but it's AMERICAN votes that matter, and that HAS to be the Democratic Party's focus going forward. And calling most of America "Jesusland" totally plays into stereotypes that kill the left every time. I'm guessing a lot of Democrats take Jesus seriously, and I'm guessing a lot of secular-directed progressives live in -- and like -- Jesusland.

So yeah, I get the humor, but I'm not really laughing. THIS, on the other hand, is a hoot. Check out this Web site, submitted by Erica of Calgary -- an actual Canadian: http://www.marryanamerican.ca . Actual profiles of Canadians willing to grant marital citizenship privileges to disaffected Americans looking for love.

Now that's a friendly neighbor!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Reflections, Part 3

I asked for Bush supporters, and you answered. Here are some thoughts from people thankful the election turned out as it did.

From Jana, a D.C. Kansas expat:

I’m astounded by the results and the decisiveness of the outcome. As someone who works for the Administration, I am thrilled that the President has the opportunity to continue his vision another four years. All throughout the Departments and Agencies there are initiatives that we’ve begun that we’d like to see come to fruition, or at least to greater maturity; initiatives that would have likely been cut short if we did not have four more years.

And from the inimitable Prof. Polley in Peoria:

Tom Friedman said that the election was more about voting for what team we are on. Bingo. Give the man a prize. And if I may extend that idea I think it means that the Democrats need to change--not dramatically, mind you, but change the way they market themselves. Friedman quotes a Harvard political scientist:

"The Democrats have ceded to Republicans a monopoly on the moral and spiritual sources of American politics," noted the Harvard University political theorist Michael J. Sandel. "They will not recover as a party until they again have candidates who can speak to those moral and spiritual yearnings - but turn them to progressive purposes in domestic policy and foreign affairs."

Where's Joe Lieberman when you need him? So how did the Republicans take the middle by moving to the right? Thomas Frank thinks he knows, but I'm not so sure. I think it's more complicated than he makes it in "What's the Matter with Kansas?" But I think the last 4 years have shown us that the Democrats will not retake the middle by moving to the left.

Now, here's what I want to see. I want to see a good second term for Bush. I want to see meaningful and responsible reform of Social Security and Medicare. I want to see a blue ribbon panel on the rising cost of health care. I want to see a Democratic leader step up the the plate take the lead on these issues. Daniel Patrick Moynihan may no longer be with us, but we have Lieberman and hopefully others. Moynihan never became president, and Lieberman never will, but they and others like them can leave their mark as statesmen.

Lest anyone misunderstand, this is not a plea for unity so we can sit around the campfire and sing Kumbaya. But the "divisiveness" charge goes both ways. I think if a Democratic statesman stepped up to actually lead on one of these issues, Bush would accept it. Bush, are you listening? Democrats, are you listening?

I guess we'll see ...

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Last plane out of Wichita

The newsroom's empty, and the lights are turned off until the Saturday crew shows up early afternoon. The police scanner runs 24-7, and if something strange happens I'll call the day cops reporter, currently out on assignment. It's my last day in Wichita, and though I'm mainly absorbed in myself at this moment, at all times I remain aware that, with or without my presence, the Eagle Shall Always Fly.

The Wichita Eagle. Funny how life goes -- this is not the newspaper, or city, that I would ever have dreamed would be the greatest influence of my early adult life, but you know, livin's full of surprises, and at least this one's been pleasant. Considering that I only lived here for 652 days before I shipped to D.C., the city of Wichita, Kansas has held inordinate influence in my life. Of course, the city is the reason for the existence of my job, which takes the greatest portion of my waking hours, and it's the raison d'etre por mi trabajo y my blog. But Wichita has also become the place where I reconnect with thoughts that get lost in the day-to-day, where I pull myself out of my routine and say, this is how this is or, this is not how I saw it before. And I never fail to learn more, or see things differently, after every visit.

