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Tilting at Windmills

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August 30, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT....After reading a Washington Post article about Democrats who are afraid to stand up to President Bush on terror legislation, Hilzoy says:

Oh, come on. As I said above, the Republican party is not very popular these days. Moreover, it's not as though it's hard to craft a really inspiring message on these issues. We're not talking about some arcane feature of patent law that it's genuinely difficult to get people to care about; we're talking about the freedoms we all claim to cherish. Honestly, if Democrats can't figure out how to make a winning issue of keeping the government from being able to throw you in jail without having to explain themselves to anyone, or at least to prevent it from outweighing what looks to be their pretty serious electoral advantage in 2008, they must be brain dead. And if they can't be bothered to support our Constitution if there's any possibility that it might cost them politically, then their love of their country must be dead as well.

Look, I agree completely with Hilzoy on substantive grounds. But that doesn't mean we should minimize the political side of this. The fact is that it is hard to craft an inspiring message on these issues. The vast, vast majority of Americans don't feel affected in any way by Guantanamo or NSA eavesdropping or enemy combatant laws. And when people don't feel personally affected, it's hard to get them to care, especially when your opponents are screaming about how it's going to be your fault if terrorists attack this summer and kill thousands of people because you neutered the NSA's ability to listen in on Osama's cell phone conversations.

By way of analogy, the census bureau announced yesterday that 47 million Americans don't have health insurance. A lot more either have lousy insurance, are afraid of losing their insurance coverage, or are swamped with medical bills even though they're supposedly fully covered. That's a lot of Americans who are very personally affected by the malfunctioning of our healthcare system. And yet, Clintoncare failed in 1994 anyway and we're no closer to healthcare reform today than we ever have been. It's just too easy to create oppositional political campaigns that scare the hell out of people.

I'm not really arguing with Hilzoy here. Democrats do need to get a spine. I'm just saying that the right political message for our side really is fundamentally more difficult than it is for the fear merchants, especially when the fear merchants have a kernel of truth on their side. After all, there really are terrorist groups out there who'd happily kill us in vast quantities if they could just muster up the means to do it.

On the NSA wiretapping bill, Democrats got outplayed. They negotiated badly, they got suckered by Mike McConnell, they were splintered, they didn't have the right message, and they panicked. They need to raise their game on all these fronts, and none of them are slam dunks. This is tough stuff.

Kevin Drum 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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Comments

Good God, I completely disagree with everything you wrote here. It's hard to craft an inspiring message DEFENDING the constitution? For christ sakes if you are what passes as a left leaning pundit now a days "we"(the left) are in far more trouble than I even imagined.

Posted by: bobbyk on August 30, 2007 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: The vast, vast majority of Americans aren't affected in any way by Guantanamo or NSA eavesdropping or enemy combatant laws.

The vast, vast majority of Americans don't want some government thug listening in on their phonecalls with their friends and family. All the Rats would have to do is make fun of the Pukes for not having enough guts to stand up for their rights. Conservatives are a bunch of cowards who are scared silly by the threat of terrorism (that's the purpose of terrorism) and they'll quickly give up their rights to anyone who they think will protect them. They aren't fit to call themselves Americans.

What's happening here is the Rats are favored to make big gains in 2008 so they feel their best bet is not to make waves. They're not playing to win, they're playing not to lose.

That's what Gore did in 2000 and it's why he lost. (Yes, he lost. When you don't win decisively against the Bush clowns it's a loss.)

Posted by: Riesz Fischer on August 30, 2007 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

It's easier to appeal to the people's instincts to incarcerate and or kill the enemies, real and imagined. That they can lose their own rights and freedoms in the process is a much more nuanced and harder case to make. If it was not so, we would never have heard of Hitler or Franco or Stalin or Pinochet.

Posted by: gregor on August 30, 2007 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

> The vast, vast majority of Americans aren't
> affected in any way by Guantanamo or NSA
> eavesdropping or enemy combatant laws.

It appears to me that the odds around around 100:1 that Karl Rove was using some of the results from this data mining system to support his "Republican Majority" campaign - so how you can conclude that ordinary Americans are not affected is a bit beyond me.

And John Bolton didn't make much effort to conceal the fact that he WAS using classified NSA and CIA material against his political opponents inside the Administration. They weren't exactly innocent victims so I shed few tears, but if he was doing it I see no reason to think it wasn't (and isn't) being done by others on the Bush team against other opponents.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on August 30, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Our positions certainly take longer to explain, anyway.

Us: constitution, 4th amendment, privacy, governmental overreach, 6th amendment, innocent until proven guilty, etc., etc., etc.

Them: scary terrorists!

Posted by: EmmaAnne on August 30, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

>>The fact is that it is hard to craft an inspiring message on these issues. The vast, vast majority of Americans aren't affected in any way by Guantanamo or NSA eavesdropping or enemy combatant laws.

Sorry, this is the dumbest thing I have ever read on this blog. Americans aren't affected in any way by unchecked government surveillance powers on Americans? Americans aren't affectd in any way by a government with the power to label any American citizen an enemy combatant, throw them in jail with no charge, torture them for years, and then "lose" evidence when the case comes to trial?

It seems quite easy to make that case -- you know, like the cases we've made against the Soviet Union and other authoritarian regimes over the past 200 years.

Posted by: jim on August 30, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Gregor -- agreed. There are still lots of people out there that believe everything the administration tells them about terrorism. One of my best buddies on the local Democratic committee thinks we needed the FISA update because he worries about terrorism.

Posted by: pol on August 30, 2007 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

"The fact is that it is hard to craft an inspiring message on these issues. The vast, vast majority of Americans aren't affected in any way by Guantanamo or NSA eavesdropping or enemy combatant laws."

If the Democrats' problem is supposed to be that it is difficult to sell policies that don't affect the majority of Americans, then please explain why the Republicans were so successful at selling repeal of the estate tax (and supply-side economics in general)?

