On Al Sharpton, Wesley Clark, Peter Jennings, and all the rest.8:30 AM, Jan 23, 2004 • By DAVID TELL
Manchester, New Hampshire
I MUST POLITELY DISAGREE with my good friend and colleague, Mr. Barnes, the gentleman from around the corner in my office, whose reaction to last night's debate, posted below, suggests a certain good-natured satisfaction with the whole proceeding. Fred says that we scribbler types are often disappointed with presidential debates because they're boring, and fail to highlight whatever truly meaningful differences exist among the candidates, and whatnot--but, but, but. The implication being that there's value even in the boringest, least substantively clarifying debates because somebody always wins, and someone else always loses, and since elections are about winning and losing . . . well, you get the point.
Me, actually, I'm almost never disappointed by these debates, because they're almost never boring--they almost can't be boring--to the candidates themselves, none who has a pulse, at any rate. This is big-time politics at its most fraught and consequential for the human beings most immediately involved. Real careers are at stake. Dick Gephardt's career is over, for example. We're electing a president. I like to see how my next president behaves when the television cameras are on and he's standing next to the other people each of whom is trying to deny him the winner-takes-all-prize he's (usually) been planning his entire working life around. You can tell a lot about a man when his knees are shaking, even figuratively.
Which is one reason why I found this particular debate so exasperating.
Exhibit A: Al Sharpton. Look, I've been enjoying Al Sharpton's presence on the debate stage these past few months as much as the next guy. Scratch that: I've been occasionally grateful for Al Sharpton's undeniable wit and unexpected instinct for humane, tension-breaking courtesy, which has occasionally rendered me--just like the next guy--powerless to remember that Sharpton has no stinkin' business on such a stage to begin with.
But now we're three days out from a primary election that may well settle who the Democratic party's going to nominate for president, and call me old-fashioned, but I think that's kind of important. Howard Dean's had the week that Howard Dean's had. As I say, Dick Gephardt's career is over. And there ARE major policy differences separating the remaining, principal, legitimate candidates. Can't we all just concentrate, here?
If you aren't so much interested in politics, fine: Don't watch. But if you are genuinely interested in politics, as the people who sanction and put together and participate in these debates certainly are, how's about you put 'em together so that the rest of us who are genuinely interested in politics can make real use of them, especially those of them scheduled at such a crucial moment like last night? There's got to be a better way than this one to help undecided voters, and other concerned citizens, and those woe-beset servants of democracy who have to write about it all for a living--there's got to be a better way than this to help us figure out which one of these guys, if any, is genuinely suited to become the most powerful man on earth. The cosmically general, What's Your Position on the Environment-type question--you have 60 seconds to recite the canned answer you've memorized and repeated on the stump 10,000 times already, Senator--is bad enough. But that same type of question, cumulatively eating up gobs of clock time, to Al Sharpton? Still, after all these months, this late in the day? There wasn't a single person on the St. Anselm's College stage last night who thinks Al Sharpton is qualified to be president--or stands of chance of being elected to the job--including Al Sharpton. So why must we any longer pretend to take him seriously ("What is the Sharpton Doctrine of foreign policy," he was asked last night)? And aren't we just a little concerned that by pretending to take Al Sharpton seriously, we're implicating ourselves in an essentially ironic conception of American politics? Or let's be less fancy about it: Doesn't the phrase "this next question goes to Rev. Sharpton," every time it's uttered, unmistakably suggest that the presidential race the Rev. Sharpton's intruding on is a farce?
Come to think of it--and if this weren't "just the Web," I'd probably think about it more before writing it down--doesn't the same complaint fairly apply at this point to Dennis Kucinich, who's every bit as likely as Sharpton to become president, which is to say, not at all? Or Wesley Clark, for that matter, whose knowledge and experience of national politics is every bit as limited as Sharpton's?
But we'll come back to Clark in a moment.
The media think Howard Dean is done. So do some New Hampshire Democrats.9:40 AM, Jan 22, 2004 • By DAVID TELL
Manchester, New Hampshire
From the January 26, 2004 issue: . . . and other manifestations of political enthusiasm.Jan 26, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 19 • By DAVID TELL
LET US BEGIN by acknowledging the many and various respects in which Howard Dean's presidential campaign isn't weird. I visited New Hampshire on January 2, the traditional stretch-run kickoff date for that state's primary, intending to see four of the candidates, Dean among them, all in a single 12-hour span, more or less back to back, for purposes of comparison. And I managed to pull off this plan. But just barely; Dean almost messed me up. By the time his 1 P.M.
From the December 29, 2003 / January 5, 2004 issue: Will the Democratic center speak out?Dec 29, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 16 • By DAVID TELL, FOR THE EDITORS
WE DON'T CLAIM to understand the mind of Howard Dean. With back-room assistance from a small army of Democratic party foreign policy brahmins, Dean recently produced a long, formal speech on "Meeting the Security Challenges of the New Century." The speech was advertised as a reassuring demonstration that Dean's overall thinking about world affairs, notwithstanding the spicy antiwar rhetoric that has propelled his campaign so far, lies safely within the bipartisan consensus that's governed American politics for 50-plus years.