I've met an amazing number of incredible people in Washington. The nation's capital draws some of the brightest, most talented, and most idealistically committed people I've ever met. But I wouldn't want a world without Wichita. Washington, for all its brilliance and grime, presents a funhouse view of America -- inevitably its vision gets distorted in the high concentration of plots, positions and passions you can find on any downtown city block. I refuse to play into the temptation to portray Wichita as some wiser, more reflective "real America" -- this nation is too broad to be "typified" by any place or mindset -- but this city, the Peerless Princess of the Plains in the heart of the Heartland, is certainly more representative of how most Americans live, and how most Americans experience politics, than is the highly distilled, obsessively concentrated culture of the Beltway.

There are lessons in that. For example, driving around Wichita after several months' absence, it's hard not to be struck by the yellow ribbon decals plastered over so many cars and pickups around town. True, McConnell Air Force Base ensures that Wichita will have a military flavor. But I live a mile from the Pentagon, and nary a yellow ribbon can be found on the cars where I live. I'd venture to guess that people in Washington could tell you much more about the nuances of war in Iraq -- what was justified, what wasn't, what the implications are of actions and inactions -- than people in Wichita can. I'd also venture to guess that people in Wichita are more likely to actually know someone who is serving in Iraq. Each is a vital, but vastly different perspective. Those perspectives explains a lot of why people feel as they do, and why they may feel equally passionately, with equal validity, and in complete disagreement, about the war. Blue-state-red-state, divided America, all makes more sense at the same time it becomes clear that the division itself isn't really necessary. We share common values, we all have contributions to make, but we have to work at understanding one another. Easier said than done, but I prefer to think it's possible.

(Note to self: Buy yellow ribbon decal. Affix to pickup.)

Other lessons too ... the excitement of another big-box retailer ... the pride in a really nice remodeled art museum ... surprise that a tax initiative actually passed ... jazz, karaoke and leaving the bar early for the time card ... suspicion of being talked-down to ... attitudes one could say comes from the soil or wind, were one not so deathly afraid of cliche ... but those are all things I'll take back to Washington when Airtran takes off later today. I'm packed. My bags couldn't be more stuffed with hotel soap, newspaper clippings and Kansas-themed gifts for People Out East. My flight doesn't leave for a few hours, but I thought I'd camp out in the newsroom for awhile, catch up on some e-mail, plan out my first week back in D.C. and notch up a big, long essay capturing the experience and fueling the flickering embers of my writerly pretensions.

Some local vets' groups are holding a Veterans Day parade in a couple hours, and I'm going to drop in on that before I head to the airport. It's another beautiful Indian Summer Day in Kansas, impossible not to enjoy. Warm, with a soft wind that's waving the flag I can see through the newsroom windows, the one atop the old Keen Kutter building at the highest point in Old Town.

It's really nice to be here.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Reflections, Part 2

Sorry I didn't post earlier today. The Blogger progam has been uncooperative.

More feedback on the Meaning of The Election and The Challenge of Democrats. From Dana of Minneapolis:

I definitely agree with you that the Dems had better(a) just deal with what they've earned and (b) start asking themselves how they can be more relevant tomiddle America without losing sight of their sense of civil and social justice. At the same time, I have a hard time picturing what trades could be made or would even be acceptable en route to developing a more acceptable purpose for the Democrats as a competing party.

Part of me just thinks that our political system is straining to meet the needs of an increasingly differentiated set of societies that share a common border. Yes, we all are Americans who share certain values at day's end. At the same time,our ability to collectively live and let live will continue to be sorely tested. But I'm one guy who iswilling to keep trying.

And from Jeremy in NY, another KS expatriate:

I can move on and accept that W has won again. I feel as if he's lowered the bar so low that it shouldn't be too hard to exceed what he's done in the past 4 years. However, I feel like America's wish list is still pretty long. He's got some work to do, and now that he has his once-elusive "mandate," he needs to make good.

Keep the feedback coming. So far we have an overrepresentation of grieving Democrats, but nothing too hysterical. Anyone really thrilled at the second Bush Administration? Here's your golden chance.