The Democrats' real problem is cowardice and unwillingness to stand up for what is right.

A forthright policy of standing up for what is right, rather than constantly triangulating and giving away the store out of fear, would change voters' views of Democratic character and toughness in a positive and lasting way that would pay many dividends in many policy areas.

Posted by: Junius Brutus on August 30, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

What's disappointing about the way the Democrats caved is the position of the Democrats who actually voted with the President. They're essentially saying that they will vote for anything that President Bush labels as "anti-terrorist."

How can they expect to win if they announce in advance that they will let the President frame the issues for them when it comes to defense, foreign policy, and terrorism? Democrats will not win the presidency by promising that they will be nice to kids.

Posted by: Alan Vanneman on August 30, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

The difficulty of making their case does not absolve the Democrats of their spinelessness in not even trying.

Posted by: gregor on August 30, 2007 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

The fact is that it is hard to craft an inspiring message on these issues. The vast, vast majority of Americans aren't affected in any way by Guantanamo or NSA eavesdropping or enemy combatant laws.

If that's true about the vast majority of Americans it's because they -- and you -- have accepted the Bush Administration's characterization of those programs. That means the ACLU-types have done a poor job getting the message out.

Posted by: Model 62 on August 30, 2007 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Hogwash.

Democrats don't need to craft intricate "messages" to communicate policy to the American people. They just need to stand up for themselves.

Don't rationalize why Bush's gutting of FISA will be bad for civil liberties and your children. Just block the fucking bill and demonize the Administration and those who support it. "We can't trust these assholes. You've seen what happens when we give them a little power to fight terrorism: they fuck it up and abuse the power--none of us are safer by it." Edit for language and there's a message that'll sell if only there were some confidence in the words. So, again we come back to the problem of Democrats being pussies.

Posted by: bubba on August 30, 2007 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

> On the NSA wiretapping bill, Democrats got
> outplayed. They negotiated badly, they got
> suckered by Mike McConnell, they were splintered,
> they didn't have the right message, and they
> panicked. They need to raise their game on all
> these fronts,

Help me understand why they didn't know this was coming after (1) the 2000 election (2) the Kerry swiftboating (3) the Roberts confirmation.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on August 30, 2007 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

If Bush and Cheney were facing impeachment right now, as they should be, crafting a response to ignorant fear-mongering wouldn't be an issue. However, since Nancy P. uunilaterally "took that off the table", these scumsuckers are going to pull another Reichstag incident.

Expect a major terrorist event in the U.S. and/or a massive joint U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran this fall. The terrorist event could well be a "false flag" ruse engineered by Cheney and his team. Then, Bush and the GOP will use the resulting fear among Americans to retain the White House and win back Congress in 2008. Gutless, simpering liberals like Pelosi and Kevin are why the Democrats won't retain political power long in a post 9-11 America.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on August 30, 2007 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Has anyone stopped to think that the Democrats voting with Bush on the wiretapping bill were standing up for what they believe in?

Posted by: dr sardonicus on August 30, 2007 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

That's another problem... that Democrats have legitimated fear-mongering by their attitude of needing to get the "right political message". When confronted by a demagogue you laugh him off the stage or, when that's truly to impolite, yell louder and point out what a flaming, untrustworthy idiot asshole he is.

Posted by: bubba on August 30, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats should beat Bush on every issue simply because they can. Don't worry about the optics. Bush is a disaster, he must be stopped. Stop him.

Posted by: rk on August 30, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Look, folks, I'm not disagreeing that Dems need to get a spine. But if you think the message for our side is easy to craft, then give it a try yourself.

When you're done, go give it a road test. Not at your local ACLU get-together, but out at a mall in partnership with some conservative attack dog giving his side of the story. See how many people your message converts.

Beware the echo chamber. Everyone (well, almost everyone....) on this comment thread already agrees that the NSA program, for example, is a bad idea. The rest of the country is a harder sell, but they're the ones we have to reach. Crafting a better message than the opposition on this subject is really hard work, but that's what it takes to win elections.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on August 30, 2007 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin has a point here. Polling has consistently shown since at least the '70's that a majority of Americans wouldn't support the adoption of the Bill of Rights if it wasn't already part of the Constitution. 9/11 didn't cause that, but it sure hasn't helped.

Way too many Americans believe that "if you didn't do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear" from these "programs". It's the same impulse to believe the government won't do anything egregiously bad (as opposed to incompetent, which is any easy sell) that gets the Dems played time and again because they can't bring themselves to anticipate how dirty these people operate.

It's America 2.0 - replace the old "Don't Tread on Me" flag with a lapdog and the slogan above and you've got it covered.

Posted by: just sayin' on August 30, 2007 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

[Trolling Deleted]

Posted by: mhr on August 30, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

The vast, vast majority of Americans aren't affected in any way by ... NSA eavesdropping....

What evidence do you have of this?

Posted by: HeavyJ on August 30, 2007 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

As a liberal who feels that the Protect America Act (or whatever name it was called) was an abomination, I have to say that I agree with Kevin completely when he says that the vast majority of Americans aren't affected by the NSA wiretapping and whatnot. If Americans really were outraged about this law, presumably there would be some tangible evidence of this--they would be marching in the streets, for example. The only outrage seems to be confined to the echo chamber of lefty blogs, where the outrage is repeated ad infinitum until the Validity Effect makes it inconceivable that anyone could disagree. Believing that "the people" strongly believe something doesn't necessarily mean that they actually do believe it, and it reflects a very palpable solipsism. Now, I have a life and I interact with many people of different political persuasions, and few of them feel that their rights are being infringed upon by things like warrantless wiretapping. Regardless of whether or not they're right, that is how people feel, and upping the piousness of the conversation isn't going to make a damn bit of difference.

