Thursday, October 21

The Cheney's little secret

IN the annals of election year 2004, Oct. 13 will be remembered as the day it rained lesbians in red America. That was when we learned that Andrea Mackris, an associate producer on "The O'Reilly Factor," had filed her sexual harassment law suit, charging that her boss had an obsessive interest in vibrators, phone sex and, most persistently, erotic scenarios involving pairs of women. That night brought the final presidential debate, in which John Kerry's description of Mary Cheney as a lesbian so riled the Bush-Cheney campaign, not to mention the easily aghast Washington press corps, you'd have thought the vice president's daughter was accused of enlisting in a threesome with Bill O'Reilly.

What's followed ever since is an orgy of schadenfreude and hypocrisy almost entertaining enough to take your mind off Iraq (as the Bush-Cheney campaign hopes it will). It's the kind of three-ring circus that makes me love this country. Only in America could Mr. O'Reilly appear on "Live With Regis and Kelly" to plug his new moralistic children's advice book (sample dictum: "Healthy sex is a combination of sensible behavior and sincere affection") just as old and young alike were going online to search thesmokinggun.com for the lewd monologues attributed to him in Ms. Mackris's 22-page complaint. Everyone is now so busy matching Mr. O'Reilly's alleged after-hours oratory - none of which he or his lawyer immediately denied - with his past condemnations of Janet Jackson, Ludacris, wet T-shirt contests, Joycelyn Elders and the televised Madonna-Britney smooch that the findings could fill another Starr report. My own favorite example, hands down, is Mr. O'Reilly's reverie about hooking up with "hot" Italian women during a visit to the Vatican while his pregnant wife was marooned at home in Plandome, Long Island.

The bad news for Fox is not only that its most bankable cable star could end up in the third-tier broadcasting oblivion of William Bennett but also that Fox News, handed the kind of story it lives for, could not (or, more precisely, would not) turn it into a mediathon, complete with legal analysis from Greta, Gloria Allred and Jeanine Pirro. So the network made do instead with the parallel soap opera of Mary Cheney. The Focus on the Family politico James Dobson quickly set the tone on "Hannity & Colmes" by accusing Mr. Kerry of "outing" the vice president's daughter - a charge duly echoed by others on the right, led, inevitably, by The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

To try to prop up its fictional headline "Outing Mary Cheney," The Journal argued that "Mr. and Mrs. Cheney have not kept their daughter's lesbianism a secret but neither have they shouted it to the sky." Huh? Though Dick Cheney doesn't shout anything, he described his daughter as gay on camera at an Iowa campaign appearance this summer. But whatever Mr. and Mrs. Cheney may have to say about it, The Journal never entertained the thought that Mary Cheney herself has a voice in this matter. She has been openly gay for years. Before the 2000 campaign, she held a job that literally announced her homosexuality: gay and lesbian liaison for Coors, a public marketing assignment that even required her to travel the country with the winner of the 1999 International Mr. Leather competition. She later joined the Republican Unity Coalition, a gay-rights advocacy group formed as an alternative to the similarly inclined Log Cabin Republicans.

From all the outcry over Mr. Kerry's invocation of Ms. Cheney, with the attendant rhetoric about the evil of exploiting a candidate's "child" in a campaign, you might never guess that the child in question is not Chelsea Clinton at age 12 but a 35-year-old woman (two years older than Andrea Mackris). Or that she lives openly with her partner, Heather Poe, whom she brought onstage after the vice presidential debate.

Though the president pays "compassionate conservative" lip service to "tolerance" of homosexuality to appease suburban swing voters, his campaign has pushed a gratuitous constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, one opposed by Mary Cheney's own father, to stir up as much fear and ugly rage as it can. When Mrs. Cheney hyperbolically implies that even using the word lesbian in 2004 is a slur out of the McCarthy era - "a cheap and tawdry political trick," she said - she is playing a similar game. She is positioning lesbian as a term comparable to child molester. But as Dave Cullen writes in Salon: "It is not an insult to call a proudly public lesbian a lesbian. It's an insult to gasp when someone calls her a lesbian." Mrs. Cheney and her surrogates are in effect doing exactly what Elizabeth Edwards had the guts to say they were doing: they are sending the message to Mr. Rove's four million that they are ashamed of Mary Cheney.

Mary Cheney is unambiguously and unapologetically gay. For a campaign that wants to pander to the fringe, that makes her presence in the Bush-Cheney family a problem - just how big a problem can be seen by its disingenuously hysterical reaction to Mr. Kerry's use of the L word. But Mary Cheney isn't the only problem for Mr. Rove as he plays this game. The Republican establishment is rife with gay people - just ask anyone in proximity to its convention in New York - and the campaign doesn't want the four million to know about them, either. But in this election season, actual outing has begun to creep onto the Internet, where the names of closeted Republican congressmen and aides who support anti-gay policies are a Google search away. Some named so far - one of whom dropped out of his re-election campaign in August - hail from districts where some of those four million live.

Sooner or later this untenable level of hypocrisy is going to lead to a civil war within the Republican party. But this hypocrisy is not just about homosexuality - it's about all sexuality, as befits a party that calls for the elimination of Roe v. Wade and the suppression of candid sex education that might prevent teenage pregnancy and AIDS alike. Should Bill O'Reilly-Andrea Mackris tapes exist, as many believe they do, we will learn graphically where the right's most popular cultural defender of G-rated values stands not only on lesbianism but also on extramarital sex, sexual tourism in Asia and masturbation -which all figure in the complainant's detailed description of her alleged conversations with her boss.

Monday, October 18

Calling Iowa, Ohio, and Florida, please come in!

If anyone wants to help defeat Bush, don't whine to your friends and neighbors, make some phone calls. And no, not angry calls to Bush supporters who you won't convince. You'll be calling Kerry supporters, making sure they're going to vote, and convincing them to hit the streets and canvas door to door (one of the few proven methods.)

How much do you affect the election by getting out the vote? Where are your efforts most valuable?This question can be answered by calculating how much the Electoral College win probability is changed by one person's vote. Today the best states to go to are Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, and Florida. Nevada, while small, is on the list because it is a near-tossup and relatively few voters per electoral vote. Here is a case study. If you are a New Jersey resident, your vote has some value, but it is low since the state is very likely to go Democratic by a substantial margin. In contrast, driving a voter to the polls in Pennsylvania is worth nearly 300 times as much. If you go to Ohio each vote is worth even more, over 500 "jerseyvotes." The top states are IA (686 jerseyvotes), OH (528), NV (508), FL (372), NM (304), WI (295), PA (295), MO (199), AR (151).
Meta-Analysis of State Polls blog from Princeton University

Sunday, October 17

New York Times Endorsement, 10.17.04

There is no denying that this race is mainly about Mr. Bush's disastrous tenure. Nearly four years ago, after the Supreme Court awarded him the presidency, Mr. Bush came into office amid popular expectation that he would acknowledge his lack of a mandate by sticking close to the center. Instead, he turned the government over to the radical right.

Mr. Bush installed John Ashcroft, a favorite of the far right with a history of insensitivity to civil liberties, as attorney general. He sent the Senate one ideological, activist judicial nominee after another. He moved quickly to implement a far-reaching anti-choice agenda including censorship of government Web sites and a clampdown on embryonic stem cell research. He threw the government's weight against efforts by the University of Michigan to give minority students an edge in admission, as it did for students from rural areas or the offspring of alumni.

When the nation fell into recession, the president remained fixated not on generating jobs but rather on fighting the right wing's war against taxing the wealthy. As a result, money that could have been used to strengthen Social Security evaporated, as did the chance to provide adequate funding for programs the president himself had backed. No Child Left Behind, his signature domestic program, imposed higher standards on local school systems without providing enough money to meet them.

If Mr. Bush had wanted to make a mark on an issue on which Republicans and Democrats have long made common cause, he could have picked the environment. Christie Whitman, the former New Jersey governor chosen to run the Environmental Protection Agency, came from that bipartisan tradition. Yet she left after three years of futile struggle against the ideologues and industry lobbyists Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had installed in every other important environmental post. The result has been a systematic weakening of regulatory safeguards across the entire spectrum of environmental issues, from clean air to wilderness protection.


The president who lost the popular vote got a real mandate on Sept. 11, 2001. With the grieving country united behind him, Mr. Bush had an unparalleled opportunity to ask for almost any shared sacrifice. The only limit was his imagination.

He asked for another tax cut and the war against Iraq.

The president's refusal to drop his tax-cutting agenda when the nation was gearing up for war is perhaps the most shocking example of his inability to change his priorities in the face of drastically altered circumstances. Mr. Bush did not just starve the government of the money it needed for his own education initiative or the Medicare drug bill. He also made tax cuts a higher priority than doing what was needed for America's security; 90 percent of the cargo unloaded every day in the nation's ports still goes uninspected.

Along with the invasion of Afghanistan, which had near unanimous international and domestic support, Mr. Bush and his attorney general put in place a strategy for a domestic antiterror war that had all the hallmarks of the administration's normal method of doing business: a Nixonian obsession with secrecy, disrespect for civil liberties and inept management.

American citizens were detained for long periods without access to lawyers or family members. Immigrants were rounded up and forced to languish in what the Justice Department's own inspector general found were often "unduly harsh" conditions. Men captured in the Afghan war were held incommunicado with no right to challenge their confinement. The Justice Department became a cheerleader for skirting decades-old international laws and treaties forbidding the brutal treatment of prisoners taken during wartime.

Mr. Ashcroft appeared on TV time and again to announce sensational arrests of people who turned out to be either innocent, harmless braggarts or extremely low-level sympathizers of Osama bin Laden who, while perhaps wishing to do something terrible, lacked the means. The Justice Department cannot claim one major successful terrorism prosecution, and has squandered much of the trust and patience the American people freely gave in 2001. Other nations, perceiving that the vast bulk of the prisoners held for so long at Guant√°namo Bay came from the same line of ineffectual incompetents or unlucky innocents, and seeing the awful photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, were shocked that the nation that was supposed to be setting the world standard for human rights could behave that way.