From the December 22, 2003 issue: The Iowa showdown.Dec 22, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 15 • By DAVID TELL
South Central Iowa, December 7
THE CAMPAIGN CALENDAR is against you. Already the camera crews and stage-prop crowds are beginning to take over, and the rope lines are going up, and soon enough it'll become pretty much physically impossible to form a personal impression of the Democratic party's likely nominee for president next year. None of the men who still have a realistic hope for that prize will any longer be within reach of even the most determined civilian--certainly not where more-than-momentary, relatively unscripted, and intimate conversational encounters are concerned.
From the November 17, 2003 issue: Tall tales and righteous indignation on the campaign trail.Nov 17, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 10 • By DAVID TELL
EARLY ONE EVENING this past March I found myself struggling for balance in the den of a well-appointed, upper-middle-class home in suburban Bedford, New Hampshire, a half-dozen miles or so southwest of Manchester. I was worried about teetering over because not ten feet away from me Howard Dean had just walked in the door from his car outside, and most of the roughly 100 local Democrats who'd come by the house to get a look at him were also in the den, now jostling--very politely, of course--for position.
From the November 3, 2003 issue: Joe Biden and Dianne Feinstein step up to the plate.Nov 3, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 08 • By DAVID TELL, FOR THE EDITORS
IT WAS A TOUGH AND TRICKY CROWD. When Joe Lieberman took the stage, on October 17, and politely reaffirmed his commitment to the security of a Jewish state in Israel, he was booed and heckled for it. Yet the next day, when it was his turn to address the Dearborn, Michigan, candidates' forum sponsored by James Zogby's Arab American Institute, Howard Dean went over like gangbusters. Not because his message on the Middle East was so much better received, mind you.
From the October 13, 2003 issue: The Dean campaign's rendezvous with reality.Oct 13, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 05 • By DAVID TELL
NOT UNTIL SOMETHING like the first of August did conventional Washington opinion finally wake up to the possibility that this mad-as-hell, antiwar Howard Dean fellow might just have a realistic shot at the Democratic presidential nomination. But after that it was off to the races. In no time flat, and based on the very same evidence that had awakened them in the first place, the conventional opinion people started upgrading Dean's candidacy from the realistic to the highly promising and beyond, as if he'd all but sewn things up.
From the September 1 / September 8, 2003 issue: Great moments in presidential campaigning.Sep 1, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 48 • By DAVID TELL
From the August 18, 2003 issue: The AFL-CIO holds an audition.Aug 18, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 46 • By DAVID TELL
LAST TUESDAY IN CHICAGO, for only the second time, all nine candidates for next year's Democratic presidential nomination appeared together--at an event billed as a "working families forum" by its AFL-CIO sponsors. C-SPAN broadcast the session live. Most WEEKLY STANDARD readers no doubt watched all 90 minutes. And took notes. Those of you tending to a sick friend, however, were forced to rely on the following morning's newspaper coverage.
From the August 4 / August 11, 2003 issue: The New York Times tells more whoppers about the Patriot Act.Aug 4, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 45 • By DAVID TELL
"REPORT ON U.S. Antiterrorism Law Alleges Violations of Civil Rights"--so read the headline on the July 21 front page of the New York Times.
It was a scoop of sorts: The report in question, prepared by the office of Justice Department inspector general Glenn A. Fine, hadn't yet been released. It had, however, been delivered to the department's congressional overseers, one of whom, ranking House Judiciary Committee Democrat John Conyers of Michigan, arranged for a copy to be "made available" to Times correspondent Philip Shenon.
Jul 21, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 43 • By DAVID TELL, FOR THE EDITORS
WE ARE LIVING IN another low, dishonest decade, it seems--at least where the intersection of race and American electoral politics is concerned.
Following the 1990 census, the Republican National Committee--determined to press its partisan interests in forthcoming state-by-state congressional reapportionment efforts, and apparently immune to ordinary human embarrassment--fixed on a plan to resegregate the American voting public, especially in the South.
An Update on Sami Al-Arian and "academic freedom" from the American Association of University Professors.3:00 PM, Jun 17, 2003 • By DAVID TELL
THE QUESTION raised by our editorial in last week's issue--whether the American Association of University Professors would "censure" the University of South Florida for having fired indicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad chieftain Sami Al-Arian--has been resolved. Sort of.
The bogus research undergirding campaign finance reform.May 26, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 36 • By DAVID TELL
IT'S BEEN AN EPIC, "Bleak House"-worthy court case: 77 different plaintiffs suing 17 named defendants, thousands of pages of pleadings and motions and briefs, and more than 100,000 pages of additional expert-witness reports, deposition transcripts, and fact exhibits. On May 2, the hybrid judicial panel specially designated by Congress to hear the case--three judges, one from the D.C. Circuit Court and two from that circuit's district court--issued its much-delayed ruling.
Shady things are happening at Saddam's home mosque in Baghdad. Will the coalition's rules of engagement be enough to keep the peace?5:30 PM, May 1, 2003 • By DAVID TELL
HERE ARE the first few grafs of a dispatch from Baghdad yesterday by Carol Rosenberg of the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service:
The Iraqi capital these days appears to be awash in gunmen waving or shouldering automatic rifles. Members of a Sunni Muslim-led exile force suddenly set up checkpoints and snarl traffic in one neighborhood. Kurdish bodyguards screen visitors outside political party offices in another.