A far more effective strategy would be to incorporate the wiretapping into a narrative of how conservatives have tried to expand governmental powers in every direction, from the social conservatives' efforts to the war on terrorism, and this is because they are objectively opposed to freedom and can't be trusted to rule the country. That's an argument that, if made right, might just sway a few people.

Posted by: Lev on August 30, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin I agree with 99% of what you write but am puzzled about why the Dems are so afraid. The Bushies are at historic lows in the polls and even Republicans were skeptical about Gonzales - so would the hit really be that bad? Plus the Dems surely realize that they are going to be attacked on these issues anyway - so how much worse would a NO vote have made it? We agree that they need a spine but the bigger question why are they so afraid?

Posted by: Spine?? on August 30, 2007 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK
The vast, vast majority of Americans aren't affected in any way by Guantanamo or NSA eavesdropping or enemy combatant laws.

The vast, vast majority aren't directly affected by the estate tax. And yet the Republicans—without even the virtue of any facts on their side—have been quite able to craft politically effective narrative on that issue.

OTOH, all Americans are affected by the procedures by which the executive avoids judicial review and accountability, since every American loses the ability to monitor their government's performance on critical issues and be confident that the real enemies of the country are being pursued. Due process protects the innocent from being targets of government harassment, sure, but equally importantly it protects everyone from being the victim of a government that lies and plays the political game of pretending to act against real enemies while in fact neither identifying nor acting against real threats.

If you can't build as effective a message around real concerns like that as Republicans can around sheer fantasy, you don't deserve to be leading the Democratic Party.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 30, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

> When you're done, go give it a road test. Not at
> your local ACLU get-together, but out at a mall in
> partnership with some conservative attack dog
> giving his side of the story. See how many people
> your message converts.

Last time I checked this is what the Democratic leadership is given very prestigious, very cushy jobs and paid a lot of money in order to do. Why don't THEY try it? They aren't shy about asking me for money or footwork at election time; why don't they pay some of that back?

Similarly, since it hasn't actually been tried we don't know who is in the echo chamber and who is out. Hint: a safe seat in Congress is usually "in" an echo chamber.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on August 30, 2007 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

The vast, vast majority of Americans aren't affected in any way by ... NSA eavesdropping....

What evidence do you have of this?

That's the beauty of an authoritarian state. Vast majority of the people feel that they are not affected by the authoritarianism, and one has to agree that in the normal course of events they are not.

Of course I am not saying that we have an authoritarian state.

Posted by: gregor on August 30, 2007 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Hm. I agree with Kevin on this. I'm even surprised that most ppl here disagree.

As a quick check, I found a public opinion poll on unconstitutional surveillance (linked at end). It looks to me like ppl are split 50/50 on the question as to whether the president should ever be able to suspend constitutional rights of "ppl like you". I'm sure it goes down if you say "suspected Muslim terrorists".

This reminds me of the Metafilter post about "mortality salience"--I think ppl are really afraid of terrorism, and of course Bush & Co do their part to "fear up". The first step in changing public opinion on the issues is to reduce the fear.

http://www.abanet.org/media/docs/surveillancepoll06.pdf

Posted by: catxors on August 30, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

When you're done, go give it a road test. Not at your local ACLU get-together, but out at a mall in partnership with some conservative attack dog giving his side of the story. See how many people your message converts.

Beware the echo chamber. Everyone (well, almost everyone....) on this comment thread already agrees that the NSA program, for example, is a bad idea. The rest of the country is a harder sell, but they're the ones we have to reach. Crafting a better message than the opposition on this subject is really hard work, but that's what it takes to win elections.

That's what I do routinely. And I'd imagine there are a few differences between the grunts I talk with and the yuppies at those ACLU get togethers you mention. :) The point is that the mindset is wrong. In politics, you don't win converts through carefully thought out policy positions or message campaigns. You've gotta speak the vernacular. When you're up against the kinda shits we are that means you have to get a bit more crude than our majority party seemingly wishes to be. When your opponent makes the case that we are all in danger you can't quibble with that. All you can do is to actively sow the seeds of distrust and cultivate that.. your message has to be that these fear-mongers are raving lunatics who can't be trusted, who only say these things for their own selfish enrichment, etc, etc. That is the message that sells with the unwashed masses.

Posted by: bubba on August 30, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

catxors and Kevin,
The problem with quoting those polling statistics is that they are in large part _generated_ by the Radical Right's success in framing the issues. The Democratic leadership not only hasn't TRIED to set a different frame but for the most part it /speaks in the Radical Right's frames even when claiming to disagree/. "Death tax", "Terrorist Surveillance Program" - you get the drift?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on August 30, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

I agree that crafting a message that works with most people ain't easy.

But I also think that it would be difficult to find a more propitious moment in which to get traction for that message.

I think the message would have to be tied into a larger "frame" in which the Democrats would try to explicate what being an American has meant, and should in the future mean. That vision should hark back to our roots and indeed our entire history up to the Bush administration itself. It is a history of respect for due process, privacy, freedom, and rule of the law. It really is what many people already think of as defining the American system, even if they need some reminding.

The Bush WH should be cast as the deviant here, the radical departure from that honored tradition. The extraordinary unpopularity of the Bush WH can help drive this point home. It presents a window of opportunity that we may not again encounter for many, many years.

Posted by: frankly0 on August 30, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

The vast, vast majority of Americans aren't affected in any way by Guantanamo or NSA eavesdropping or enemy combatant laws.

Ignorance is bliss.

Posted by: scarshapedstar on August 30, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

I think what Kevin meant by "The vast, vast majority of Americans aren't affected in any way by Guantanamo or NSA eavesdropping or enemy combatant laws" is: "The vast majority of Americans are so self-absorbed, busy and/or underinformed that they don't know they're affected by those things."

And he's right about that.

dr. sardonicus: Has anyone stopped to think that the Democrats voting with Bush on the wiretapping bill were standing up for what they believe in?

Yes.

