Posts containing my opinion of the race.

"More Disruptive Than a Rocket Attack"

In Thursday's debate, Randy Kuhl's answer to the question about Iraq referenced his trip to Baghdad this Summer. He said that he met with General Casey and learned more about the "very complex" reality over there.

Here's another perspective on VIP visits, from a soldier's letter home published in this week's Time:

Biggest Hassle — High-ranking visitors. More disruptive to work than a rocket attack. VIPs demand briefs and "battlefield" tours (we take them to quiet sections of Fallujah, which is plenty scary for them). Our briefs and commentary seem to have no affect on their preconceived notions of what's going on in Iraq. Their trips allow them to say that they've been to Fallujah, which gives them an unfortunate degree of credibility in perpetuating their fantasies about the insurgency here.

The whole letter is worth reading.

The Basal Temp

Without polls in the 29th, it's hard to judge how base Republican voters, who are key to Kuhl's election, are feeling. One interesting indicator is Bob Lonsberry, a conservative radio commentator. Bob's Wednesday column is a good example of the trouble Kuhl faces with his base.

The theme of Bob's column was that base voters have a lot of justification for staying home, but they should instead go and vote for Republicans as the lesser of two evils. Money quotes:

The only thing that can bring all the base home is the dread and loathing surrounding any discussion of a "Speaker Pelosi" or a "Majority Leader Reid." To have one or both of those whiners setting the agenda of Congress would be a living hell for a genuine Republican.

So it boils down to this: While Republicans will certainly backstab you, Democrats will backstab you with a bigger knife.


We can't bring ourselves to enthusiastically support the party that has so poorly represented us in recent years, but we can hold our noses and vote against candidates who will help Nancy Pelosi become speaker of the House.

I listened to a good part of Bob's show the next day, and I heard no real defense of the Republican Congressional leadership in his discussion of the Foley scandal. In fact, he spent a lot of time debunking the notion that a Democratic conspiracy was behind the release of the emails.

Bob made another observation in the comments section of the column:

elections are only local for fools and the politicians who try to take advantage of fools. we are voting on our national trade balance, our borders, the war with terror, the national debt and budget, the cancer of welfare. those are the issues that count, and they are all national.

Bob's beliefs are hard to peg: on some issues, he's a values conservative. On others, he's a libertarian conservative. But he usually takes his position based on a principle rather than just swallowing Republican talking points. His recent columns and shows reflect the disappointment of the principled conservative base, and they're an ill omen for Rep. Kuhl. Voting against something as nebulous as "Speaker Pelosi" doesn't energize values voters.


The coverage of yesterday's non-debate in Canandaigua was a prime example of what's wrong with local media.  In their own special ways, each media outlet made sure that the story was jammed into a template I call "Those Fucking Politicians are At It Again", or "TFP" for short.

TFP is a product of the shallow, easy cynicism of the local news outlets.  It begins with the lazy assumption that issues are a yawn: Nobody wants to hear the bullshit that these fuckers spout, so at least half of the story has to be about the ephemera surrounding the debate, or someone will turn the channel.  Some of that ephemera must be local, because we're local news, not national news.  Plus, it's a debate, right?  That means it's a confrontation, so we need to put conflict front and center.  And let's look for a "gotcha" or "gaffe", because one or both of the "politicos" (media-speak for "fucking politician") will say something stupid we can laugh at.

The Gannett coverage is a good example.  The Star-Gazette's headline, "Kuhl, Massa exchange barbs in Canandaigua", was perfectly wrong, yet  pure TFP.  A "barb", which is a term that fits nicely in a headline but is never used in real life, is a nasty, cutting remark.  Not a single barb was uttered at the event, but no matter, TFP demands conflict, so there must have been barbs. 

The Gannett story led with the some TFP ephemera: the "overflow" crowd full of somewhat boisterous Massa supporters, and Kuhl's comment that he didn't bring an applause group.   Here's the real story on the crowd:  that room was the usual location for the weekly Rotary meeting, and it was barely big enough to hold the Rotarians.  It was crowded, not a crowd.  But facts don't matter to Gannett:  they'd call two people in a phone booth an "overflow crowd" if it fit their template.