Like the tax cuts, Mr. Bush's obsession with Saddam Hussein seemed closer to zealotry than mere policy. He sold the war to the American people, and to Congress, as an antiterrorist campaign even though Iraq had no known working relationship with Al Qaeda. His most frightening allegation was that Saddam Hussein was close to getting nuclear weapons. It was based on two pieces of evidence. One was a story about attempts to purchase critical materials from Niger, and it was the product of rumor and forgery. The other evidence, the purchase of aluminum tubes that the administration said were meant for a nuclear centrifuge, was concocted by one low-level analyst and had been thoroughly debunked by administration investigators and international vetting. Top members of the administration knew this, but the selling went on anyway. None of the president's chief advisers have ever been held accountable for their misrepresentations to the American people or for their mismanagement of the war that followed.

The international outrage over the American invasion is now joined by a sense of disdain for the incompetence of the effort. Moderate Arab leaders who have attempted to introduce a modicum of democracy are tainted by their connection to an administration that is now radioactive in the Muslim world. Heads of rogue states, including Iran and North Korea, have been taught decisively that the best protection against a pre-emptive American strike is to acquire nuclear weapons themselves.


We have specific fears about what would happen in a second Bush term, particularly regarding the Supreme Court. The record so far gives us plenty of cause for worry. Thanks to Mr. Bush, Jay Bybee, the author of an infamous Justice Department memo justifying the use of torture as an interrogation technique, is now a federal appeals court judge. Another Bush selection, J. Leon Holmes, a federal judge in Arkansas, has written that wives must be subordinate to their husbands and compared abortion rights activists to Nazis.

Mr. Bush remains enamored of tax cuts but he has never stopped Republican lawmakers from passing massive spending, even for projects he dislikes, like increased farm aid.

If he wins re-election, domestic and foreign financial markets will know the fiscal recklessness will continue. Along with record trade imbalances, that increases the chances of a financial crisis, like an uncontrolled decline of the dollar, and higher long-term interest rates.

The Bush White House has always given us the worst aspects of the American right without any of the advantages. We get the radical goals but not the efficient management. The Department of Education's handling of the No Child Left Behind Act has been heavily politicized and inept. The Department of Homeland Security is famous for its useless alerts and its inability to distribute antiterrorism aid according to actual threats. Without providing enough troops to properly secure Iraq, the administration has managed to so strain the resources of our armed forces that the nation is unprepared to respond to a crisis anywhere else in the world.


Mr. Kerry has the capacity to do far, far better. He has a willingness - sorely missing in Washington these days - to reach across the aisle. We are relieved that he is a strong defender of civil rights, that he would remove unnecessary restrictions on stem cell research and that he understands the concept of separation of church and state. We appreciate his sensible plan to provide health coverage for most of the people who currently do without.

Mr. Kerry has an aggressive and in some cases innovative package of ideas about energy, aimed at addressing global warming and oil dependency. He is a longtime advocate of deficit reduction. In the Senate, he worked with John McCain in restoring relations between the United States and Vietnam, and led investigations of the way the international financial system has been gamed to permit the laundering of drug and terror money. He has always understood that America's appropriate role in world affairs is as leader of a willing community of nations, not in my-way-or-the-highway domination.

We look back on the past four years with hearts nearly breaking, both for the lives unnecessarily lost and for the opportunities so casually wasted. Time and again, history invited George W. Bush to play a heroic role, and time and again he chose the wrong course. We believe that with John Kerry as president, the nation will do better.

Voting for president is a leap of faith. A candidate can explain his positions in minute detail and wind up governing with a hostile Congress that refuses to let him deliver. A disaster can upend the best-laid plans. All citizens can do is mix guesswork and hope, examining what the candidates have done in the past, their apparent priorities and their general character. It's on those three grounds that we enthusiastically endorse John Kerry for president.

The President's Faith

A few months later, on Feb. 1, 2002, Jim Wallis of the Sojourners stood in the Roosevelt Room for the introduction of Jim Towey as head of the president's faith-based and community initiative. John DiIulio, the original head, had left the job feeling that the initiative was not about ''compassionate conservatism,'' as originally promised, but rather a political giveaway to the Christian right, a way to consolidate and energize that part of the base.

Moments after the ceremony, Bush saw Wallis. He bounded over and grabbed the cheeks of his face, one in each hand, and squeezed. ''Jim, how ya doin', how ya doin'!'' he exclaimed. Wallis was taken aback. Bush excitedly said that his massage therapist had given him Wallis's book, ''Faith Works.'' His joy at seeing Wallis, as Wallis and others remember it, was palpable -- a president, wrestling with faith and its role at a time of peril, seeing that rare bird: an independent counselor. Wallis recalls telling Bush he was doing fine, '''but in the State of the Union address a few days before, you said that unless we devote all our energies, our focus, our resources on this war on terrorism, we're going to lose.' I said, 'Mr. President, if we don't devote our energy, our focus and our time on also overcoming global poverty and desperation, we will lose not only the war on poverty, but we'll lose the war on terrorism.'''

Bush replied that that was why America needed the leadership of Wallis and other members of the clergy.

''No, Mr. President,'' Wallis says he told Bush, ''We need your leadership on this question, and all of us will then commit to support you. Unless we drain the swamp of injustice in which the mosquitoes of terrorism breed, we'll never defeat the threat of terrorism.''

Bush looked quizzically at the minister, Wallis recalls. They never spoke again after that.

''When I was first with Bush in Austin, what I saw was a self-help Methodist, very open, seeking,'' Wallis says now. ''What I started to see at this point was the man that would emerge over the next year -- a messianic American Calvinist. He doesn't want to hear from anyone who doubts him.''

But with a country crying out for intrepid leadership, does a president have time to entertain doubters? In a speech in Alaska two weeks later, Bush again referred to the war on terror as a ''crusade.''

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

Who besides guys like me are part of the reality-based community? Many of the other elected officials in Washington, it would seem. A group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress were called in to discuss Iraq sometime before the October 2002 vote authorizing Bush to move forward. A Republican senator recently told Time Magazine that the president walked in and said: ''Look, I want your vote. I'm not going to debate it with you.'' When one of the senators began to ask a question, Bush snapped, ''Look, I'm not going to debate it with you.''

George W. Bush, clearly, is one of history's great confidence men. That is not meant in the huckster's sense, though many critics claim that on the war in Iraq, the economy and a few other matters he has engaged in some manner of bait-and-switch. No, I mean it in the sense that he's a believer in the power of confidence. At a time when constituents are uneasy and enemies are probing for weaknesses, he clearly feels that unflinching confidence has an almost mystical power. It can all but create reality.

Whether you can run the world on faith, it's clear you can run one hell of a campaign on it. George W. Bush and his team have constructed a high-performance electoral engine. The soul of this new machine is the support of millions of likely voters, who judge his worth based on intangibles -- character, certainty, fortitude and godliness -- rather than on what he says or does. The deeper the darkness, the brighter this filament of faith glows, a faith in the president and the just God who affirms him.

The leader of the free world is clearly comfortable with this calculus and artfully encourages it. In the series of televised, carefully choreographed ''Ask President Bush'' events with supporters around the country, sessions filled with prayers and blessings, one questioner recently summed up the feelings of so many Christian conservatives, the core of the Bush army. ''I've voted Republican from the very first time I could vote,'' said Gary Walby, a retired jeweler from Destin, Fla., as he stood before the president in a crowded college gym. ''And I also want to say this is the very first time that I have felt that God was in the White House.'' Bush simply said ''thank you'' as a wave of raucous applause rose from the assembled.

And for those who don't get it? That was explained to me in late 2002 by Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. ''You think he's an idiot, don't you?'' I said, no, I didn't. ''No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!'' In this instance, the final ''you,'' of course, meant the entire reality-based community.

''Faith can cut in so many ways,'' he said. ''If you're penitent and not triumphal, it can move us to repentance and accountability and help us reach for something higher than ourselves. That can be a powerful thing, a thing that moves us beyond politics as usual, like Martin Luther King did. But when it's designed to certify our righteousness -- that can be a dangerous thing. Then it pushes self-criticism aside. There's no reflection.

''Where people often get lost is on this very point,'' he said after a moment of thought. ''Real faith, you see, leads us to deeper reflection and not -- not ever -- to the thing we as humans so very much want.''

And what is that?

''Easy certainty.''

Ron Suskind was the senior national-affairs reporter for The Wall Street Journal from 1993 to 2000. He is the author most recently of ''The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill.''

Friday, October 15

Reality TV - Jon Stewart: Crossfire "hurting America"

"I think you're a lot more fun on your show," said Tucker Carlson to "Crossfire" guest Jon Stewart this afternoon. "And I think you're as much of a dick on your show as on any other," Stewart shot back. It wasn't the faux avuncularity we've come to expect from Stewart on "The Daily Show" but there, of course, he's playing a role. Here he was himself -- and he wasn't buying any of it.From the moment Stewart sat down he made no secret of how repugnant he found the show. In fact, he said to Carlson and co-host Paul Begala that he had been so hard on the show he felt it was his duty to come on and say to their faces what he has said to friends and in interviews. What he said was that their show was "hurting America," and he was being only slightly hyperbolic. Stewart told them that when America needed journalists to be journalists they had instead chosen to present theater.

Carlson, trying to affect an air of dry amusement that a comedian would presume to lecture him, important pundit that he is, but looking as if his bow-tie were about to start spinning, could barely contain his outrage. In an absolutely mind-boggling moment, Carlson tried to counter Stewart's criticism by pointing out that during John Kerry's recent appearance on "The Daily Show," Stewart asked the candidate softball questions. "If you want to measure yourself against a comedy show," Stewart said, "be my guest."Paul Begala tried to put a more conciliatory face on things by pointing out that theirs was a "debate" show. Stewart was having none of it. "I would love to see a real debate show," he said. And went on to tell them that instead of holding politicians' feet to the fire by asking tough question, "you're part of their strategy. You're partisan -- what's the word? -- uh, hacks."

