The week (September 15th): Nobody asked me, but…

With my customary nod to Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN Senior Analyst (and onetime speechwriter for Robert F. Kennedy and John V. Lindsey), is asking the right questions about the upcoming 2006 election, one of which (the key in my view) is: “Will Democrats catchup on turnout?” The key to the 2004 election, Greenfield notes, became the GOP’s get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts masterminded by Karl Rove.

Greenfield writes:

This year, the Democrats appear late off the mark in tapping the wealthy supporters who underwrote the formally independent vote-getting operations. Will they show up again this year, or will Republicans have a significant money advantage? And even if they don’t, how well have Democrats and their allies built their turnout machine?

What Greenfield doesn’t mention is the qualitative difference between Republican and Democratic GOTV in 2004. Rove had the Republicans focused on using the social networks of Christian churches in Florida and Ohio—where a fellow church member would offer to accompany the prospective voter to the polls. Democrats relied more on traditional turnout methods, including labor unions, phone banks and volunteers (often out-of-state college students). As Matt Bai pointed out in a brilliant piece of reporting from Ohio in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, the GOP tactics proved superior.

BOB DYLAN doesn’t deserve the soft treatment he’s getting over “borrowing” phrases from Civil War-era poet Henry Timrod for the lyrics on his critically acclaimed album “Modern Times.” His defenders claim that it isn’t somehow quite plagiarism because appropriating is part of the “folk process.” Sorry, but couldn’t Dylan mention his use of Timrod’s words in his liner notes? There shouldn’t be double standards on plagiarism for the famous (Dylan, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stephen Ambrose, etc.) and the relatively unknown (would-be “chick-lit” novelist Kaavya Viswanathan). Yes, T.S. Eliot made the argument that “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal” but doesn’t the truly secure artist acknowledge (whether slyly or openly) his or her literary or musical inspiration?

SENATOR GEORGE ALLEN of Virginia, stung by questions about his racial sensitivities, held what his campaign called an “Ethnic Community Campaign Rally.” A bit awkward…to say the least.(Stephen Colbert pounced on this contrived event with glee, his eviseration of Allen can be found here). Allen’s frantic damage control over his “macaca comment” is an attempt to stop his slide in the polls as Democrat James Webb closes on him (within three percentage points of the incumbent, according to the latest SurveyUSA poll).

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post opines in his blog that Allen’s Senate seat can now be considered “in play.”

WHEN HISTORIANS TURN TO THE IRAQ CONFLICT, I do not think they will be kind in their assessment of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s stewardship of the U.S. military. Rumsfeld’s decision to proceed with dramatically lower troop levels than recommended by senior military commanders for the occupation of Iraq, and to demand multiple tours by active duty troops has had significant negative consquences—a destabilized Iraq and a U.S. Army under great strain.

Neoconservatives William Kristol and Rich Lowry belatedly called for more troops to be sent to Baghdad this week in a Washington Post op-ed piece:

The bottom line is this: More U.S. troops in Iraq would improve our chances of winning a decisive battle at a decisive moment. This means the ability to succeed in Iraq is, to some significant degree, within our control. The president should therefore order a substantial surge in overall troop levels in Iraq, with the additional forces focused on securing Baghdad.

The question, however, may not be whether President Bush should agree to more troops, but whether he can.

Daniel Benjamin and Michèle A. Flournoy, both from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argue in Slate that “We can’t send more troops to Iraq.” Their assessment is grim:

That is the unmistakable message of an Army briefing making the rounds in Washington. According to in-house assessments, fully two-thirds of the Army’s operating force, both active and reserve, is now reporting in as “unready”—that is, they lack the equipment, people, or training they need to execute their assigned missions. Not a single one of the Army’s Brigade Combat Teams—its core fighting units—currently in the United States is ready to deploy. In short, the Army has no strategic reserve to speak of. The other key U.S. fighting force in Iraq, the Marine Corps, is also hurting, with much of its equipment badly in need of repair or replacement.

If Benjamin and Flournoy are correct—and the available evidence supports their contention— then Rumsfeld’s decision to fight the Iraq war on the cheap has to be regarded as a colossal miscalculation.

FIVE YEARS AFTER 9/11, more filmmakers, novelists and poets are beginning to address the sudden terrorist attack against America. British poet Simon Armitage has written “Out of the Blue,” an arresting poem about 9/11 which traces the experiences of “a fictional British trader trapped in one of the twin towers as the planes strike.” Armitage told The Times of London, “I wanted to do something which was both commemorative and elegiac, but not political.”

The poem’s opening lines are striking in their evocative simplicity:

All lost.
All lost in the dust.
Lost in the fall and the crush and the dark.
Now all coming back.

I found the poem both moving and disturbing; along with Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” Armitage’s verses rise to the artistic challenge without trivializing or sentimentalizing. (You can download “Out of the Blue” here.)

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Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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