At some point incompetence, disorganization, disunity and cowardice cease to be compelling explanations for the mass screwing we're getting from the Democratic caucus...not just on FISA, but on all the things we liberals hold dear. And it's that thought, not good old-fashioned Republican perfidy, that keeps me up at night.

Posted by: shortstop on August 30, 2007 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK
As a quick check, I found a public opinion poll on unconstitutional surveillance (linked at end). It looks to me like ppl are split 50/50 on the question as to whether the president should ever be able to suspend constitutional rights of "ppl like you".

That doesn't indicate that Kevin is right that it is "fundamentally" harder to construct an effective narrative, it just means that such a narrative has not, in fact, been constructed and deployed.

"Failure" and "difficulty" aren't the same thing.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 30, 2007 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Courage, convictions, the Constitution? Those aren't the DLC way.

The further I get away from the day to day, the more I worry that the elected Democrats are just as culpable as the Republicans. Maybe they are just pretending to be duped. It isn't hard to imagine that the inside the beltway people from both parties figure that they gain as our rights are diminished.

If I am right both the Republicans and Democrats are crooks and we need to throw all the incumbent bums. If I am wrong the Republicans are still crooks and the Democrats are utterly incompetent. We still need to throw all the incumbent bums out.

Posted by: corpus juris on August 30, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry to say, maybe it's the American people who need to get a spine.

Posted by: Mike Gredell on August 30, 2007 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, part of the problem that actually does exist for those trying to get the message out is notionally "liberal" pundits validating memes contrary to the message that they need to get out, such as the idea that "[t]he vast, vast majority of Americans aren't affected in any way by Guantanamo or NSA eavesdropping or enemy combatant laws."

Posted by: cmdicely on August 30, 2007 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

> he more I worry that the elected Democrats are
> just as culpable as the Republicans. Maybe they
> are just pretending to be duped.

That was quite clear to me on the day Joe Lieberman received the standing ovation.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on August 30, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

>>The rest of the country is a harder sell,

You need to actually sell them something before they can buy it.

Posted by: jim on August 30, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

It's not hard to create a message that'll communicate that due process is worth defending. It's just that the craft of political advertising is filled with such incredible hacks that it's doing a disservice to the rest of us. Given the consequences (it's the Constitution, y'know?), and given the money thrown at political advertising, to have the terrible garbage that goes out on our airwaves is a crime. All it takes is wit of the kind that you can't find in places where political campaigns look, although in the person of Gavin at Sadly No! sometimes it comes to politics, thank god. Dems fear getting the message out because in their entire lives they've never seen it done with a shred of competence. Fire the timid message consultant and advertising hacks, already.

Posted by: djangone on August 30, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Several people have pointed out that few Americans are affected by the estate tax and it has become a popular issue for the GOP. This is true, but it took decades to make that happen.

Posted by: just sayin' on August 30, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats do need to get a spine. I'm just saying that the right political message for our side really is fundamentally more difficult than it is for the fear merchants ...

—Kevin Drum

Getting a spine is not the same thing as finding the "right message." And, if our so-called leaders continue to focus on the "right message," we will lose.

Voters are looking for authenticity and conviction, not the "right" message. That's why the first two things that Republicans focus their attacks on are a dem candidate's authenticity and conviction. They know that if they can undermine either or both, the "message" alone won't carry the day.

IMO, Kerry -- certainly a patriot, if not a war hero -- lost largely (if closely) because he was made to appear not authentic by the Swiftboaters and to lack conviction by his own equivocation: being for it before he was against it.

McCain lost his authenticity, if not his conviction, when he wrapped his arms around Bush, scurried to the right, and abandoned the hopes of independent voters who couldn't stand Bush.

Last time around, Dems led voters to believe they would end the war. They were given control of Congress because voters believed that their promises were authentic and that they had the conviction to risk everything to get it done. EVERYTHING.

Now that they have largely adopted the same rhetoric as Bush on the Iraq War, they have lost their authenticity and conviction. And once you've lost it, it is virtually impossible to get back.

Posted by: Econobuzz on August 30, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

> Of course, part of the problem that actually does
> exist for those trying to get the message out is
> notionally "liberal" pundits validating memes
> contrary to the message that they need to get out,

Based on Kevin's blegging I did subscribe to and read the print version of The Washington Monthly. As far as I can tell it is run by a bunch of smart DC insider types who really and honestly believe that if David Broder's fantasy version of the 1950s were to return that they would be in charge and running things. They wouldn't - they would be washing dishes 90 hours/week in the Republicans' country club. But they honestly don't see that and they think that their "reasonable centrist, don't rock the boat" viewpoint will eventually engulf the nation.

So the party line here is not surprising.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on August 30, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Welp, now I'm reminded why I visit this site less and less often. The poor Dems and their hard slog, figuring out all this "tough stuff". It reads like a fucking parody.

Based on Kevin's blegging I did subscribe to and read the print version of The Washington Monthly. As far as I can tell it is run by a bunch of smart DC insider types who really and honestly believe that if David Broder's fantasy version of the 1950s were to return that they would be in charge and running things. They wouldn't - they would be washing dishes 90 hours/week in the Republicans' country club. But they honestly don't see that and they think that their "reasonable centrist, don't rock the boat" viewpoint will eventually engulf the nation.

That's the subtext I pick up from the more prominent "liberal" blogs, too. I vaguely followed that Kos convention a little while ago, and the sense I got is the next generation of Shrums and Clintons, angling for their turn at the trough.

Posted by: sglover on August 30, 2007 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

NSA eavesdropping involves a tradeoff of some loss of civil liberies for some gain in security. Kevin wrote, "The vast, vast majority of Americans aren't affected in any way by Guantanamo or NSA eavesdropping or enemy combatant laws." More precisely, the vast majority of Americans aren't affected by the cost of NSA wiretapping, since we're not having telephone calls with terrorists (or suspected terrorists) abroad. But, all Americans share the benefit of additional protection against terrorist attacks. In fact, that benefit is shared by people worldwide, since the wiretapping can help prevent an attack anywhere in the world.