Last day in Wichita. Spent part of my morning gathering yard signs to decorate a post-election party I'm helping organize at the National Press Club on Tuesday. Attn: DC readership. Party starts at 7 in the Nat'l Press Building, 14th and F. Cheap drinks, lots of wonky conversation, bring lots of friends.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Robert Altman

If I were Robert Altman, I'd make a heckuva film about Wichita. I'd take the Block Party folks from last night, meld them with the jazz I saw on Douglas this evening, and just let the camera roll. I ain't, but there's a great story in this here cowtown, and it's great just to experience a fraction of it.

I think this blog's about to undergo an identity crisis. Spawned for the Democratic National Convention, it's carried on throughout the campaign, its reason for existence. But the campaigns are over, and mulling can only go so long. (It isn't done yet, though.) So whither the blog? Close up shop? Evolve? How? The readership numbers actually aren't that bad, but I'm wondering where to go next, if at all. I have some ideas, but would be interested in what you think.


Someone at the Knight Ridder bureau out in D.C. stole an employee's Reagan bust and toy elephants, according to an e-mail I just received. Clearly the nation remains divided.

Or maybe not so much, under the surface. Spent last light at Block Party U.S.A., Wichita's only seven-day-a-week karaoke bar. No political discussion whatsoever, and I myself was much more focused on my rendition of the Gun 'n' Roses version of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" than the oh-so-fresh wounds of the presidential campaign. The song went well -- lots of military and aviation people there, and many of them held up lighters to my pitch-perfect impersonation of Axl Rose. That, of course, was of no significance to the wider world, where the concession speech was made, the headlines were written, and the news washed away as the common people of Wichita prepared to sing Tricia Yearwood to one another regardless of political affiliation. Whether you think all this was a good or bad thing probably depends on your opinions on the election, the spectator nature of American political participation, the nonspectator nature of karaoke and the sacredness of the Rose oeuvre. But that's how it is, and that's how life plays out.

Hey, hey, hey-hey yeah ...

The immediate aftermath phone calls have trailed off, and I'm guessing that GOPers are moving ahead while Dems pick up the pieces. I'm heading back to D.C. Saturday, and I expect to be fascinated by the shifts going on all around town. It's an exciting place, though I doubt anyone out there sings quite like they do at Block Party U.S.A.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Reflections, part 1

Interesting how many phone calls from across America I've received today -- people wondering what happened, folks feeling the comedown from the adrenaline rush, some folks just wanting to talk. Many interesting political questions on the Meaning of '04.

For Bill Polley's take on what's going on, click here. Brian of Springfield, Mo. is saying ditto to Andrew Sullivan's piece this morning, basically telling Bush, 'You break it, you buy it.' And Kristen from NY (a Kansas expat) has this to say on low youth turnout, which some people found surprising:

First of all, the kids talk a good talk, but are rarely motivated to action. This generation is used to being served, and unless the vote comes to the internet, or to their front door, they aren't going to show up. Also, I think Dems vastly underestimate the evangelical Christian movement in this country, especially among youth.

All told, it was a rough fourth quarter and team Kerry just didn't have the fire.

50-50 Nation, R.I.P.

A few thoughts as the Democrats forestall the inevitable:

1. The "50-50 Nation" we've heard about the past few years is dead. It's more like a 51-49 or 52-48 Nation -- but it's clear now who the 51 is and who the 49 is, and in Winner-Take-All America, that's all that matters. The GOP is the majority party, and Democrats gotta deal.

2. Despite some loud cries of denial you'll be hearing from Democratic ranks, the GOP majority isn't an anamoly caused by deceptions, big money, etc. A lot of it has to do with the final re-alignment of party ranks to better reflect two contrasting American worldviews, and it's been going on for decades. Congress actually reflects this better than the White House -- this was the year Democrats finally lost their final vestigial Southern seats traceable to the Solid South days, and this year the Northern Plains showed that It's Next.

In a sense, this should be more disturbing for the Democratic Left (as opposed to those poor centrists, who cling to their seats in the Plains and South and pray the national party doesn't pay too much attention to them) than 2000, when shenanigan suspicions could be argued quite persuasively. This election was won by the GOP fair-and-square. Plenty of people could learn about WMD failures, and the left lost. Plenty of people could watch "Fahrenheit 911," and the left lost. Plenty of money was spent -- the left threw every resource it had into this ... and lost. And where does it pick up new voters, as larger and larger swaths of America turn red? If the Democratic Party doesn't figure out how to either appeal to the honest views of Republican constituencies, the losses will mount -- because who are the Dems running against Giuliani in '08?