The D&C's picture of the crowd is a two-fer because, in addition to showing that the room was in fact crowded, the expression on the crowd's faces shows that those fucking politicians are bo-ring.

WHAM's actual story at least began with facts about the debate rather than facts about the room.  However, as you can see in the video, anchor Don Alhart's intro was already pointing us to the meat of the matter:  Randy Kuhl is uncomfortable with debates.  This sets us up for one of the two TFP components in the WHAM coverage, the gaffe.  Today's gaffe was Kuhl's not-too-bright statement about Katrina.  The Massa campaign is eating it up, but in a sober moment I'm sure even they agree that gotcha politics are pointless and stupid.

More importantly, Kuhl's aw-shucks comment that he's not comfortable with confrontation was pure horseshit.  The debate wasn't confrontational, and he's a career politician who's actually pretty good at public speaking.  That comment was made to add a faux underdog air to his campaign, and Alhart ate it up just as Kuhl intended.

The second TFP component in the WHAM coverage is the local angle.  Just like clockwork, a Massa supporter and a Kuhl supporter are interviewed.  Guess what each of them thought and, moreover, who gives a shit?

WHAM will probably devote 20 airtime minutes this year to the campaign in the 29th district.  If, like last night's story, 1/3 of that is devoted to some random asshole's partisan opinion, and another third is a gotcha moment, that leaves something like 7 minutes to report on matters truly relevant to the election.  For this election, 7 minutes is nowhere near enough time to form an educated opinion.

(If anyone's actually read this far, you might be interested in two other media-related stories.  The first is a study showing that the Daily Show's reporting on the '04 election was as substantive as mainstream media, and actually focused less on the hype. The second is Michael Kinsley's recent piece on the role of opinion in journalism.)

The October Expected Event

As predicted, the VA announced yesterday that the Canandaigua VA Hospital will remain open. Randy rhapsodized:

The Canandaigua V.A. Medical Hospital is a special place. There's a soul here and a soul that needs to continue.

I wasn't aware that souls become more visible and in need of preservation one month before elections, but perhaps I'm not as erudite a theologian as Rep. Kuhl.

Kuhl's Ad

I heard Randy Kuhl's latest ad on the radio today. Using the term "Liberal Eric Massa", it charged that Massa wants to raise estate taxes, income taxes, and also create a sales tax on Internet purchases. The ad also charged that Massa's tax plan would result in an average tax burden increase of $2000 per person in the 29th.

Massa has published his tax position here. Like every other politician on earth, there are no plans there to raise taxes, only to redistribute the tax burden. In Massa's case, he wants to move it off of the middle class. I'm sure that Kuhl can back up the arithmetic in his ad, so he must have chosen some group on the fringe of middle class, declared that group average, and calculated the tax change as $2K. That's a standard operating procedure for ads like this.

I heard this ad on the Bob Lonsberry show, while driving to the debate in Canandaigua. On my return trip, I heard Bob say that when a politician promises a tax cut, the first thing we should ask is where the money's coming from to finance the cut. Good question, Bob.

At today's debate, Randy Kuhl said he wanted to balance the budget immediately. He also supports the war in Iraq. There aren't enough tax revenues to do both. So, on the logic of his ad, he, too, wants to raise taxes. Also, as the Massa campaign points out, Kuhl has a track record of 24 years in the New York legislature, many of those years in leadership positions. New York's tax burden is among the nation's highest. There's no evidence that Kuhl's ever worked to lower taxes.

I think there's a core group of voters who hate taxes so much that they will respond to this type of ad. But most voters have heard ads like this so often that they're skeptical. For those folks, ads like these are so much noise. Even Lonsberry, who's quite conservative, has a hard time buying generic political claims on taxes. These voters want to see some action to lower taxes before they buy into election-year tax scares.