Guantanamo is a different issue. There's no reasonable alternative to Guantanamo and no civil liberties infractions involved there. The campaign to close Guantanamo is based on misunderstandings.

Anyhow, the bottom line is that I agree with Kevin. It would be difficult for the Dems to make Guananamo and NSA spying into winning issues for themselves. ON the contrary, these are winning issues for the Reps.

Posted by: ex-liberal on August 30, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Beware the echo chamber. Everyone (well, almost everyone....) on this comment thread already agrees that the NSA program, for example, is a bad idea. The rest of the country is a harder sell, but they're the ones we have to reach. Crafting a better message than the opposition on this subject is really hard work, but that's what it takes to win elections.

Oh what total self-serving BULLSHIT this is! A blog warrior warning others about "the echo chamber"?!?!

Few people pay any attention to pissant little policy disputes. They want an attitude. You wanna know what kind of attitude works? One that indicates that you believe in what you say, and that you are ready to offend people, even fight, for you beliefs. Jesus Fucking Christ, for seven goddam years everybody with a brain has been telling Dems that their biggest weakness is that they're supine -- and Drum and guys like him think it's a matter of getting the marketing right!?!? Pathetic!

Posted by: sglover on August 30, 2007 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Several people have pointed out that few Americans are affected by the estate tax and it has become a popular issue for the GOP. This is true, but it took decades to make that happen.

Really, it isn't nearly as complicated an appeal. Call it the "death tax". Pretend that it applies to just about everyone, instead of only to the wealthy.

The desirability of complete privacy and due process is not nearly as obvious for people who don't think of themselves as law abiding. They have to take seriously the idea that they in particular might be damaged by these governmental intrusions.

It's just more subtle an appeal. I don't know how you get around that.

Posted by: frankly0 on August 30, 2007 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

I meant in my post above

The desirability of complete privacy and due process is not nearly as obvious for people who think of themselves as law abiding.

Posted by: frankly0 on August 30, 2007 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

In general, many if not most liberal causes represent the progress of the subtle over the simplistic.

Why, then, shouldn't one expect it to be harder to make the case for liberal causes?

Posted by: frankly0 on August 30, 2007 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK
Several people have pointed out that few Americans are affected by the estate tax and it has become a popular issue for the GOP. This is true, but it took decades to make that happen.

I don't disagree that there is a situational disadvantage to the Democrats in that, in many cases, they've been standing still for the past several decades while the Republicans have been beating on various issues.

Using that potentially (that is, it will be if Democrats stop standing still) transitory disadvantage as an excuse for more standing still (or, worse, validating the Republican propaganda) is non-productive. As is mistaking it for a fundamental, inherent disadvantage.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 30, 2007 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK
NSA eavesdropping involves a tradeoff of some loss of civil liberies for some gain in security.

No, it doesn't. It involves a tradeoff of some civil liberties for a claimed-but-unsubstantiated gain in security.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 30, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Listen Kevin your not a bad guy and your right to a certain extent but I have to say if one of us has a plan for the dems to win I don't think if you walked uo to one of the candidates and handed him or her a gold plated outline that they would except it. Tell me if I'm wrong but it's hard to tell anyone who thinks thy know everything anything.

Posted by: Gandalf on August 30, 2007 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

For heaven's sakes. It's not whether Americans ARE or ARE NOT affected by NSA wiretapping, etc. It's whether they PERCEIVE that their lives are affected. Kevin's point is that the perception is not there amongst most of the country, and therefore, they care more about healthcare than constitutional rights.

Posted by: Katherine on August 30, 2007 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Since when have big government Dems become civil libertarians? Both parties regard the American people as the enemy.

Posted by: Luther on August 30, 2007 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

I think the Democrats are trying to hedge their bets thusly:

Be centrist/safe/groveling

And you may indeed win in 2008, which is sort of good but then you have to worry about keeping in power and you have to do this risky thing, "governing."

Or, you lose in 2008 and then (sigh of relief) you can be the"loyal opposition", in the safety of the back benches.

They put this political calculus above their duty to the Constitution and to the American people -- they treat it and us with contempt.

Posted by: jane on August 30, 2007 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Re the "selling the estate tax" subdiscussion here, I think there's another aspect to it: The appeal to who voters want or aspire to be, and how GOP policies play to that instead of appealing to who they actually are.

You can sell supply-side economics, estate taxes and other policies that benefit only the wealthy because you're simultaneously selling the idea that under the American dream and Republican policies, everyone can become rich or at least substantially increase their wealth. People respond to that carrot--who doesn't want to see themselves as doing better 10 years from now, especially if they're already in denial about stagnant wages, job insecurity and the shrinking middle class? For some people, associating politically with what they see as society's leaders, as the strongest and most badass, is extremely important to their self-image.

Meanwhile, Democrats come in talking about vague notions of civil rights and protecting our Constitution, and these same people think: I'm not a terrorist, I don't know any terrorists, I'm never going to talk on the phone with a terrorist and this is never going to have anything to do with me. It's the modern version of not wanting to be associated with welfare queens or long-haired hippie freaks or socialists or fags or some other cartoonish representation of "them"...and of liberalism. And because of their complete failure of imagination, they simply cannot imagine anything having to do with a "terrorist" ever applying to them.

This stuff stops working when the us vs. them game flips and the what's-the-matter-with-Kansas voters realize they're part of the "them," not the "us" they aspired to be, when the reality of how GOP policies work grows too large in too many people's lives to be ignored. 47 million with no health insurance, scores of millions more underinsured, too many good jobs exported, buying power diminished. Only when it reaches a full tipping point will people start voting in droves for their actual interests, not their wannabe interests. And even then, our civil rights will be so far eroded that I don't know if we'll ever get them back.

