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Right Turn
Posted at 11:11 AM ET, 07/11/2012

Morning Bits: Did the Swift Boat ads really sink Kerry?

Across the way from Right Turn, at the PostPartisan blog, readers will find the clever musings of Jonathan Bernstein, whose post on the “myth of the swift boat” challenges the widespread assumption that the 2004 presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry was derailed by a series of scurrilous third-party advertisements by a group calling itself the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. There isn’t much point in relitigating the factual content of the notorious campaign — all one needs to point out is that the Swift Boat book, “Unfit for Command,” was co-authored by professional crank Jerome Corsi, who’s most recent volume is called “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” — but Bernstein points out that the assumption that Kerry’s chances were torpedoed by the Swift Boat group had hardened into fact.

History shows that lots of people believed that the Swift Boat attacks were effective. And yet: George W. Bush was an incumbent president with a healthy economy. Iraq wasn’t a plus, even in 2004, but I’d guess that every single one of the Priorities team that [New York Times Magazine writer Robert] Draper spoke with would say that national security was a net plus for Bush in that cycle, simply because he had been president on September 11, 2001, and had been perceived as handling the situation extremely well.

In fact, we can turn to the election-prediction models created by political scientists and others that were published before that election but don’t take the Swift Boat campaign into account. They predicted a solid Bush victory — usually by a larger, not a smaller, margin than he actually won by.

Read the whole thing.

A few additional points: It has never been clear to me that the ads were as effective in convincing independent voters as widely assumed. A Time magazine poll found that “most voters who saw the ads say they had no impact (72%) on their vote intentions.” And this number doubtless increased as media organizations aggressively fact-checked the ads’ content, and Sen. John McCain, a marquee conservative with unimpeachable military credentials and a survivor of a brutal Vietnamese prison camp, loudly and angrily denounced the Swift Boat campaign as “dishonest and dishonorable.”

Though he was less specific, President Bush also weighed in on the controversy, and when asked if his broad condemnation of third-party ads was targeting the Swift Boat ads specifically, he responded: “That ad and every other ad. I'm denouncing all the stuff." So to Bernstein’s point, it appears that the number of people whose opinion of Kerry was changed by the Swift Boat Veterans seems small, and certainly not large enough to have a significant effect on the outcome of the election.

Most people understand that sometimes candidates lose because people disagree with the message put forth by the candidate or are simply are turned off candidate himself. But what adviser, politician or party hack is going to admit that? Therefore, it is important to construct a counternarrative of electoral failure to vindicate the vision of party, politician and advisers, while shifting the blame to shadowy and dishonest opponents. Jimmy Carter didn’t lose because of an “October Surprise,” Mike Dukakis didn’t lose because of Willie Horton; George H.W. Bush didn’t lose because of Lawrence Walsh. All of these factors contributed, for sure, but all of these men were also, like John Kerry, very weak candidates.

Last night on Fox News, Sarah Palin argued that Mitt Romney’s poll numbers were weak because of “media manipulation” of the truth, something that no candidate, however compelling their message, has control over.

It could be the biased media, the pernicious influence of money or the negative impact of truth-challenged advertisements, but whatever it is, it’s certainly not the message or messenger.

The New York Times reports that Russian warships are steaming toward Syria: “Russia said on Tuesday that it had dispatched a flotilla of 11 warships to the eastern Mediterranean, some of which would dock in Syria. It would be the largest display of Russian military power in the region since the Syrian conflict began almost 17 months ago. Nearly half of the ships were capable of carrying hundreds of marines.”

How do you turn the entire Washington, D.C., press corps into spittle-flecked libertarians? Attempt to needlessly regulate a service that they all use and love! Anyone who has lived in this town knows how grim and expensive D.C. taxis can be. And those who have arrived at Union Station from New York after the subways have shut down and been forced to share a cab with six other bleary-eyed strangers will know what I mean. Over at Slate, Dave Weigel explains the story of Uber, an innovative taxi service that dared compete with the local taxi cartel:

The city’s Taxicab Commission despises Uber, makes a strong case that it’s illegal, and has conducted several stings against it. So the San Francisco-based company had been negotiating with D.C. councilwoman Mary Cheh — who represents the most wealthy, least black ward in the city — to settle the legal questions in a comprehensive taxi reform bill. Cheh’s bill would drag taxis into the latter part of the 20st century, with mandatory credit-card swipers, GPS tracking, and uniform lights. (In D.C., it’s not unheard of to try and flag down a cab with its light on and then notice that there’s already a passenger inside.)
As far as Cheh could tell, she had solved Uber’s problems. Her amendment legalized the service, and mandated that “minimum fare for sedan-class vehicles shall be five times the drop rate for taxicabs.” The luxury service was safe — right up until 3 p.m. yesterday, when the Uber website alerted users to the D.C. council’s plan, informing them that a five-times-the-cab-price rule would effectively stop the rollout of a new, low-cost UberX service.

This video is making the rounds amongst libertarian types. Paul Krugman, in Spain promoting his book “End This Depression Now,” mixes it up with Spanish economist Pedro Schwartz. The fireworks start about 30 minutes in.

I watched most of the video last night. During the question-and -answer period, Krugman is asked about his now-famous 2002 quote in which he appears to recommend the creation of a housing bubble. In response, Krugman scoffs at the silliness of the question and says that he was clearly joking. Was he? Economist David Henderson laid out the evidence here, and provoked a pretty informative back-and-forth in the comments section.

Bonus link. Howard Jacobson, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel “The Finkler Question,” ruminates on London Mayor Boris Johnson, fulsomely praised in this space just a few days ago. Jacobson wonders if Johnson is on track to becoming Britain’s next prime minister. One can only hope.

By Michael Moynihan  |  11:11 AM ET, 07/11/2012

 
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