So a presidential campaign that has revolved around Vietnam medals and a missed Guard physical and "shove it" is now about . . . windsurfing?

IS THIS WHAT OUR DEMOCRACY HAS COME TO??

Actually, the new Bush ad that shows Kerry windsurfing back and forth like some Martha's Vineyard trust-fund kid is pretty funny -- and the kind of mocking image people will remember. (Why couldn't Kerry's pollsters have gotten him to play, say, basketball?) But the ad is no joke to Kerry's advisers, who waited a good three or four minutes before firing back with a counterattack ad that seems to suggest that if Bush had been a better president, we wouldn't have 1,000 dead in Iraq and two Americans beheaded this week.

A rough campaign is suddenly getting rougher. After Cheney suggested that a vote for Kerry is a vote for more terrorist attacks, the windsurfing senator has now essentially accused Bush of lying about Iraq, lying about Medicare and endeavoring to destroy Social Security -- not to mention implying that the veep is rewarding his ex-Halliburton pals.

If it seems like each side is throwing the kitchen sink at the other, I have a pretty good idea why. We're one week away from the first of three debates, which will freeze the campaign for a good two weeks. The issue "frame," to use this season's operative cliche, is rather important going into the Coral Gables Confrontation next Thursday. So everyone is trying to get his licks in before the whistle blows.

Here's my report | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A43098-2004Sep22.html on the latest ad wars, and a Washington Post piece | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A43093-2004Sep22.html on how there's another flip-flopper in the race besides Kerry.

JFK is channeling FDR on the stump:

"Sen. John F. Kerry Wednesday challenged President Bush's proposal to offer private Social Security accounts, saying his plan would hurt seniors and women. Surrounded by hundreds of enthusiastic supporters during a town hall meeting in West Palm Beach, the Massachusetts senator accused Bush of siding with his donors' interests over the needs of the elderly," says the Los Angeles Times. | http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-092204kerry_lat,1,3896621.story?coll=la-home-headlines " 'In the president's plan for Social Security, what he does is privatize a portion of it, breaking the generational compact that has existed since Franklin Roosevelt,' Kerry said, 'and he blows a $940-billion hole that turns out to be special fees that will go directly to the financial services industry at your risk and your expense.' "Kerry was referring to a new study by a University of Chicago professor that found financial institutions would benefit from Bush's plan over seniors."

What a nice coincidence.

The Philadelphia Inquirer | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/9734736.htm, following a similar piece in the NYT, sheds some light on why Kerry is talking about issues like Social Security:

"Sen. John Kerry has a problem with women. He's not winning over enough of them to offset his bigger problem with men.

"Voter surveys in 13 states expected to be close on Election Day found that among women, Kerry was lagging well behind fellow Democrat Al Gore, who exit polls showed won 54 percent of the women's vote in 2000.

"President Bush, on the other hand, is drawing support from a majority of men in most of the 13 states, more in line with the 53 percent he drew in 2000. . . .

"The main reason for the drop-off in support for Kerry: Women, particularly married women with children, saw Bush as a stronger protector against terrorism."

And on the polling front, is the race tightening or not? After a spate of polls giving the president leads of as much as 13 points, we have surveys like this one in the Wall Street Journal: "A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken over the weekend showed Mr. Kerry nearly even with President Bush -- the president leads by 48% to 45%. A spate of surveys taken earlier in the month showed the incumbent with a commanding and widening lead. It isn't clear whether that difference reflects a trend in the campaign or simply differing methodologies."

I guess that settles that.

Karl Rove Speaks! At least to the Washington Times: | http://washingtontimes.com/national/20040923-122118-6902r.htm "President Bush expects to help Republicans gain up to four Senate seats and seven House seats in November and already is running Sen. John Kerry out of states that had been considered battlegrounds, White House political strategist Karl Rove said yesterday. . . .

"The man credited with engineering Mr. Bush's victorious 2000 campaign bragged of chasing Mr. Kerry out of a half-dozen states that were considered battlegrounds earlier in this year's contest. He said the list soon would grow to include Ohio, which is widely considered the most crucial state in the election. 'I'm convinced that we are on the verge of seeing West Virginia and Ohio sort of move out of contention,' a relaxed and confident Mr. Rove said between bites of his Caesar salad.

"He recalled Democrats announcing 'with a great flourish' their plans to expand the battle to states such as Louisiana, only to pull out after millions in advertising expenditures failed to produce gains in the polls. 'A lot of states that were expected to be in close contention are floating out of contention: North Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri; maybe Colorado, Arizona,' he said. 'I mean, some of them are gone; North Carolina is gone,' he said of the home state of Mr. Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards. 'Arkansas is gone. If it's not gone, it will be gone on November 2nd.' "

The man doesn't lack confidence.