Posted by: shortstop on August 30, 2007 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

No, it doesn't. It involves a tradeoff of some civil liberties for a claimed-but-unsubstantiated gain in security.

I'll go further than cmdicely in refuting "ex-liberal"s neocon bullshit. We have already learned that past Administrations already have abused the power to wiretap without oversight, so it involves a tradeoff not only in massive civil liberties -- because the Administration will have the power to wiretap anyone with no accountability -- for no gain in national security, since hte Administration could already wiretpa actual international terrorists under the terms of the existing FISA law -- and obtain a warrant 72 hours after the fact, into the bargain.

But "ex-liberal" has been told all this before. He doesn't post in good faith, but instead takes a sick pleasure in not only posting insulting partisan drivel, but compounding the insult by posting obviously phony partisan drivel.

Why Kevin's moderator(s) tolerate "ex-liberal"'s pissing on the floor in here is quite a mystery, but it -- along with "ex-liberal"'s very handle, which is another calculatedly phony insult to Kevin and his readers -- belies the ersatz "civil" tone "ex-liberal" employs.

And I haven't even yet mentioned "ex-liberals" craven authoritarian toadying.

Posted by: Gregory on August 30, 2007 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

"Honestly, if Democrats can't figure out how to make a winning issue of keeping the government from being able to throw you in jail without having to explain themselves to anyone, or at least to prevent it from outweighing what looks to be their pretty serious electoral advantage in 2008, they must be brain dead. And if they can't be bothered to support our Constitution if there's any possibility that it might cost them politically, then their love of their country must be dead as well."

And if our response to the Democrats' lack of support for Constitution and country is to reward them, yet again, with our votes in subsequent elections, then we are just as brain dead as they, and we richly deserve the malrepresentation we receive.

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on August 30, 2007 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

I thought this was a left wing blog????!!!!!!!

Posted by: bill on August 30, 2007 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

The media is what has endangered the Constitution and taken the spine out of the majority of us. A free press was presumed to be largely objective and run with the public interests in mind. Now, even NPR is Pravda. The daunting part of taking back our country must be dismantling the corporate media empires. No matter how brave a Democratic politician is, his or her message will be skewed and perverted by the Murdoch method if it runs counter to their agenda. This blog should be viewed as conventional wisdom rather than an echo chamber, but most Americans have been turned off by the media and politics and have withdrawn from the fray--exactly like Murdoch and Rove wanted.
So, we can craft great and weighty appeals to save our civil rights, but until Fox News stops controlling the discourse, it doesn't matter. The Bastille is the corporate media in 2007. Nothing short of taking them away from corporate monopolies will save the country IMHO. Legislate Fox, Time Warner et al into a Bell-like divestiture. Or die beaten and voiceless. America was founded by people running away from the Murdochs and royalists. The SOBs caught up with us.

Posted by: Sparko on August 30, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Hiya shortstop

This stuff stops working when the us vs. them game flips and the what's-the-matter-with-Kansas voters realize they're part of the "them," not the "us" they aspired to be, when the reality of how GOP policies work grows too large in too many people's lives to be ignored. 47 million with no health insurance, scores of millions more underinsured, too many good jobs exported, buying power diminished. Only when it reaches a full tipping point will people start voting in droves for their actual interests, not their wannabe interests.

Why should I believe that a party that won't go toe-to-toe with Cheney (who consistently clocks in a a resounding sub-20% approval), will suddenly turn around and fight for something like universal health care?

You wait. If the Dems get their precious victory, they're either going to 1) make the insurance and drug companies "partners" in crafting whatever industry-friendly sell-out they'll call health care "reform", or 2) they'll pull the same old weasel bullshit they always do: Golly, we want to do it, we really do! But we don't have quite as many votes as we think we really need. We promise, as soon as EVERY House and Senate seat is occupied by a Democrat, THEN you'll see some reform. That's why we need you to donate to our 2010 campaign fund! "

Posted by: sglover on August 30, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

I don't disagree with you, sglover, on a single word here. See my post at 2:38.

Dems remain the better alternative for now. May we have the opportunity to vote for someone who actually represents the interests of the majority of Americans--Democrats or viable third-party candidates--in the future.

Posted by: shortstop on August 30, 2007 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Rudi's Slogan Bamboozles Dems

It's difficult for the Dems to be aggressive for fear of being tagged as soft on terror. The Giuliani campaign's latest bumper slogan is the arch delimiter for skittish Dems.

"If you're not afraid, you're a coward."

cognitorex, TM. copyright

Posted by: cognitorex on August 30, 2007 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

"The fact is that it is hard to craft an inspiring message on these issues. The vast, vast majority of Americans don't feel affected in any way by Guantanamo or NSA eavesdropping or enemy combatant laws."-Kevin Drum

Let me take a crack at this.

Do you want the same people who ran FEMA, the Iraq War(CPA), and the Justice Department running counter terrorism while protecting YOUR civil rights, and taking their word for it? DO YOU?...DO YOU?

How's that.

Throw in a some crowd pumping shouts of "Attica!, Attica!" and that should do it.

Posted by: DonkeyKong on August 30, 2007 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK
It's not whether Americans ARE or ARE NOT affected by NSA wiretapping, etc. It's whether they PERCEIVE that their lives are affected.

That they don't perceive their lives to be effective is an illustration of the fact that Democrats have failed to craft an effective message on the issue, not a demonstration that it is fundamentally and inalterably more difficult for Democrats to craft such a messge than it is for those on the other side.

The problem is Democrats, as Kevin appears to, mistaking the results of past failure as unchangeable features of the political landscape, rather than precisely the perceptions that need to be targetted.

And as long as people think like that, Democrats will continue to fail to sell ideas, because they will continue to start out having granted the high ground to the Republicans in every debate.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 30, 2007 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK
Why should I believe that a party that won't go toe-to-toe with Cheney (who consistently clocks in a a resounding sub-20% approval), will suddenly turn around and fight for something like universal health care?