It's almost a cliche by now to talk about "The Daily Show" being more trusted than real newscasts, but Stewart showed why. He pointed out to Carlson that he had asked Kerry if he really were in Cambodia but "I don't care," and when Carlson asked him what he thought about the "Bill O'Reilly vibrator flap," Stewart said, "I don't." It was as concise a demonstration of the triviality of the media as you could hope for. "I thought you were going to be funny," Carlson said toward the end of the interview. Stewart responded, "No, I'm not going to be your monkey." And that was what was so bracing.

Stewart's "Crossfire" appearance is going to generate talk about how prickly he was, how he wasn't "nice" like he is on "The Daily Show." But prickliness is just what was needed. If you've built your reputation as a satirist pointing out how the media falls down on the job, you're not going to make yourself a part of their charade. I've heard people talk about "The Daily Show" as an oasis of sanity, a public service. I couldn't agree more. Stewart's appearance on "Crossfire" was another public service. He went on and acted as if the show's purpose really was to confront tough issues, instead of being the political equivalent of pro wrestling. Given a chance to say absolutely what he thought, Stewart took it. He accomplished what almost never happens on television anymore: He made the dots come alive.

--- And From NYTIMES-

Exchanging his usual goofy teasing for withering contempt, he told Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson that they were partisan hacks and that their pro-wrestling approach to political discourse was "hurting America." (He also used an epithet for the male reproductive organ to describe Mr. Carlson.) Real anger is as rare on television as real discussion. Presidential candidates no longer address each other directly in debates. Guests on the "Tonight" show or "Oprah" are scripted monologuists who pitch their latest projects and humor the host. It has been decades since talk-show guests conversed with one another, yet there was a time when famous people held long and at times legendarily hostile discussions (Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. on ABC in 1968, Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman on "The Dick Cavett Show" in 1980).Nowadays, live television meltdowns seem to be pathological, not political - Janet Jackson baring a breast during the Super Bowl or Farrah Fawcett babbling incoherently to David Letterman.

Mr. Stewart's Howard Beal (of "Network") outburst stood out because he said what a lot of viewers feel helpless to correct: that news programs, particularly on cable, have become echo chambers for political attacks, amplifying the noise instead of parsing the misinformation. Whether the issue is Swift boat ads or Bill O'Reilly's sexual harassment suit, shows like "Crossfire" or "Hardball" provide gladiator-style infotainment as journalists clownishly seek to amuse or rile viewers, not inform them.

When Mr. Carlson took the offense, charging that Mr. Stewart had no right to complain since he had asked Senator John Kerry softball questions on "The Daily Show," Mr. Stewart looked genuinely appalled. "I didn't realize - and maybe this explains quite a bit - that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity." When Mr. Carlson continued to argue, Mr. Stewart shut him down hard. "You are on CNN," he said. "The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls."

All late-night talk-show hosts make jokes about politicians. What distinguishes Mr. Stewart from Jay Leno and David Letterman is that the Comedy Central star mocks the entire political process, boring in tightly on the lockstep thinking and complacency of the parties and the media as well as the candidates. More than other television analysts and commentators, he and his writers put a spotlight on the inanities and bland hypocrisies that go mostly unnoticed in the average news cycle.

World weighs in against Bush

"Clearly, if the world had a vote, the result on Nov. 2 would not be in doubt," The Guardian said in an editorial on the polling result. The surveys found that while a majority of opinion in those countries is still strongly disposed toward Americans in general, and that 80 to 90 percent of respondents said it was important to maintain good relations with the United States, there was sharp disagreement with American foreign policy under President Bush, as other international surveys have found.

In Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Spain, France and Canada, residents said the United States was wrong to have invaded Iraq. And by large margins, those surveyed in Canada (86 percent to 11 percent), Britain (73-17), Mexico (66-30) and South Korea ( 87-11) said the United States wielded excessive influence on international affairs. Organized by the newspaper La Presse in Montreal, the surveys were conducted in Britain, France, Spain, Russia, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Canada and Australia, a sampling of countries with strong historical ties or alliances with the United States. Support for President Bush was strongest in Israel and Russia, according to the polling in those countries, with 50 percent of Israelis favoring Mr. Bush's re-election and 24 percent favoring Mr. Kerry. In Russia, Mr. Bush was a 52-48 favorite.

But elsewhere, Mr. Kerry was a strong favorite, leading in percentage terms among Britons by 50-22, Mexicans by 55-20, Japanese by 51-30, South Koreans by 68-18 and among the French by 72-16.
The Guardian newspaper, which participated in the survey in Britain, pointed out that while Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry had emerged from their three debates neck and neck in the contest for votes in America, the rest of the world "has already made up its mind," said an editorial.But the newspaper went on to note with some concern that young Britons were turning against Britain's strongest ally in large numbers, pointing out that among Britons under 25, some 77 percent express a dislike for Mr. Bush.

Thursday, October 14

Bush goofs on Osama - but the bigger picture is clear

"By denying that he had ever minimized the threat posed by Bin Laden, Bush handed Kerry, during the very first question, the victory in the post-debate spin. The Kerry campaign's critique of the president is that he doesn't tell the truth, that he won't admit mistakes, and that he refuses to acknowledge reality. Bush's answer played into all three claims. Here's the text from the Official White House Press Releasehere's the video

The president's blunder also provided at least a glimpse of the foreign-policy debate I hoped to see. Here's a more complete version of the president's 2002 comment: "I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban." The president's philosophy toward the war on terror could not be clearer: It is a war against nation-states, not against "nonstate actors" like al-Qaida. Bin Laden was dangerous because he controlled a state, not because he controls a terrorist network."
---
that's from Salon.com - but it links up with the long article the New York TImes Magazine just had on Bush and Kerry's Foreign Policy. In a nutshell, Bush believes in the Domino theory of democracy - that 's what his phrase "Freedom on the March" means. That, even if demoncracy is instituted at gunpoint, that country will henceforth become a progressive beacon, and turn all the countries around it towards democracy. This idiotic notion was part of the cold war mentality that brought us the horrendous catastrophe of Vietnam, but Bush's foreign policy team is still thinking along those lines. Kerry, by contast, was ahead of the game years ago -talking, writing, and ppoposing conrcrete policy based onot on nationa-ates, but on individual non-state groups and actors that were smaller, faster, less subject to diplomatic negotiation or trade pressure, and less subject to large scale military assault. Sound familiar? But Bush is back in the old world, where nation states are all that count. That's why, after he defeated the Taliban (at least temporarily) he had to find another country to attack (preferably one without nuclear weapons.)

Of course Saddam was a horrible tyrant, and maybe if Iraq can keep from sliding into chaos, it will be better that he is gone. But there are dozens of horrible tyrants all over the world - one's in Haiti right now and we installed him. We have a bad track record of doing that kind of thing when we deal with states. We need to think of this less in the grand, heroic terms of wars past, and more in terms of the mundane but crucial details of police investigations,. It's not as glamorous as war, but then again, war isn't really that glamorous either - for the people that are forced to fight it, rather than those who get to watch it on TV.

Nixon, Bush, and Media Control

Will We Need a New 'All the President's Men'?

SUCH is the power of movies that the first image "Watergate" brings to mind three decades later is not Richard Nixon so much as the golden duo of Redford and Hoffman riding to the nation's rescue in "All the President's Men." But if our current presidency is now showing symptoms of a precancerous Watergate syndrome - as it is, daily - we have not yet reached that denouement immortalized by Hollywood, in which our scrappy heroes finally bring Nixon to heel in his second term. No, we're back instead in the earlier reels of his first term, before the criminality of the Watergate break-in, when no one had heard of Woodward and Bernstein. Back then an arrogant and secretive White House, furious at the bad press fueled by an unpopular and mismanaged war, was still flying high as it kneecapped with impunity any reporter or news organization that challenged its tightly enforced message of victory at hand.

It was then that the vice president, Spiro Agnew, scripted by the speechwriter Pat Buchanan, tried to discredit the press as an elite - or, as he spelled it out, "a tiny, enclosed fraternity of privileged men." It was then that the attorney general, John Mitchell, under the pretext of national security, countenanced wiretaps of Hedrick Smith of The Times and Marvin Kalb of CBS News, as well as a full F.B.I. investigation of CBS's Daniel Schorr. Today it's John Ashcroft's Justice Department, also invoking "national security," that hopes to seize the phone records of Judith Miller and Philip Shenon of The Times, claiming that what amounts to a virtual wiretap is warranted by articles about Islamic charities and terrorism published nearly three years ago.

"The fundamental right of Americans, through our free press, to penetrate and criticize the workings of our government is under attack as never before," wrote William Safire last month. When an alumnus of the Nixon White House says our free press is being attacked as "never before," you listen. What alarms him now are the efforts of Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame-Robert Novak affair, to threaten reporters at The Times and Time magazine with jail if they don't reveal their sources. Given that the Times reporter in question (Judith Miller again) didn't even write an article on the subject under investigation, Mr. Fitzgerald overreaches so far that he's created a sci-fi plot twist out of Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report."

It's all the scarier for being only one piece in a pattern of media intimidation that's been building for months now. Once Woodward and Bernstein did start investigating Watergate, Nixon plotted to take economic revenge by siccing the Federal Communications Commission on TV stations owned by The Washington Post's parent company. The current White House has been practicing pre-emptive media intimidation to match its policy of pre-emptive war. Its F.C.C. chairman, using Janet Jackson's breast and Howard Stern's mouth as pretexts, has sufficiently rattled Viacom, which broadcast both of these entertainers' infractions against "decency," that its chairman, the self-described "liberal Democrat" Sumner Redstone, abruptly announced his support for the re-election of George W. Bush last month. "I vote for what's good for Viacom," he explained, and he meant it. He took this loyalty oath just days after the "60 Minutes" fiasco prompted a full-fledged political witch hunt on Viacom's CBS News, another Republican target since the Nixon years. Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, has threatened to seek Congressional "safeguards" regulating TV news content and, depending what happens Nov. 2, he may well have the political means to do it.