Oh, and there was this pre-debate spin on Kerry:

" 'He will be the best debater the president's ever faced,' Mr. Rove said. 'We underestimate Kerry at our peril. He's very good at this; he thinks about it; he's an aggressor; he goes in there flailing.' "

Slate's Fred Kaplan | http://slate.msn.com/id/2107027/ turns thumbs down on the U.N. speech:

"George W. Bush doesn't like speaking at the United Nations. You can see it in his eyes -- the flicker of perplexity, bordering on distress, when he recites a line that draws surefire cheers on the campaign trail but only blank, distant stares from the assembly of world leaders.

"Tuesday morning's speech wasn't as dreadful as the one he gave last year, but it suffered from the same basic inadequacy: He catalogs some of the world's problems, then suggests nothing -- not the vaguest plan of action -- for how to deal with any of them.

"An address before the U.N. General Assembly is, by nature and expectation, a gush of bromides. But given that President Bush has recently begun to realize that he needs help with Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terrorism, you would think he'd muster something more energizing than this:

" 'Because I believe the advance of liberty is the path to both a safer and better world, today I propose establishing a Democracy Fund within the United Nations. . . . ' "The first insult here is that the United Nations already has agencies for much of this work. The second is that Bush doesn't even put a dollar figure on his 'initial contribution.' It's as if he were proposing that his most ambitious project -- the global propagation of democracy -- be funded through the March of Dimes."

Noam Scheiber | http://www.tnr.com/etc.mhtml says in the New Republic that Kerry is working the media referees:

"One of the intended audiences for John Kerry's Iraq speech Monday was obviously the voting public. Kerry's advisers reason, rightly in my mind, that the election is going to hinge on Iraq, and that there's no way Kerry's going to win if he's not making his case to voters.

"But the other, perhaps more immediate, target for Kerry's speech was the media. Thanks to the conventions of establishment journalism, Bush can get away with painting a ridiculously rosy picture of progress in Iraq as long as Kerry isn't engaging on the subject. But once Kerry begins raising questions, it gives journalists cover to inject skepticism into their coverage, albeit in the form of competing claims from Kerry. (I'm talking here just about presidential campaign stories. Reporting on the situation in Iraq has been much more pessimistic. But, of course, people don't pay attention to those stories.) "This is clearly beginning to pay dividends for Kerry. Among the top media outlets, The Washington Post (and Dana Milbank in particular) has usually been pretty good about fact-checking Bush's statements. Yesterday's piece about Bush's U.N. speech, by Milbank and Colum Lynch, is no different. But the Times' David Sanger has an entire piece about Kerry's dissent from Bush's rosy assessment of Iraq -- and it's pegged to Bush's speech, not Kerry's. This is obviously not something we would have seen had Kerry not stepped up his criticism of Bush (even if the criticisms were just as true long before Kerry voiced them)."

Here's my latest dispatch | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41486-2004Sep22.html on Memogate, complete with the appearance of an ex-attorney general. There's also lots of buzz about this column by Bill Safire, | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/22/opinion/22safi.html who seems to want the current attorney general to get involved:

"At the root of what is today treated as an embarrassing blunder by duped CBS journalists may turn out to be a felony by its faithless sources.

"Some person or persons conceived a scheme to create a series of false Texas Air National Guard documents and append a photocopied signature to one of them. The perpetrator then helped cause the fraudulent file to be transmitted by means of television communication to millions of voters for the purpose of influencing a federal election.

"That was no mere 'dirty trick'; it could be a violation of the U.S. criminal code. If the artifice had not been revealed by sharp-eyed bloggers, a national election could have been swung by a blatant falsehood. . . .

"What benefit did the Bush-hating Burkett gain from CBS in return for his fake documents? One plausible answer: he got coveted access to someone high up in the Kerry campaign. . . .

"Conservatives should stop slavering over Dan Rather's scalp, and liberals should stop pretending that noble ends justify fake-evidence means. Both should focus on the lesson of the early 70's: from third-rate burglaries to fourth-rate forgeries, nobody gets away with trying to corrupt American elections."

Paging Ken Starr!

In the You Can't Make This Stuff Up department, Newsweek's | http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6073449/site/newsweek/ Isikoff and Hosenball have a fascinating footnote to the CBS mess:

"In its rush to air its now discredited story about President George W. Bush's National Guard service, CBS bumped another sensitive piece slated for the same '60 Minutes' broadcast: a half-hour segment about how the U.S. government was snookered by forged documents purporting to show Iraqi efforts to purchase uranium from Niger.