You shouldn't passively "believe" anything of the sort, you should recognize that the Democratic Party is not homogenous, and there is quite a bit of room for dedicated, active people to influence which particular attitudes and people within that broad party are dominant in setting the direction of the Democratic Party-in-government.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 30, 2007 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

DonkeyKong: Let me take a crack at this.

Do you want the same people who ran FEMA, the Iraq War(CPA), and the Justice Department running counter terrorism while protecting YOUR civil rights, and taking their word for it? DO YOU?...DO YOU?

How's that.

I fully agree with you, DK. In fact, you have given the libertarian-conservative argument. I don't want government people running any part of my life, if I can help it.

When it comes to national defense and homeland security, the government has to do it. There no way for defense to be done by private industry. We can't let corporations compete for the right to wiretap international phone calls.

But, when it comes to health care, pensions, economic statistics, mortgages, college loans, etc., etc., I don't want them run by the same people who ran FEMA, the Iraq War(CPA), and the Justice Department.

Posted by: ex-liberal on August 30, 2007 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

Do you want Big Brother listening in on your phone calls? Watching everything you do?
Do you want secret prisons and gulags like in Soviet Russia, where you're locked up on the KGB's say-so?

America, live free or die hard!


Gee, that wasn't so hard.

(I realize people would need to be won over, and a political fight would have to happen. But the problem is finding the will to fight the battle, not finding the right message. There are deep strains in our society against this kind of thing, the same kind that cause conservatives to fulminate about the evil stormtroopers of the ATF and libertarians to froth at the IRS. Americans get kooky ideas in their heads, but most agree that living in an Orwellian dystopia is a bad thing. And hell, if all else fails, ask them what they think of Hillary having these powers.)

Posted by: Royko on August 30, 2007 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

It's the Constitution, stupid.

What I can't get is why the Dems don't wrap themselves in the flag when it is actually the right thing to do?

Posted by: Kenji on August 30, 2007 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

You shouldn't passively "believe" anything of the sort, you should recognize that the Democratic Party is not homogenous, and there is quite a bit of room for dedicated, active people to influence which particular attitudes and people within that broad party are dominant in setting the direction of the Democratic Party-in-government.

Uh-huh. Yeah. Swell. Look, both parties are suckers' games. Neither is worth a dime or a vote. I've given more than my share of both to the Democratic Party over the years. Never again. Nader was right.

Posted by: sglover on August 30, 2007 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

Sometimes Kevin is an idiot and this is one of those times. Kevin, the thing that pisses people off so much is that the Democrats are such shitty salespeople that they couldn't sell food to the starving. On issue after issue, the Dems have the advantage in public opinion but they're STILL a bunch of frightened little pussies.

A recent example is the CAFE bill. It was wildly popular with about 70+% support among every demographic, including Republicans, and they still couldn't stand up to the Republican minority in Congress!

And think about the flip side of this: the Republicans are such good salespeople that they can enforce a minority position among the public in a legislature in which they are in the minority. I wish there were a bunch of Republican Kevin Drums out there telling the Republicans that they're dommed and they'll never make it.

How about Iraq? A large majority now think its a mistake and want to pull out but the Democrats cower in the corner afraid of Mr. 25% in the White House.

I already mentioned the estate tax above, and more examples could be easily multiplied.

Posted by: Junius Brutus on August 30, 2007 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

We keep talking about the Democratic Party as if it's a 'liberal' party. Any European would tell you that US Dems would fall somewhere in the center right spectrum of their political fields.
This ersatz liberalism appears to me to be caused by our two-party system (excellently designed for political and social stability) as well as by the fact that the general political views of most Americans tend to be at best center-oriented. It's not coincidental that the US is the only Western democracy that still abides capital punishment. Americans as a whole fear socialism because of our attachment to individualism for over 200 years. So, although our party has a representation of real 'left' liberals, it also necessarily has a representation of very 'center' to 'center-right' politicians. If we really want a party that represents liberal views and philosophies, unencumbered by the vast center, then it seems to me we have to go to some sort of multi-party system. I can't wrap my mind around that idea here at the moment and how it could be a positive step for liberalism. Instant run-off voting might be an initial step. The whole idea of 'framing' issues and 'selling' positions to appeal to and be understood by those without strong political leanings or interest doesn't give me a lot of optimism about change in general. It's swimming upstream.

Posted by: nepeta on August 30, 2007 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal: "But, when it comes to health care, pensions, economic statistics, mortgages, college loans, etc., etc., I don't want them run by the same people who ran FEMA, the Iraq War(CPA), and the Justice Department."

See? Ex-liberal is still raging against the Queen.

Posted by: nepeta on August 30, 2007 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

Uh-huh. Yeah. Swell. Look, both parties are suckers' games. Neither is worth a dime or a vote. I've given more than my share of both to the Democratic Party over the years. Never again. Nader was right.

And theeeere we part company.

Posted by: shortstop on August 30, 2007 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

I wish there were a bunch of Republican Kevin Drums out there telling the Republicans that they're dommed

I wish someone would tell them that, too. With flogger and paddle in hand.

Posted by: shortstop on August 30, 2007 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop:

Of course I meant "doomed" not "dommed". On the other hand, I could see Kevin with a ball gag in his mouth and shackled with handcuffs so he couldn't post garbage like this post.

Posted by: Junius Brutus on August 30, 2007 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Blowing coffee across the monitor...

Posted by: shortstop on August 30, 2007 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

It's really annoying what a bunch of frightened little pussies so many Democrats are, but what's doubly aggravating is the fact that so many of them are such strident little pussies.

They have so internalized Republican insults about Democrats that they will simultaneously shiver with fear at the thought of standing up to the Republicans, while not hesitating to be annoying little bitches as they freely attack Democrats who dare to get off their knees.