Kuhl on Foley: Take 2

Yesterday, Randy Kuhl said that the Speaker of the House, the man second in the line to the Presidency, should be held to the same standard as a defendant in a criminal trial.  Today, as part of backgrounders in preparation for today's debate in Canandaigua, he had another chance to speak out on the Foley matter.  Let's take a close look at what he said:

All of this activity all happened before I was even there.

Not true:  the initial emails were received and "processed" by the House leadership in the Fall of 2005 and Spring of 2006.  Kuhl was in office during that time.

Isn't it interesting it all just comes out now?

Yes it is.  Why would a House GOP aide leak emails to the press?  And why didn't Hastert and Reynolds take care of the problem when they first heard about it a year ago?

My opponent is trying to capitalize. I think that's scurrilous. It's just outrageous for them to try to do that.

Absolutely true:  his opponent is trying to capitalize on the scandal.  I'll leave the ultimate judgment of whether that's "scurrilous" or "outrageous" to the reader, but I think there's a legitimate question of abuse of power and responsibility behind the salacious emails.

Here's another interesting quote:

I think that any calling at this point for any resignations is just political pandering. There's no question about in my mind and I'm very disappointed that my opponent has joined into that.

Perhaps Randy should write a letter to the pandering editors of the conservative National Review, which has called for the resignation of Rep. John Shimkus, head of the Page Committee.  Or perhaps he has a bone to pick with the panderers at the conservative Washington Times, who said yesterday that Speaker Dennis Hastert should resign.

None of Kuhl's responses printed today are anything more than spin.  How about:  "I want my leadership to do better."  That's a simple one.  Can Kuhl agree to it?

Keeping Perspective

With all the hot air surrounding the Foley scandal, it's hard to discern facts from spin.   Earlier today, I said that it's "politically stupid and morally wrong" for Randy Kuhl to remain silent about this episode.  Those words may sound overblown, but let's re-examine the cornerstone of Tom Reynolds' and Dennis Hastert's  defense:  the notion that the first email correspondence they received was merely evidence of an "overly friendly" relationship. 

The initial email [pdf] from the page to an adult he trusted has been posted by most media sites.  What Hastert and Reynolds want us to forget is the page's reaction to Foley's emails:

Maybe it is just me being paranoid, but seriously.  This freaked me out.

I talked to another page that was here during the school year and the first part of the summer...(her name) said that there was a congressman who did hit on pages.

sick sick sick sick sick sick sick

In any institution where adults have responsibility for teenagers, something that made one of the kids this uneasy would start an investigation.  The teen who sent the email, along with the kid reporting the rumor of an adult who hit on teenagers, would be interviewed.  In other words, established procedures would be followed.

The House of Representatives, like your local High School, is an institution with established procedures where the well-being of teenagers is entrusted to adults.  High School leadership who ignored evidence like this letter, and circumvented procedure, would be fired. Similarly, voters can expect that leaders who ignored the procedures of the House should be punished.

Tom Reynolds is a party leader, just like Dennis Hastert, because Reynolds is in charge of the '06 election, perhaps the most important job in the Republican Congress.  He has no "supervisor". He's The Man when it comes to the election, and he begged Foley to run after seeing this email.

Randy Kuhl doesn't have a role in the scandal itself.  But I think Eric Massa is right to ask him where he stands.  I stick by my judgment that Kuhl's silence is "politically stupid and morally wrong".

Massa Challenges Kuhl on the Foley Issue

Eric Massa has written a letter [pdf] to Randy Kuhl asking him to call for the resignation of leaders complicit in a "cover-up" in the Foley matter.  He's also asked Kuhl to return contributions from Boehner, Hastert and Reynolds. 

A number of candidates have returned contributions from Foley, but Reynolds has specifically refused to return the $100,000 that the committee he chairs received from Foley, money received after Reynolds knew about the e-mail sent by Foley to a page.  Today, conservative columnist Robert Novak reports that Reynolds worked hard to convince Foley to run this Fall, again after he knew about the e-mails.  Finally, Reynold's chief-of-staff tried to cover up the IMs that ABC news found, and Reynolds has been giving conflicting explanations of his knowledge of his #1 aide's actions.