Viacom is hardly the only media giant cowed by the prospect that this White House might threaten its corporate interests if it gets out of line. Disney's refusal to release Michael Moore's partisan "Fahrenheit 9/11" in an election year would smell less if the company applied the same principle to its ABC radio stations, where the equally partisan polemics of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are heard every day. Even a low-profile film project in conflict with Bush dogma has spooked the world's largest media company, Time Warner, proprietor of CNN. Its Warner Brothers, about to release a special DVD of "Three Kings," David O. Russell's 1999 movie criticizing the first gulf war, suddenly canceled a planned extra feature, a new Russell documentary criticizing the current war. Whether any of these increasingly craven media combines will stand up to the Bush administration in a constitutional pinch, as Katharine Graham and her Post Company bravely did to the Nixon administration during Watergate, is a proposition that hasn't been remotely tested yet.

To understand what kind of journalism the Bush administration expects from these companies, you need only look at those that are already its collaborators. Fox News speaks loudly for itself, to the point of posting on its Web site an article by its chief political correspondent containing fictional John Kerry quotes. (After an outcry, it was retracted as "written in jest.") But Fox is just the tip of the Rupert Murdoch empire. When The New York Post covered the release of the report by the C.I.A.'s chief weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, it played the story on page 8 and didn't get to the clause "while no stockpiles of W.M.D. were found in Iraq" until the 16th paragraph. This would be an Onion parody were it not deadly serious.

It's hard to imagine an operation more insidious than Mr. Murdoch's, but the Sinclair Broadcast Group may be it. The owner or operator of 62 TV stations nationwide, including affiliates of all four major broadcast networks, this company gets little press scrutiny because it is invisible in New York City, Washington and Los Angeles, where it has no stations. But Sinclair, whose top executives have maxed out as Bush contributors, was first smoked out of the shadows last spring when John McCain called it "unpatriotic" for ordering its eight ABC stations not to broadcast the "Nightline" in which Ted Koppel read the names of the then 721 American casualties in Iraq. This was the day after Paul Wolfowitz had also downsized American casualties by testifying before Congress that they numbered only about 500.

Thanks to Elizabeth Jensen of The Los Angeles Times, who first broke the story last weekend, we now know that Sinclair has grander ambitions for the election. It has ordered all its stations, whose most powerful reach is in swing states like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, to broadcast a "news" special featuring a film, "Stolen Honor," that trashes Mr. Kerry along the lines of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads. The film's creator is a man who spent nearly eight years in the employ of Tom Ridge. Sinclair has ordered that it be run in prime time during a specific four nights in late October, when it is likely to be sandwiched in with network hits like "CSI," "The Apprentice" and "Desperate Housewives." Democrats are screaming, but don't expect the Bush apparatchiks at federal agencies to pursue their complaints as if they were as serious as a "wardrobe malfunction." A more likely outcome is that Sinclair, which already reaches 24 percent of American viewers, will reap the regulatory favors it is seeking to expand that audience in a second Bush term.

Like the Nixon administration before it, the Bush administration arrived at the White House already obsessed with news management and secrecy. Nixon gave fewer press conferences than any president since Hoover; Mr. Bush has given fewer than any in history. Early in the Nixon years, a special National Press Club study concluded that the president had instituted "an unprecedented, government-wide effort to control, restrict and conceal information." Sound familiar? The current president has seen to it that even future historians won't get access to papers he wants to hide; he quietly gutted the Presidential Records Act of 1978, the very reform enacted by Congress as a post-Watergate antidote to pathological Nixonian secrecy.

The path of the Bush White House as it has moved from Agnew-style press baiting to outright assault has also followed its antecedent. The Nixon administration's first legal attack on the press, a year before the Watergate break-in, was its attempt to stop The Times and The Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers, the leaked internal Defense Department history of our failure in Vietnam. Though 9/11 prompted Ari Fleischer's first effort to warn the media to "watch what they say," it's failure in Iraq that has pushed the Bush administration over the edge. It was when Operation Iraqi Freedom was bogged down early on that it spun the fictional saga of Jessica Lynch. It's when the percentage of Americans who felt it was worth going to war in Iraq fell to 50 percent in the Sept. 2003 Gallup poll, down from 73 that April, that identically worded letters "signed" by different soldiers mysteriously materialized in 11 American newspapers, testifying that security for Iraq's citizens had been "largely restored." (As David Greenberg writes in his invaluable "Nixon's Shadow," phony letters to news outlets were also a favorite Nixon tactic.) The legal harassment of the press, like the Republican party's Web-driven efforts to discredit specific journalists even at non-CBS networks, has escalated in direct ratio to the war's decline in support.

"What you're seeing on your TV screens," the president said when minimizing the Iraq insurgency in May, are "the desperate tactics of a hateful few." Maybe that's the sunny news that can be found on a Sinclair station. Now, with our election less than three weeks away, the bad news coming out of Iraq everywhere else is a torrent. Reporters at virtually every news organization describe a downward spiral so dangerous that they can't venture anywhere in Iraq without risking their lives. Last weekend marines spoke openly and by name to Steve Fainaru of The Washington Post about the quagmire they're witnessing firsthand and its irrelevance to battling Al Qaeda, whose 9/11 attack motivated many of them to enlist in the first place. "Every day you read the articles in the States where it's like, 'Oh, it's getting better and better," said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Snyder of Gettysburg, Pa. "But when you're here, you know it's worse every day." Another marine, Lance Cpl. Alexander Jones of Ball Ground, Ga., told Mr. Fainaru: "We're basically proving out that the government is wrong. We're catching them in a lie." Asked if he was concerned that he and his buddies might be punished for speaking out, Cpl. Brandon Autin of New Iberia, La., responded: "What are they going to do - send us to Iraq?"

What "they" can do is try to intimidate, harass, discredit and prosecute news organizations that report stories like this. If history is any guide, and the hubris of re-election is tossed into the mix, that harrowing drama can go on for a long time before we get to the feel-good final act of "All the President's Men."

Frank Rich, New York Times

Wednesday, October 13

DIEBOLD Voting System goes online!

Click here to be taken to the DIEBOLD website to see if you are compatible with the new system.

Equal Time Rule that Reagan Gutted

The filmmaker behind the new pro-John Kerry documentary plans to offer it to Sinclair Broadcasting-- free of charge -- to see if the company is interested in showing its viewers a balanced presentation of the candidate. The challenge comes in the wake of Sinclair's extraordinary decision to force its 62 stations nationwide, just days before the presidential election, to air "Stolen Honor," which attacks Kerry's anti-war activities from the early 1970s, and which the Kerry campaign has labeled a smear film.

"Sinclair's using public airwaves to broadcast, at a politically sensitive time, an anti-Kerry message," says Paul Alexander, director of the critically-acclaimed "Brothers in Arms" film, which examines Kerry's experience in Vietnam, and casts him in a favorable light. "My argument is if they're going to air 'Stolen Honor' then they should run my film, and preferably in the hour right after it. I'm sending them a letter tomorrow demanding that." Earlier this week as the controversy brewed, a Sinclair spokesman told the New York Times the company would consider running a Kerry documentary from a different perspective. Alexander's offer may effectively, and publicly, call Sinclair's bluff.

"If they're going to air an anti-Kerry documentary, it's my opinion that under the equal time rule they're required to air the same amount of time" showing the other side, he adds, referring to the broadcast regulation that forbids stations from giving significant airtime to one candidate but not his or her opponent. The filmmaker says several television outlets have approached him about airing his film, "Brothers in Arms," but backed away when faced with the equal time restraint, which might force them to air a film about Bush. "But suddenly on the other side it's okay," to ignore the obligation for balance, asks Alexander.

Tuesday, October 12

Scholars Give Bush Foreign Policy a Failing Grade (Wasn't there just one on Environmentalism too?)

Newark, Delaware - Over 650 foreign affairs specialists in the United States and allied countries have signed an open letter opposing the Bush administration's foreign policy and calling urgently for a change of course.
The letter asserts that current U.S. foreign policy harms the struggle against Islamist terrorists, pointing to a series of "blunders" by the Bush team in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. "We're advising the administration, which is already in a deep hole, to stop digging," said Professor Richard Samuels of M.I.T.

The scholars who signed the letter are from over 150 colleges and universities in 40 states, from California to Florida, Texas to Maine. They include many of the nation's most prominent experts on world politics, including former staff members at the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council, as well as six of the last seven Presidents of the American Political Science Association. "I think it is telling that so many specialists on international relations, who rarely agree on anything, are unified in their position on the high costs that the U.S. is incurring from this war," said Professor Robert Keohane of Duke University.
The text of the letter is available at Sensible Foreign Policy.

Predebate Fact Check

Checking the Facts, in Advance
By PAUL KRUGMAN

It's not hard to predict what President Bush, who sounds increasingly desperate, will say tomorrow. Here are eight lies or distortions you'll hear, and the truth about each:

Jobs Mr. Bush will talk about the 1.7 million jobs created since the summer of 2003, and will say that the economy is "strong and getting stronger." That's like boasting about getting a D on your final exam, when you flunked the midterm and needed at least a C to pass the course.Mr. Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a decline in payroll employment. That's worse than it sounds because the economy needs around 1.6 million new jobs each year just to keep up with population growth. The past year's job gains, while better news than earlier job losses, barely met this requirement, and they did little to close the huge gap between the number of jobs the country needs and the number actually available.

The deficit Mr. Bush will claim that the recession and 9/11 caused record budget deficits. Congressional Budget Office estimates show that tax cuts caused about two-thirds of the 2004 deficit.The tax cuts Mr. Bush will claim that Senator John Kerry opposed "middle class" tax cuts. But budget office numbers show that most of Mr. Bush's tax cuts went to the best-off 10 percent of families, and more than a third went to the top 1 percent, whose average income is more than $1 million.