3. It's the military, stupid. I was watching some campaign commercials from '68 and '72 a couple days ago, and it made me think of the '60s in a way that may be applicable to what happened in '04. Many people thought campaigns would be more competitive this year because of perceptions of failure in Iraq. But even in 1968 and 1972 -- years when the Vietnam situation looked exponentially worse than Iraq does now, dovish candidates (including '72 House candidate John Kerry) consistently lost races, and lost big. Moderate American voters don't ever want to feel like they're voting against their troops. John Kerry was never able to make many voters feel like he was the soldiers' choice (polls showed he wasn't), and that makes a lot of voters uneasy. That's a reality of American politics. Period.

4. Shakespeare once said something like "First, let's kill all the lawyers." The lawyers were actually pretty benign this time. Let's kill all the pollsters. Really -- is anything becoming more destructive than all the misleading polls and the follow-on media stories that take precious print space and air time from issues stories? Polls are the crack cocaine of politicians and journalists, and the cycle must be stopped.

A few thoughts, just sorta stream-of-consciousnessed out. There will be more, they evolve, and I make no claims that they represent some Truth or Answer. Please share your own ... that's how we learn on Ozblog. But here's the most important thing to remember. This was a divisive election, but the outcome's clear. From this, everyone can go forward. If you're a Republican, congratulations -- you've stuck through some pretty tough criticism, things haven't worked out in the world the way you would have liked, but the voters are standing behind your basic values, and that's what gives you the right to go forward leading America. If you're a Democrat, there's plenty of reason to be down, but there's plenty to be optimistic about too. Being the 49 in the 51-49 nation is frustrating, but it's not far from tilting the other way, and pendulums swing -- sooner rather than later, if you're smart about it.

In the meantime, The Republic Will Survive -- in fact, it will prosper. As a journalist I hesitate in expressing opinion, this entry being a thinking-aloud exception. But I never shy away from this opinion -- that the American system of democracy, for its quirks and quibbles, is and remains the source of what has for two centuries been the world's greatest source for good. The system works. It works now, and it will work out in the end. And it's an honor to be a part of it.


Amazing, amazing, amazing how close this country really is. Looks like it may be resolved tonight, though.

Signing off

Folks, the republic will survive, regardless of the outcome. Post-mortem (non-mortmem?) tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Super Bowl of politics

If Kansas is proving one thing today, it's that just because people don't live in a swing state that doesn't mean they're not really interested in this election. Wichita's seeing record lines and record turnout, and both Kerry and Bush supporters say they don't care if the state's destined to be red, they want their voices heard in the electoral college.

Politics seems to have made the leap from wonkishness to pop-culture phenomenon this year. Finally, presidential campaigns are getting the same respect as the Super Bowl, top-rated reality TV shows and other American touchstones! One gets the feeling that a lot of people are voting because they want to feel like part of it -- just like everyone wanted to talk about the O.J. trial, stuff like that. I'm not trying to make light of the whole situation -- high voter turnout is great! -- but I wonder if some of this passion is an attempt people are making to belong to something. If so, that's fine. In the grand scheme of things, the presidential race is indeed more important than the Super Bowl, and much less fattening.

All in all, elections are going smoothly here. Saw some voters in Red Sox caps, which I thought might qualify as electioneering, but for all I know they're Curt Schilling fans. All is well -- but tense -- on the Plains.

Lines stretching forever

Faithful reader William Polley writes on the 103-year-old voter scandal:

You're right about the math, of course. But there is a possible explanation. 1920 was the first election where women had the right to vote. It is possible that in the excitement of all those new women voters that a few 19 year olds (especially women) got registered. I'm sure that the registration process had more holes in it that it does today.

There are stories of 16 year olds going off to war (and also a good M*A*S*H episode), so I'm sure there are a few cases of 19 year olds voting.