"The journalistic juggling at CBS provides an ironic counterpoint to the furor over apparently bogus documents involving Bush's National Guard service. One unexpected consequence of the network's decision was to wipe out a chance -- at least for the moment -- for greater public scrutiny of a more consequential forgery that played a role in building the Bush administration's case to invade Iraq."

Allan Lichtman | http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=8593 makes some radical suggestions in American Prospect:

"The peanut politics of this campaign does not benefit Kerry, a challenger facing off against an incumbent president. Kerry's best hope lies in following the path of most resistance: discarding the conventional wisdom, substituting substance for spin control, and grabbing the attention of voters in new and innovative ways. A mistake-free, 'safety first' campaign may somehow back Kerry into the White House, but keep your purses zipped.

"If nothing changes dramatically, Bush wins another term. To seize the initiative this year, Kerry needs to be more than an energized version of Michael Dukakis, who infamously said, on his way to becoming a footnote to history, that the 1988 campaign against George Bush Senior was 'about competence, not ideology.' If you yearn to be a manager, apply at McDonald's.

"Like a marathoner at the gates of the stadium, Kerry is running out of real estate. He needs to act quickly and resolutely to transform the campaign into a clash of ideas. . . .

"Kerry should fire the hucksters. That's right, can the pollsters, the admen and women, and the consultants, tear up their scripts, and advance our national debate by speaking forthrightly and concretely about what Americans should be accomplishing during the next four years. The consultants killed Al Gore in 2000, when the poor guy seemed to slip on a new personality with every turn of the polls or twitch of the focus groups. About a year after the election, Gore admitted that listening to the hucksters was the biggest mistake he made in 2000."

So why exactly did a 1970s pop star get booted from the US of A?

"The peace-and-love rocker formerly known as Cat Stevens was kicked out of the U.S. last night as a terror risk - four months after he was invited to meet with White House officials," says the New York Daily News | http://nydailynews.com/front/story/234913p-201707c.html.

"The author of 'Peace Train' and 'Wild World' who converted to Islam was placed on the 'no-fly' list and the terror watch list in May when he last visited the U.S.

"Ironically during that trip, he met with officials of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives 'to talk about philanthropic work,' according to White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan. Buchan said that was before he was added to the no-fly list.

"The singer's Web site said that during his Washington trip he also met with USAID officials and launched the Small Kindness charity, which it says helped children in the Balkans and Iraq. The site also said Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, visited his record company in the U.S. just two months ago.

"A spokesman for the U.S. Homeland Security Department said Islam was sent back to London because of his 'activities potentially related to terrorism.'...

" 'There is confirmed financial support [by the former singer] to organizations believed to be - I stress believed to be - funneling money to terror groups,' said an intelligence official familiar with Islam's file. 'Based on what I've seen, I'm absolutely convinced we did the right thing,' the official said."

So if Cat is so dangerous, why was he allowed on the plane out of London in the first place? Airline and terrorism officials are blaming each other.

Finally, the sharp-eyed Wonkette | http://www.wonkette.com/archives/the-ostewart-factor-021688.php spots the unlikely spectacle of Jon Stewart on O'Reilly:

O'REILLY: You actually have an influence on this presidential election. That is scary.

STEWART: If that were so, that would be quite frightening.

O'REILLY: But it is. It's true. I mean, you've got stoned slackers watching your dopey show every night, OK, and they can vote.

STEWART: Yeah.

O'REILLY: You can't stop them.

STEWART: Yeah, I just don't know how motivated they would be, these stoned slackers.

O'REILLY: Yeah, it just depends if they have to go out that day.

STEWART: What am I, a Cheech and Chong movie? Stoned slackers?

O'REILLY: Come on, you do the research, you know the research on your program.

STEWART: No, we don't.

O'REILLY: Eighty-seven percent are intoxicated when they watch it. You didn't see that?

STEWART: No, I didn't realize that.

O'REILLY: Yeah, we have that there.

STEWART: We come on right after, I believe, puppets that make crank calls. . . .

O'REILLY: Yeah.

STEWART: So we are, I think, the appropriate follow up...

O'REILLY: Yeah, and that's a great lead-in for you.

STEWART: It's a wonderful show, by the way.

O'REILLY: Puppets can't vote, but these dopey kids who watch you can.

Wonder what percentage are spaced out when they watch O'Reilly?