Fiscal responsibility Mr. Bush will claim that Mr. Kerry proposes $2 trillion in new spending. That's a partisan number and is much higher than independent estimates. Meanwhile, as The Washington Post pointed out after the Republican convention, the administration's own numbers show that the cost of the agenda Mr. Bush laid out "is likely to be well in excess of $3 trillion" and "far eclipses that of the Kerry plan."

Health care Mr. Bush will claim that Mr. Kerry wants to take medical decisions away from individuals. The Kerry plan would expand Medicaid (which works like Medicare), ensuring that children, in particular, have health insurance. It would protect everyone against catastrophic medical expenses, a particular help to the chronically ill. It would do nothing to restrict patients' choices..

By singling out Mr. Bush's lies and misrepresentations, am I saying that Mr. Kerry isn't equally at fault? Yes.
Mr. Kerry sometimes uses verbal shorthand that offers nitpickers things to complain about. He talks of 1.6 million lost jobs; that's the private-sector loss, partly offset by increased government employment. But the job record is indeed awful. He talks of the $200 billion cost of the Iraq war; actual spending is only $120 billion so far. But nobody doubts that the war will cost at least another $80 billion. The point is that Mr. Kerry can, at most, be accused of using loose language; the thrust of his statements is correct.Mr. Bush's statements, on the other hand, are fundamentally dishonest. He is insisting that black is white, and that failure is success. Journalists who play it safe by spending equal time exposing his lies and parsing Mr. Kerry's choice of words are betraying their readers.

Netherlands, Belgium, and now SPAIN TO APPROVE GAY MARRIAGE

Spain has moved a big step closer to permitting gay marriage after the Cabinet approved a bill authorizing homosexuals to marry and adopt children."The Cabinet has approved a bill to revise the Civil Code to permit homosexual matrimony," Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega announced Friday after the weekly Cabinet meeting.The bill now goes to Parliament, where the Socialist government says it has enough support to pass the law, which could make gay marriage possible by next year.The bill also provides for homosexual marriages to have the same rights on inheritance and pensions, and seeking bank credit, as heterosexual spouses. It's a great day for all because we end centuries of discrimination," Fernandez de la Vega told reporters, adding that homosexuals are "our family members and co-workers. They're citizens like the rest of us with obligations and rights."

Cabinet spokeswoman Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said thousands of children lived with homosexual parents and numerous studies had shown that they were no different to children brought up in heterosexual homes. "There is no proof that homosexual parents educate their children any worse. In adoption, the well-being of the children comes first, independent of the sexual orientation of the parents," she said.

Sunday, October 10

Truth is Stranger than "Strangelove"

"Dr. Strangelove," Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film about nuclear-war plans run amok, is widely heralded as one of the greatest satires in American political or movie history... "Strangelove" is far more than a satire. In its own loopy way, the movie is a remarkably fact-based and specific guide to some of the oddest, most secretive chapters of the Cold War. As countless histories relate, Mr. Kubrick set out to make a serious film based on a grim novel, "Red Alert," by Peter George, a Royal Air Force officer. But the more research he did (reading more than 50 books, talking with a dozen experts), the more lunatic he found the whole subject, so he made a dark comedy instead... What few people knew, at the time and since, was just how accurate this film was. Its premise, plotline, some of the dialogue, even its wildest characters eerily resembled the policies, debates and military leaders of the day. The audience had almost no way of detecting these similiarities:Nearly everything about the bomb was shrouded in secrecy back then. There was no Freedom of Information Act and little investigative reporting on the subject. It was easy to laugh off "Dr. Strangelove" as a comic book.

But film's weird accuracy is evident in its very first scene, in which a deranged base commander, preposterously named Gen. Jack D. Ripper (played by Sterling Hayden), orders his wing of B-52 bombers - which are on routine airborne alert, circling a "fail-safe point" just outside the Soviet border - to attack their targets inside the U.S.S.R. with multimegaton bombs. Once the pilots receive the order, they can't be diverted unless they receive a coded recall message. And only General Ripper has the code. The remarkable thing is, the fail-safe system that General Ripper exploits was the real, top-secret fail-safe system at the time. According to declassified Strategic Air Command histories, 12 B-52's - fully loaded with nuclear bombs - were kept on constant airborne alert. If they received a Go code, they went to war. This alert system, known as Chrome Dome, began in 1961. It ended in 1968, after a B-52 crashed in Greenland, spreading small amounts of radioactive fallout.

But until then, could some loony general have sent bombers to attack Russia without a presidential order? Yes. ...But were there generals who might really have taken such power in their own hands? It was no secret - it would have been obvious to many viewers in 1964 - that General Ripper looked a lot like Curtis LeMay, the cigar-chomping, gruff-talking general who headed the Strategic Air Command through the 1950's and who served as the Pentagon's Air Force Chief of Staff in the early 60's.In 1957 Robert Sprague, the director of a top-secret panel, warned General LeMay that the entire fleet of B-52 bombers was vulnerable to attack. General LeMay was unfazed. "If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack,'' he said, "I'm going to knock the [expletive] out of them before they take off the ground.""But General LeMay," Mr. Sprague replied, "that's not national policy." "I don't care," General LeMay said. "It's my policy. That's what I'm going to do."

...When Dr. Strangelove talks of sheltering people in mineshafts, President Muffley asks him, "Wouldn't this nucleus of survivors be so grief-stricken and anguished that they'd, well, envy the dead?" Strangelove exclaims that, to the contrary, many would feel "a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead."Mr. Kahn's book contains a long chapter on mineshafts. Its title: "Will the Survivors Envy the Dead?" One sentence reads: "We can imagine a renewed vigor among the population with a zealous, almost religious dedication to reconstruction."

Those in the know watched "Dr. Strangelove" amused, like everyone else, but also stunned. Daniel Ellsberg, who later leaked the Pentagon Papers, was a RAND analyst and a consultant at the Defense Department when he and a mid-level official took off work one afternoon in 1964 to see the film. Mr. Ellsberg recently recalled that as they left the theater, he turned to his colleague and said, "That was a documentary!"

Fred Kaplan is the author of "The Wizards of Armageddon," a history of the nuclear strategists.

Image Manipulation

Frank Rich, New York Times

WE'VE never seen anything like this, even the old Kennedy-Nixon classic great debate," said a breathless Chris Matthews on the "Today" show as he touted a poll showing that John Kerry had won presidential debate No. 1 by as much as a 4-to-1 margin. But actually we have seen something like this - and at that first Kennedy-Nixon debate. The polls may have gyrated more violently this time around, but the scenario is identical: a campaign's seemingly mundane decision about television theatrics has potentially changed the dynamic of a presidential election.

..The liberal blog Daily Kos had the big picture right: on Sept. 30, "months of meticulous image manipulation" by the Bush-Cheney forces went "down the toilet in 90 minutes."That's a shocking development because until recently, that manipulation had been meticulous and then some. The administration has been brilliant at concocting camera-ready video narratives that flatter if not outright fictionalize its actions: "Saving Jessica Lynch," "Shock and Awe," the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue (a sparsely populated, unspontaneous event, when seen in the documentary "Control Room"), "Mission Accomplished." Mr. Bush has been posed by his imagineers to appear to be the fifth head on Mount Rushmore; he has kept the coffins of the American war dead off-screen; he has been seen in shirtsleeves at faux-folksy Town Hall meetings that, until his second debate with Mr. Kerry, were so firmly policed in content and attendees that they would make a Skull and Bones soiree look like a paragon of democracy in action. Time reported last spring that even the Department of Homeland Security was told to take a break from its appointed tasks to round up one terrorism-fighting photo op a month for the president.

To enforce the triumphalist narrative of these cinematic efforts, the Bush team had to cut out any skeptical press, or, as Mr. Bush once put it, "go over the heads of the filter and speak directly to the people" (as long as they're pre-selected). This didn't just mean avoiding press conferences and blackballing reporters from campaign planes. It also required an active program to demonize "the elite media" while feeding Fox News and its talk-radio and on-line amen chorus at every opportunity. "I end up spending a lot of time watching Fox News, because they're more accurate in my experience" is how Dick Cheney put it earlier this year. Thus the first Bush-Kerry debate was preceded by a three-installment interview with the president by Fox's Bill O'Reilly, whose idea of hard-hitting journalism is encapsulated in his boast that his was "the only national TV news program" to shield its viewers from pictures of Abu Ghraib. The highlight of his pre-debate Bush marathon was his expression of admiration for the president's guts in taking questions not submitted to him in advance. This is a "free press" in the same spirit as that championed by such Bush pals as Silvio Berlusconi, Crown Prince Abdullah, Pervez Musharraf, Ayad Allawi and, of course, dear old "Vladimir."

But those who live by Fox News can die by Fox News. If you limit your diet to Fox and its talk-radio and blogging satellites, you may think that the only pressing non-Laci Peterson, non-Kobe, non-hurricane stories are "Rathergate" and the antics of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Your diet of bad news from Iraq is restricted, and Abu Ghraib becomes an over-the-top frat hazing. You are certain that John Kerry can't score in the debates because everyone knows he's an overtanned, overmanicured metrosexual. You reside in such an isolated echo chamber that you aren't aware that even the third-rated network news broadcast, that anchored by the boogeyman Dan Rather, draws 50 percent more viewers on a bad night than "The O'Reilly Factor" does on a great one (the Bush interview).

Eventually you become a prisoner of your own fiction and lose touch with reality. You start making the mistakes Mr. Baker made - and more. The whole Bush-Cheney operation is less sure-footed about media manipulation than it once was. You could see this the week before the debate, when the president rolled out Mr. Allawi for a series of staged Washington appearances that were even less effective than his predecessor Ahmad Chalabi's State of the Union photo op with Laura Bush. No one at the White House seemed to realize that if you want to keep a puppet from being ridiculed as a puppet you don't put him on camera to deliver sound bites (some 16, by the calculation of Dana Milbank of The Washington Post) that are paraphrases of the president's much replayed golden oldies. The whole long charade played out like a lost reel of "Duck Soup."