I remember that M*A*S*H episode -- poignant, as many episodes were. And it is possible that she slipped through the cracks. My question then is, has the statute of limitations run out on voter fraud committed in 1920? And can we invalidate the Harding administration?

Lines stretching long, long ways in Wichita. Big local referendum on the ballot, and a lot of people who, even though their electoral votes are a foregone conclusion, they want America to know their contribution to the popular vote total. Going to hit some precincts right now.

Media lies

Quick note: If any of you have read off AP or heard on NPR this morning a sweet story about a 103-year-old Ohio woman who has voted in every election since 1920, IT'S A LIE. Somebody needs to do the math -- if she's 103, that means she was born around 1901, making her 19 years old in 1920. The 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18, wasn't passed until the Vietnam War, meaning that anyone still living who voted in 1920 would have to be at least 105 today, due to the 21-year-old voting age at that time.

I'm sure the woman, who said in the article she'd be up late watching results tonight, sincerely believes she voted for Warren G. Harding. But either her age is wrong, or she's not remembering correctly. Given that my 101-year-old great grandmother thought my 57-year-old father was fighting in Afghanistan shortly before she died last spring (she was off by a couple wars), I'm thinking that's pretty likely.

Stop the madness!

Seeing red

Today's the day ... the day some folks've been gunning for since Bush v. Gore in Dec. 2000. In Wichita, everyone's seeing red.

Heard a local radio station broadcasting from a precinct this morning. "I don't know how everyone thinks this will be so close," the broadcaster said. "There's a few Kerry supporters, but most people like Bush." Wanted to throw the analyst out my car window. THIS IS KANSAS. OF COURSE PEOPLE LIKE BUSH!!! We're talking about a state that hasn't gone Democratic since 1964 -- but parochialism reigns in America, and people have a hard time believing that the rest of the world would think differently than their friends do. I'm sure there are folks in New York City right now who are wondering how in the world John Kerry could lose.

Kansas ... The image from 2000 that will always stick with me is sitting in a Wichita sports bar in election night, hearing the primal yell that went out from the crowd when the networks shifted Florida from Gore to Bush. Such moments are unlikely this year, in large part because the networks will be more careful. But the emotions are keyed higher, if anything. The whole red-state/blue state thing can be exaggerated -- even if Kansas splits 60-40 Bush, which is about where the polls have it, that means you could pull 10 random people together and four of them would support John Kerry. But the margin's enough to make the preference clear. Kansas is for Bush, and it's wondering if the rest of America's going to see things its way.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

One day to go, and I have nothing to add. 'Twould be intellectually dishonest to pretend otherwise. I'm not going to pretend to have any special insight, not going to offer a crystal ball, not going to go into any premature hysterics about weeks-long challenges and constitutional crises -- that makes for a tense parlor game, but I really don't think that's going to happen, simply under the lightning-doesn't-strike-twice-in-the-same-place principle.

All I'd say is turnout, turnout, turnout. $600 million spent on the presidential race alone, and it all comes down to feet walking through the polling booths. Instinctively, that tells me to favor the Democrats, who have been better at those kinds of things for decades. But the GOP's made great strides in mobilizing the last couple election cycles, so I don't know how valid that is.

Another place to look is undecided voters. Historically, they break for Democrats -- another plus for Kerry. But does that factor in wartime? Are people less likely to go with the unproven entity? I've seen stats, for example, that says that if only half the undecideds go to Kerry rather than the usual two-thirds, that swings Minnesota to Bush. Mathematical craziness, and you can never predict tomorrow, especially the tomorrow that's happening tomorrow. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow ...

In Wichita, a group of local film geeks is showing a film fest of campaign commercials tonight. That's my day's entertainment. Otherwise, I can't help but notice how much more attractive this city is than when I moved here in 1999. The city does a really nice job with public art -- nice remodeling of Riverside Park, traffic circles, of all things, in the central city, and some really neat downtown lighting at night. Tax dollars at work that work out well. The Wichita Art Museum's upgraded, the Museum of World Treasures, for all its hokey tendencies, is pretty darn well-done, and cool stuff is happening in all sorts of nooks and crannies. Viva!