If there's a definition of "dirty money" that's any clearer than the $100K that Tom Reynolds got from Foley this year, I'd like to hear it. 

So, while Massa could be (and probably will be) accused of trying to capitalize on a scandal that doesn't directly involve Kuhl, the questions he raises are legitimate.  Who does Kuhl think should resign?  And what about that $100K?  Yes, it's been spent.  There's an easy answer to that:  each campaign that received money from Reynolds' committee can donate their pro-rata share of the $100K to charity.

Kuhl's silence on this issue is politically stupid and morally wrong. 

Kuhl's Hasty Vote Against a Basic Right

One of the many bills rushed through the House last week was the Military Commissions Act of 2006. This bill, which Randy Kuhl wholeheartedly supports, received a lot of attention from the media because of the showdown between John McCain and the White House over the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. Lost in the noise was the equally important suspension of habeas corpus contained in the bill.

Kuhl's spin on the bill is that it would let us "prosecute terrorists". The question that we need to ask him is: who's a terrorist?

The answer is that a terrorist, a.k.a. "enemy combatant", is a foreign national or US Citizen who the President deems dangerous to the country. Once a person is named an enemy combatant, they are offered a very limited set of options for appeal of that designation. Specifically, the right to challenge one's detention in open court (habeas corpus) is suspended.

Habeas corpus is a fundamental right enumerated in the Constitution:

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it. (Art 1, Sec 9)

Since the War on Terror is not a "Case of Rebellion or Invasion", a law that suspends habeas corpus is unconstitutional. Arlen Specter, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, believes that it is, as do a number of legal scholars.

Legislators only pass obviously unconstitutional bills for political reasons. In this case, Republicans were afraid of appearing "soft on terror" and instead chose to pass a bill that they knew would immediately end up in court.

I have no issue with letting the President designate enemy combatants and lock them up. It's a legitimate tool of war. But when one man has the right to single out a citizen of the US as a terrorist, and that citizen doesn't have the right to challenge his detention in court, we've weakened, not strengthened, our laws and our nation.

Weren't Republicans once the party that defended basic liberties against the big-government Democrats? I guess those days are gone, and John R "Randy" Kuhl is a little part of the reason why.

Foley and the 29th

The Foley scandal has all the trappings of a story that will occupy the media for days and perhaps weeks. Republicans are calling for the resignation of the leadership in Congress. Hours of video of Foley making hypocritical statements are circulating, and there are probably more IM transcripts to come.

Closer to home, it's clear that Tom Reynolds is in big trouble. What about Kuhl and Massa?

For Randy Kuhl, being a back-bencher is a huge blessing in this matter. If he has any political sense, he'll refrain from buying Hastert's silly distinction between knowledge of the "overly friendly" letters and the sexually explicit IMs. That brand of b.s. won't play the Northern 29th, where every suburban parent's spider sense is exquisitely tuned to the signs of the potential molester. Kuhl should demand investigations and accountability, and that's it.

If he plays it smart, the only damage that I see to the Kuhl campaign is a further lessening of enthusiasm in his base.

Though one might think that Massa would benefit from the fallout of the scandal, given his campaign's current status, I think Foleygate is a wash at best. All of the Rochester media market's limited bandwith will be occupied by Reynolds-centric Foley coverage. Perhaps the Corning/Elmira markets will spend more time on the race in the 29th, but I doubt that Rochester will see any in-depth Massa/Kuhl pieces in the near future. In addition, Rochester will be bombarded with ever-more strident Davis or Reynolds ads, which will just increase political fatigue as well as voter confusion.

Massa's own poll shows his name recognition at 39%. Anything that keeps his campaign off the airwaves or out of the paper is not positive for him at this point in the campaign. He may reap some incidental benefit from this scandal, but it's hard to see any concrete, direct benefit for him.

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