If anything, the first Bush-Kerry confrontation has given split-screen television a new vogue. HWhen ondoleezza Rice appeared on ABC's "This Week" she was quizzed about the report in that morning's Times saying that in 2002 she had hyped aluminum tubes as evidence of Saddam's nuclear threat a year after her staff was told that government experts had serious doubts. Ms. Rice kept trying to talk over the soft-voiced George Stephanopoulos's questions, but he zapped her with a picture: a September 2002 CNN interview in which she had not, shall we say, told the whole truth and nothing but. As the old video played, ABC used a split screen so we could watch Ms. Rice, "This Is Your Life" style, as she watched the replay of her incriminating appearance of two years earlier. Maybe, like Mr. Bush at the first debate, she knew her reaction was being caught on camera. But even if she did, the unchecked rage in her face, like that of her boss three days earlier, revealed that her image and her story, like the war itself, had spun completely out of her control.

Kerry's Undeclared War

Kerry's adversaries have found it easy to ridicule his views on foreign policy, suggesting that his idea of counterterrorism is simply to go around arresting all the terrorists. This is what Dick Cheney was getting at when he said last month that there was a danger, should Kerry be elected, that ''we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind-set, if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts, and that we're not really at war.'' These barbs have some resonance, largely because Kerry is so obviously defensive about them; talking to him, you sometimes get the sense that he would gladly throw on a pair of night-vision goggles and abduct a member of his own staff if he thought it would prove he could be as tough on terror as his opponent. (When I asked one Kerry adviser what it was that voters needed to know about Kerry and terrorism, he replied without hesitation. ''That he's strong and tough,'' he said. ''In the case of John Kerry, unlike Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, he's looked people in the face and shot them dead.'')

It's perhaps not surprising, then, that Kerry hasn't been eager to challenge Bush's grand notion of a war on terror; such a distinction might sound weak, equivocal or, worse yet, nuanced. It's equally unsurprising that, in the recent Times poll, 57 percent of the respondents said Kerry hadn't made his plans for the country clear, and 63 percent believed he said what he thought people wanted to hear, rather than what he actually thought. This reflected savage Republican attacks on Kerry's character, to be sure, but it probably also had something to do with the fact that he hadn't made his plans clear and seemed to be saying what he thought people wanted to hear.

When I asked Kerry's campaign advisers about these poll numbers, what I heard from some of them in response was that Kerry's theories on global affairs were just too complex for the electorate and would have been ignored -- or, worse yet, mangled -- by the press. ''Yes, he should have laid out this issue and many others in greater detail and with more intellectual creativity, there's no question,'' one adviser told me. ''But it would have had no effect.''

This is, of course, a common Democratic refrain: Republicans sound more coherent because they see the world in such a rudimentary way, while Democrats, 10 steps ahead of the rest of the country, wrestle with profound policy issues that don't lend themselves to slogans. By this reasoning, any proposal that can be explained concisely to voters is, by definition, ineffective and lacking in gravitas. Other Kerry aides blame the candidate and his coterie of message makers, most of whom are legendary for their attack ads but less adept at thinking about broad policy arguments. ''If you talk about this the right way, then the American people, or most of them, will get it,'' one of Kerry's informal advisers told me. ''But you've got to have guts.''

This is the Republican line on Kerry -- that he lacks guts. Kerry's often wobbly attempt to be both like and unlike Bush in his approach to terrorism and the war in Iraq enabled the Bush team, by the time Kerry and I spoke in August, to portray him, devastatingly, as a ''flip-flopper'' who careens from one position to another. In our conversation, Kerry seemed unusually sensitive to these allegations, to the point where he seemed unwilling to admit to having evolved or grown in the way that politicians -- or human beings, for that matter -- generally do. When I asked Kerry how Sept. 11 had changed him, either personally or politically, he seemed to freeze for a moment.

''It accelerated -- '' He paused. ''I mean, it didn't change me much at all. It just sort of accelerated, confirmed in me, the urgency of doing the things I thought we needed to be doing. I mean, to me, it wasn't as transformational as it was a kind of anger, a frustration and an urgency that we weren't doing the kinds of things necessary to prevent it and to deal with it.''

Kerry did allow that he, like other Americans, felt less safe after 9/11. ''Look, until a few months ago,'' he said, referring to the time before he was enveloped in a Secret Service escort and whisked around on charter planes, ''I was flying like everybody else, you know, going through things. Absolutely, I've looked at people very carefully on an airplane. I'd look at shoes. I'd check people who I thought might be a little squirrelly. Going into crowded events, I feel very much on the alert.''

Bush attacked Kerry earlier in the campaign over this question of whether the war on terror was really a war. (''My opponent indicated that he's not comfortable using the word 'war' to describe the struggle we're in,'' Bush said, although whether Kerry had actually said that is debatable.) Now that I'd heard Holbrooke and others say flat out that we weren't in an actual war, I wanted to hear what Kerry thought. Is this a real war, or a metaphorical one? I asked him. Is ''war'' the right word to use?

''There's a danger in it,'' Kerry said, nodding. ''But it's real,'' he went on, meaning the war itself. ''You know, when your buildings are bombed and 3,000 people get killed, and airplanes are hijacked, and a nation is terrorized the way we were, and people continue to plot to do you injury, that's an act of war, and it's serious business. But it's a different kind of war. You have to understand that this is not the sands of Iwo Jima. This is a completely new, different kind of war from any we've fought previously.''

Kerry told me he would stop terrorists by going after them ruthlessly with the military, and he faulted Bush, as he often does, for choosing to use Afghan militias, instead of American troops, to pursue Osama bin Laden into the mountains of Tora Bora, where he disappeared. ''I'm certainly, you know, not going to take second seat to anybody, to nobody, in my willingness to seek justice and set America on a course -- to make America safe,'' Kerry told me. ''And that requires destroying terrorists. And I'm committed to doing that. But I think I have a better way of doing it. I can do it more effectively.''

This was a word that Kerry came back to repeatedly in our discussions; he told me he would wage a more ''effective'' war on terror no less than 18 times in two hours of conversations. The question, of course, was how.

''I think we can do a better job,'' Kerry said, ''of cutting off financing, of exposing groups, of working cooperatively across the globe, of improving our intelligence capabilities nationally and internationally, of training our military and deploying them differently, of specializing in special forces and special ops, of working with allies, and most importantly -- and I mean most importantly -- of restoring America's reputation as a country that listens, is sensitive, brings people to our side, is the seeker of peace, not war, and that uses our high moral ground and high-level values to augment us in the war on terror, not to diminish us.''

This last point was what Kerry seemed to be getting at with his mantra of ''effectiveness,'' and it was in fact the main thrust of his campaign pitch about terrorism. By infuriating allies and diminishing the country's international esteem, Kerry argued, Bush had made it impossible for America to achieve its goals abroad. By the simple act of changing presidents, the country would greatly increase its chances of success in the global war on terror. Both candidates, in fact, were suggesting that the main difference between them was one of leadership style and not policy; just as Bush had taken to arguing that Kerry was too inconstant to lead a nation at war, Kerry's critique centered on the idea that Bush had proved himself too stubborn and arrogant to represent America to the rest of the world.

But when you listen carefully to what Bush and Kerry say, it becomes clear that the differences between them are more profound than the matter of who can be more effective in achieving the same ends. Bush casts the war on terror as a vast struggle that is likely to go on indefinitely, or at least as long as radical Islam commands fealty in regions of the world. In a rare moment of either candor or carelessness, or perhaps both, Bush told Matt Lauer on the ''Today'' show in August that he didn't think the United States could actually triumph in the war on terror in the foreseeable future. ''I don't think you can win it,'' he said -- a statement that he and his aides tried to disown but that had the ring of sincerity to it. He and other members of his administration have said that Americans should expect to be attacked again, and that the constant shadow of danger that hangs over major cities like New York and Washington is the cost of freedom. In his rhetoric, Bush suggests that terrorism for this generation of Americans is and should be an overwhelming and frightening reality.

When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. ''We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,'' Kerry said. ''As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life.''

This analogy struck me as remarkable, if only because it seemed to throw down a big orange marker between Kerry's philosophy and the president's. Kerry, a former prosecutor, was suggesting that the war, if one could call it that, was, if not winnable, then at least controllable. If mobsters could be chased into the back rooms of seedy clubs, then so, too, could terrorists be sent scurrying for their lives into remote caves where they wouldn't harm us. Bush had continually cast himself as the optimist in the race, asserting that he alone saw the liberating potential of American might, and yet his dark vision of unending war suddenly seemed far less hopeful than Kerry's notion that all of this horror -- planes flying into buildings, anxiety about suicide bombers and chemicals in the subway -- could somehow be made to recede until it was barely in our thoughts.


Kerry came to his worldview over the course of a Senate career that has been, by any legislative standard, a quiet affair. Beginning in the late 80's, Kerry's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations investigated and exposed connections between Latin American drug dealers and BCCI, the international bank that was helping to launder drug money. That led to more investigations of arms dealers, money laundering and terrorist financing.

Kerry turned his work on the committee into a book on global crime, titled ''The New War,'' published in 1997. He readily admitted to me that the book ''wasn't exclusively on Al Qaeda''; in fact, it barely mentioned the rise of Islamic extremism. But when I spoke to Kerry in August, he said that many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror.

''Of all the records in the Senate, if you don't mind my saying, I think I was ahead of the curve on this entire dark side of globalization,'' he said. ''I think that the Senate committee report on contras, narcotics and drugs, et cetera, is a seminal report. People have based research papers on it. People have based documents on it, movies on it. I think it was a significant piece of work.''

More senior members of the foreign-relations committee, like Joe Biden and Richard Lugar, were far more visible and vocal on the emerging threat of Islamic terrorism. But through his BCCI investigation, Kerry did discover that a wide array of international criminals -- Latin American drug lords, Palestinian terrorists, arms dealers -- had one thing in common: they were able to move money around through the same illicit channels. And he worked hard, and with little credit, to shut those channels down.

In 1988, Kerry successfully proposed an amendment that forced the Treasury Department to negotiate so-called Kerry Agreements with foreign countries. Under these agreements, foreign governments had to promise to keep a close watch on their banks for potential money laundering or they risked losing their access to U.S. markets. Other measures Kerry tried to pass throughout the 90's, virtually all of them blocked by Republican senators on the banking committee, would end up, in the wake of 9/11, in the USA Patriot Act; among other things, these measures subject banks to fines or loss of license if they don't take steps to verify the identities of their customers and to avoid being used for money laundering.

Through his immersion in the global underground, Kerry made connections among disparate criminal and terrorist groups that few other senators interested in foreign policy were making in the 90's. Richard A. Clarke, who coordinated security and counterterrorism policy for George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, credits Kerry with having seen beyond the national-security tableau on which most of his colleagues were focused. ''He was getting it at the same time that people like Tony Lake were getting it, in the '93 -'94 time frame,'' Clarke says, referring to Anthony Lake, Clinton's national security adviser. ''And the 'it' here was that there was a new nonstate-actor threat, and that nonstate-actor threat was a blended threat that didn't fit neatly into the box of organized criminal, or neatly into the box of terrorism. What you found were groups that were all of the above.''

In other words, Kerry was among the first policy makers in Washington to begin mapping out a strategy to combat an entirely new kind of enemy. Americans were conditioned, by two world wars and a long standoff with a rival superpower, to see foreign policy as a mix of cooperation and tension between civilized states. Kerry came to believe, however, that Americans were in greater danger from the more shadowy groups he had been investigating -- nonstate actors, armed with cellphones and laptops -- who might detonate suitcase bombs or release lethal chemicals into the subway just to make a point. They lived in remote regions and exploited weak governments. Their goal wasn't to govern states but to destabilize them.

The challenge of beating back these nonstate actors -- not just Islamic terrorists but all kinds of rogue forces -- is what Kerry meant by ''the dark side of globalization.'' He came closest to articulating this as an actual foreign-policy vision in a speech he gave at U.C.L.A. last February. ''The war on terror is not a clash of civilizations,'' he said then. ''It is a clash of civilization against chaos, of the best hopes of humanity against dogmatic fears of progress and the future.''

This stands in significant contrast to the Bush doctrine, which holds that the war on terror, if not exactly a clash of civilizations, is nonetheless a struggle between those states that would promote terrorism and those that would exterminate it. Bush, like Kerry, accepts the premise that America is endangered mainly by a new kind of adversary that claims no state or political entity as its own. But he does not accept the idea that those adversaries can ultimately survive and operate independently of states; in fact, he asserts that terrorist groups are inevitably the subsidiaries of irresponsible regimes. ''We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients,'' the National Security Strategy said, in a typical passage, ''before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends.''

By singling out three states in particular- Iraq, North Korea and Iran -- as an ''axis of evil,'' and by invading Iraq on the premise that it did (or at least might) sponsor terrorism, Bush cemented the idea that his war on terror is a war against those states that, in the president's words, are not with us but against us. Many of Bush's advisers spent their careers steeped in cold-war strategy, and their foreign policy is deeply rooted in the idea that states are the only consequential actors on the world stage, and that they can -- and should -- be forced to exercise control over the violent groups that take root within their borders.

Kerry's view, on the other hand, suggests that it is the very premise of civilized states, rather than any one ideology, that is under attack. And no one state, acting alone, can possibly have much impact on the threat, because terrorists will always be able to move around, shelter their money and connect in cyberspace; there are no capitals for a superpower like the United States to bomb, no ambassadors to recall, no economies to sanction. The U.S. military searches for bin Laden, the Russians hunt for the Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev and the Israelis fire missiles at Hamas bomb makers; in Kerry's world, these disparate terrorist elements make up a loosely affiliated network of diabolical villains, more connected to one another by tactics and ideology than they are to any one state sponsor. The conflict, in Kerry's formulation, pits the forces of order versus the forces of chaos, and only a unified community of nations can ensure that order prevails.

One can infer from this that if Kerry were able to speak less guardedly, in a less treacherous atmosphere than a political campaign, he might say, as some of his advisers do, that we are not in an actual war on terror. Wars are fought between states or between factions vying for control of a state; Al Qaeda and its many offspring are neither. If Kerry's foreign-policy frame is correct, then law enforcement probably is the most important, though not the only, strategy you can employ against such forces, who need passports and bank accounts and weapons in order to survive and flourish. Such a theory suggests that, in our grief and fury, we have overrated the military threat posed by Al Qaeda, paradoxically elevating what was essentially a criminal enterprise, albeit a devastatingly sophisticated and global one, into the ideological successor to Hitler and Stalin -- and thus conferring on the jihadists a kind of stature that might actually work in their favor, enabling them to attract more donations and more recruits.

This critical difference between the two men running for the presidency, over what kind of enemy we are fighting and how best to defeat it, is at the core of a larger debate over how the United States should involve itself in the Muslim world. Bush and Kerry are in agreement, as is just about every expert on Islamic culture you can find, that in order for Americans to live and travel securely, the United States must change the widespread perception among many Muslims worldwide that America is morally corrupt and economically exploitative. It is this resentment, felt especially strongly among Arab Muslims, that makes heroes of suicide bombers. The question vexing the foreign-policy establishment in Washington is how you market freedom. Is the establishment of a single, functioning democracy in the Middle East enough to win the ''hearts and minds'' of ordinary Muslims, by convincing them that America is in fact the model for a free, more open society? Or do you need to somehow strike at the underlying conditions -- despotism, hopelessness, economic and social repression -- that breed fundamentalism and violence in the first place?

''You've got to do something to acknowledge the gulf that exists between the dispossessed Arab world and us, because it's huge,'' says Bob Kerrey, the former Democratic senator who is now president of New School University and who served on the independent 9/11 commission. ''We don't have enough money, we don't have enough parents who are willing to give up their sons and daughters, to win this with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. We don't have the bodies to do it. So if you don't have a real agenda of hope that's as hard-headed and tough as your military and law-enforcement agenda, we're not going to win this thing.''

The neo-conservatives have advanced a viral theory of democracy. In their view, establishing a model democracy in the Arab world, by force if necessary, no matter how many years and lives it takes, would ultimately benefit not only the people of that country but also America too. A free and democratic Iraq, to take the favorite example, will cause the people of other repressive countries in the region to rise up and demand American-style freedom, and these democratic nations will no longer be breeding pools for nihilistic terrorists. Like so much of Bush's policy, this kind of thinking harks directly back to the cold war. The domino theory that took hold during the 1950's maintained that an ideological change in one nation -- ''going'' communist or democratic -- could infect its neighbor; it was based in part on the idea that ideologies could be contagious.

Bush crystallized the new incarnation of this idea in his convention speech last month, notable for the unapologetic sweep and clarity of its vision. ''The terrorists know that a vibrant, successful democracy at the heart of the Middle East will discredit their radical ideology of hate,'' the president said. ''I believe in the transformational power of liberty. As the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq seize the moment, their example will send a message of hope throughout a vital region. Palestinians will hear the message that democracy and reform are within their reach, and so is peace with our good friend Israel. Young women across the Middle East will hear the message that their day of equality and justice is coming. Young men will hear the message that national progress and dignity are found in liberty, not tyranny and terror.''

Kerry, too, envisions a freer and more democratic Middle East. But he flatly rejects the premise of viral democracy, particularly when the virus is introduced at gunpoint. ''In this administration, the approach is that democracy is the automatic, easily embraced alternative to every ill in the region,'' he told me. Kerry disagreed. ''You can't impose it on people,'' he said. ''You have to bring them to it. You have to invite them to it. You have to nurture the process.''

Those who know Kerry say this belief is in part a reaction to his own experience in Vietnam, where one understanding of the domino theory (''if Vietnam goes communist, all of Asia will fall'') led to the death of 58,000 Americans, and another (''the South Vietnamese crave democracy'') ran up against the realities of life in a poor, long-war-ravaged country. The people of Vietnam, Kerry found, were susceptible neither to the dogma of communism nor the persuasiveness of American ''liberation.'' As the young Kerry said during his 1971 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: ''We found most people didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace.''

Biden, who is perhaps Kerry's closest friend in the Senate, suggests that Kerry sees Bush's advisers as beholden to the same grand and misguided theories. ''John and I never believed that, if you were successful in Iraq, you'd have governments falling like dominoes in the Middle East,'' he told me. ''The neo-cons of today are 'the best and the brightest' who brought us Vietnam. They have taken a construct that's flawed and applied it to a world that isn't relevant.''

In fact, Kerry and his advisers contend that the occupation of Iraq is creating a reverse contagion in the region; they say the fighting -- with its heavy civilian casualties and its pictures, beamed throughout the Arab world, of American aggression -- has been a boon to Al Qaeda recruiters. They frequently cite a Pentagon memo, leaked to the media last year, in which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wondered whether Al Qaeda was recruiting new terrorists faster than the U.S. military could capture or kill them. ''God help us if we damage the shrine in Najaf,'' Richard Holbrooke told me on a day when marines surrounded insurgent Shiites inside the shrine, ''and we create a new group of Shiites who some years from now blow up the Statue of Liberty or something like that, all because we destroyed the holiest site in Shiism.''

If forced democracy is ultimately Bush's panacea for the ills that haunt the world, as Kerry suggests it is, then Kerry's is diplomacy. Kerry mentions the importance of cooperating with the world community so often that some of his strongest supporters wish he would ease up a bit. (''When people hear multilateral, they think multi-mush,'' Biden despaired.) But multilateralism is not an abstraction to Kerry, whose father served as a career diplomat during the years after World War II. The only time I saw Kerry truly animated during two hours of conversation was when he talked about the ability of a president to build relationships with other leaders.

''We need to engage more directly and more respectfully with Islam, with the state of Islam, with religious leaders, mullahs, imams, clerics, in a way that proves this is not a clash with the British and the Americans and the old forces they remember from the colonial days,'' Kerry told me during a rare break from campaigning, in Seattle at the end of August. ''And that's all about your diplomacy.''

When I suggested that effecting such changes could take many years, Kerry shook his head vehemently and waved me off.

''Yeah, it is long-term, but it can be dramatically effective in the short term. It really can be. I promise you.'' He leaned his head back and slapped his thighs. ''A new presidency with the right moves, the right language, the right outreach, the right initiatives, can dramatically alter the world's perception of us very, very quickly.

''I know Mubarak well enough to know what I think I could achieve in the messaging and in the press in Egypt,'' Kerry went on. ''And, similarly, with Jordan and with King Abdullah, and what we can do in terms of transformation in the economics of the region by getting American businesspeople involved, getting some stability and really beginning to proactively move in those ways. We just haven't been doing any of this stuff. We've been stunningly disengaged, with the exception of Iraq.

''I mean, you ever hear anything about the 'road map' anymore?'' he asked, referring to the international plan for phasing in peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which Kerry supports. ''No. You ever hear anything about anything anymore? No. Do you hear anything about this greater Middle East initiative, the concepts or anything? No. I think we're fighting a very narrow, myopic kind of war.''

It is not a coincidence that Kerry's greatest success in the Senate came not during his long run of investigations but in the realm of diplomacy. He and John McCain worked for several years to settle the controversy over P.O.W.-M.I.A.'s and to normalize relations with Vietnam -- an achievement that Kerry's Senate colleagues consider his finest moment. ''He should talk about it more,'' Bob Kerrey said. ''He transformed the region.'' In the same way, John Kerry sees himself as a kind of ambassador-president, shuttling to world capitals and reintegrating America, by force of personality, into the world community.

He would begin, if sworn into office, by going immediately to the United Nations to deliver a speech recasting American foreign policy. Whereas Bush has branded North Korea ''evil'' and refuses to negotiate head on with its authoritarian regime, Kerry would open bilateral talks over its burgeoning nuclear program. Similarly, he has said he would rally other nations behind sanctions against Iran if that country refuses to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Kerry envisions appointing a top-level envoy to restart the Middle East peace process, and he's intent on getting India and Pakistan to adopt key provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (One place where Kerry vows to take a harder line than Bush is Pakistan, where Bush has embraced the military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and where Kerry sees a haven for chaos in the vast and lawless region on the border with Afghanistan.) In all of this, Kerry intends to use as leverage America's considerable capacity for economic aid; a Kerry adviser told me, only slightly in jest, that Kerry's most tempting fantasy is to attend the G-8 summit.

Kerry's view, that the 21st century will be defined by the organized world's struggle against agents of chaos and lawlessness, might be the beginning of a compelling vision. The idea that America and its allies, sharing resources and using the latest technologies, could track the movements of terrorists, seize their bank accounts and carry out targeted military strikes to eliminate them, seems more optimistic and more practical than the notion that the conventional armies of the United States will inevitably have to punish or even invade every Islamic country that might abet radicalism.

And yet, you can understand why Kerry has been so tentative in advancing this idea. It's comforting to think that Al Qaeda might be as easily marginalized as a bunch of drug-running thugs, that an ''effective'' assault on its bank accounts might cripple its twisted campaign against Americans. But Americans are frightened -- an emotion that has benefited Bush, and one that he has done little to dissuade -- and many of them perceive a far more existential threat to their lives than the one Kerry describes. In this climate, Kerry's rather dry recitations about money-laundering laws and intelligence-sharing agreements can sound oddly discordant. We are living at a time that feels historically consequential, where people seem to expect -- and perhaps deserve -- a theory of the world that matches the scope of their insecurity.

Theoretically, Kerry could still find a way to wrap his ideas into some bold and cohesive construct for the next half-century -- a Kerry Doctrine, perhaps, or a campaign against chaos, rather than a war on terror -- that people will understand and relate to. But he has always been a man who prides himself on appreciating the subtleties of public policy, and everything in his experience has conditioned him to avoid unsubtle constructs and grand designs. His aversion to Big Think has resulted in one of the campaign's oddities: it is Bush, the man vilified by liberals as intellectually vapid, who has emerged as the de facto visionary in the campaign, trying to impose some long-term thematic order on a dangerous and disorderly world, while Kerry carves the globe into a series of discrete problems with specific solutions.

When Kerry first told me that Sept. 11 had not changed him, I was surprised. I assumed everyone in America -- and certainly in Washington -- had been changed by that day. I assumed he was being overly cautious, afraid of providing his opponents with yet another cheap opportunity to call him a flip-flopper. What I came to understand was that, in fact, the attacks really had not changed the way Kerry viewed or talked about terrorism -- which is exactly why he has come across, to some voters, as less of a leader than he could be. He may well have understood the threat from Al Qaeda long before the rest of us. And he may well be right, despite the ridicule from Cheney and others, when he says that a multinational, law-enforcement-like approach can be more effective in fighting terrorists. But his less lofty vision might have seemed more satisfying -- and would have been easier to talk about in a political campaign -- in a world where the twin towers still stood.

Matt Bai, a contributing writer, is covering the presidential campaign for the NY Times magazine.

The Promise of the First Amendment

By ARTHUR OCHS SULZBERGER JR., chairman and publisher, and RUSSELL T. LEWIS, chief executive, The New York Times

Last Thursday, a federal district judge ordered a New York Times reporter, Judy Miller, sent to prison. Her crime was doing her job as the founders of this nation intended. Here's what happened and why it should concern you.

On July 6, 2003, Joseph C. Wilson IV - formerly a career foreign service officer, a chargé d'affaires in Baghdad and an ambassador - wrote an article published on this page under the headline, "What I Didn't Find in Africa." The article served to undercut the Bush administration's claims surrounding Saddam Hussein's nuclear capacity.

Eight days later, Robert Novak, a syndicated columnist, wrote an article in which he identified Ambassador Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as an "operative on weapons of mass destruction" for the C.I.A. "Two senior administration officials told me," Mr. Novak wrote, that it was Ms. Plame who "suggested sending Wilson" to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium ore from Niger. After Mr. Novak's report, several other journalists wrote stories in which they said they received similar information about Ms. Plame from confidential government sources, in what many have concluded was an effort to punish Mr. Wilson for speaking out against the administration by exposing his wife as a C.I.A. operative. The record is clear, however, that Judy Miller is not one of those journalists who reported this information.

Because the government officials who revealed Valerie Plame's status as a C.I.A. operative to the press might have committed a crime in doing so, the Justice Department opened a federal criminal investigation to find whoever was responsible.

During the course of this investigation, the details of which have been kept secret, several journalists have been subpoenaed to provide information about the source of the leak and threatened with jail if they failed to comply.

On Aug. 12, Ms. Miller received a subpoena in which she was required to provide information about conversations she might have had with a government official in which the identity and C.I.A. connection of Mr. Wilson's wife might have been mentioned. She received this subpoena even though she had never published anything concerning Mr. Wilson or his wife. This is not the only recent case in which the government has subpoenaed information concerning Ms. Miller's sources. On July 12, the same prosecutor sought to have Ms. Miller and another Times correspondent, Philip Shenon, identify another source. Curiously, this separate investigation concerns articles on Islamic charities and their possible financial support for terrorism that were published nearly three years ago. As part of this effort to uncover the reporters' confidential sources, the prosecutor has gone to the phone company to obtain records of their phone calls.

So, unless an appeals court reverses last week's contempt conviction, Judy Miller will soon be sent to prison. And, if the government succeeds in obtaining the phone records of Ms. Miller and Mr. Shenon, many of their sources - even those having nothing to do with these two government investigations - will become known.

Why does all of this matter? The possibility of being forced to leave one's family and sent to jail simply for doing your job is an appalling prospect for any journalist - indeed, any citizen. But as concerned as we are with our colleague's loss of liberty, there are even bigger issues at stake for us all.

The press simply cannot perform its intended role if its sources of information - particularly information about the government - are cut off. Yes, the press is far from perfect. We are human and make mistakes. But, the authors of our Constitution and its First Amendment understood all of that and for good reason prescribed that journalists should function as a "fourth estate." As Justice Potter Stewart put it, the primary purpose of the constitutional guarantee of a free press was "to create a fourth institution outside the government as an additional check on the three official branches."

The founders of our democracy understood that our government was also a human institution that was capable of mistakes and misdeeds. That is why they constructed a First Amendment that would give the press the ability to investigate problems in the official branches of our government and make them known to the public. In this way, the press was sensibly put in a position to help hold government accountable to its citizens.

An essential tool that the press must have if it is to perform its job is the ability to gather and receive information in confidence from those who would face reprisals for bringing important information about our government into the light of day for all of us to examine. Without an enforceable promise of confidentiality, sources would quickly dry up and the press would be left largely with only official government pronouncements to report.

A quarter of a century ago, a New York Times reporter, Myron Farber, was ordered to jail, also for doing his job and refusing to give up confidential information. He served 40 days in a New Jersey prison cell. In response to this injustice, the New Jersey Legislature strengthened its "shield law," which recognizes and serves to protect a journalist's need to protect sources and information. Although the federal government has no shield law, the vast majority of states, as well as the District of Columbia, have by now put in place legal protections for reporters. While many of these laws are regarded as providing an "absolute privilege" for journalists, others set out a strict test that the government must meet before it can have a reporter thrown into jail. Perhaps it is a function of the age we live in or perhaps it is something more insidious, but the incidence of reporters being threatened with jail by the federal government is on the rise.

To reverse this trend, to give meaning to the guarantees of the First Amendment and to thereby strengthen our democracy, it is now time for Congress to follow the lead of the states and enact a federal shield law for journalists. Without one, reporters like Judy Miller may be imprisoned. More important, the public will be in the dark about the actions of its elected and appointed government officials. That is not what our nation's founders had in mind.