Posted by: Junius Brutus on August 30, 2007 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote: "I'm just saying that the right political message for our side really is fundamentally more difficult than it is for the fear merchants, especially when the fear merchants have a kernel of truth on their side. After all, there really are terrorist groups out there who'd happily kill us in vast quantities if they could just muster up the means to do it."

It is interesting to turn this around by an analogy to global warming.

In the case of global warming, the "fear merchants" have not only a "kernel" of truth on their side, they have the entire truth on their side. The overwhelming majority of the world's scientists agree that global warming is real, it is extreme, it is accelerating, it is caused by human activities, principally the burning of fossil fuels; and that we need to reduce global anthropogenic CO2 emissions by something like 80 percent within a decade or two at most -- which means that industrialized countries like the USA need to reduce emissions by 95 percent -- or we will experience catastrophic climate change that will bring misery, starvation and death to hundreds of millions of human beings, probably bring an end to technological civilization, and in worst-case scenarios might well bring about the extinction or near-extinction of the human species.

The reality of global warming presents very, very good reasons to be very, very afraid, which in turn should provide plenty of impetus to make the rapid and far-reaching changes in our energy policies that will be required to achieve large reductions in CO2 emissions. This is in stark contrast to the greatly exaggerated threat of terrorism which is not remotely an existential threat to civilization, as global warming most certainly is.

Yet in the case of global warming, "fear merchandising" -- even with the scientific facts entirely and very publicly on its side -- has been strikingly unsuccessful in mobilizing either the public or the political and economic elites to take anything like the actions necessary to prevent hideous consequences. On the other hand, a well-funded and deliberate campaign of disinformation has kept the public confused even about the basic facts and reality of anthropogenic global warming, and policy makers in the Democratic Party as well as the Republican Party remain largely on the side of the worst perpetrators of global warming, namely the fossil fuel industry, as legislation that barely begins to address the problem languishes in the Congress and has little chance of becoming law.

It's not as simple as "it's easier if you have fear on your side." At least one other factor is "it's easier if you have wealthy and powerful interest groups with vast amounts of money to spend on deliberate campaigns to keep the public stupid and misinformed and fearful about what you want them to be fearful about."

There's big money in the fake, phony "war on terror" so there's big money to be spent on disinformation campaigns convincing the public that terrorism is a fearful threat. There's big money in fossil fuels, so there's big money to be spent on disinformation campaigns convincing the public that no one even agrees whether global warming is real and it is certainly nothing to worry about or inconvenience ourselves trying to stop.

And of course the two are related, since the fake, phony "war on terror" is largely a front for the effort by powerful elites in the US military-industrial-petroleum complex to seize control of the world's last, best, biggest oil reserves in the Middle East and elsewhere; and essentially the same interests are behind the campaign to prevent or at least delay a large-scale transition away from fossil fuels to climate-friendly renewable energy sources.

Follow the money.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on August 30, 2007 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

But, when it comes to health care, pensions, economic statistics, mortgages, college loans, etc., etc., I don't want them run by the same people who ran FEMA, the Iraq War(CPA), and the Justice Department.

Me either. That is why I won't be voting for any Republicans in this lifetime.

Those departments functioned just fine before the cronies got their mitts on them and destroyed them. That you would hold up those examples is banality on an epic scale.

Posted by: Isle of Lucy on August 30, 2007 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

This is tough stuff.

It's tougher than you recognize. The Democrats won House and Senate seats away from the Republicans by running candidates who are to the right of the Democratic center on these issues. Should they yield to the center and left of the Democratic party, they'll be voted back out of office next time around.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on August 30, 2007 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

Hilzoy wants a brave, bold Democratic Party.

Linus wants a teleporter, and a winged pony.

Life is hard.

Posted by: Linus on August 30, 2007 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

"I fully agree with you, DK. In fact, you have given the libertarian-conservative argument. I don't want government people running any part of my life, if I can help it."-exliberal

Reread my post. It's a competence view of things. In both the long and short run, the only view that matters.

Hows the privatization of the Pentagon/Armed Services going ex,.....yeah that's what I thought.

Posted by: DonkeyKong on August 30, 2007 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry ex-liberal. I could argue about what government should and should'nt cover, however you just underlined the point I made. Should have read your full post.

End of work day and a little jacked up on redbull.

Posted by: DonkeyKong on August 30, 2007 at 8:12 PM | PERMALINK

Do you want Big Brother listening in on your phone calls? Watching everything you do?
Do you want secret prisons and gulags like in Soviet Russia, where you're locked up on the KGB's say-so?

Exactly, even most conservatives are against this stuff. They will nod their head in agreement if you start talking like this. The reason that they haven't turned against the administration is because they live in a cocoon of lies, mostly from Limbaugh and their Churches, and they don't believe the what is happening.

So this is Kevin Drum's kick back to Devil. He has to post at least one a week.

Posted by: Boronx on August 30, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist: 'It's not as simple as "it's easier if you have fear on your side."'

The research on mortality salience says that fear makes people more 'authoritarian', by which they seem to mean 'cruelly protective of tradition'. I think most people just ignore the threat of global warming, but when they do think about it, they are likely to think more in terms of how they can protect themselves, their family, and their 'tribe': survival supplies, military buildup to protect water and repel refugees, etc.

But I really think for most Americans, not losing their health insurance, job, and decent schools (or getting some) are much larger and more immediate concerns than global warming. So I think it's not so much Democratic fecklessness or oil company lies (an increasing majority of Americans now do believe in global warming) as the fact that we have more immediate dangers to contend with. I think we'll come around eventually, it's just going to take longer than you want.

I guess that seemed off topic but my point was that there are other explanations than Democratic incompetence for why liberal policies aren't enacted more. It requires a detailed analysis of each issue to find them, but it usually boils down to public opinion.

Posted by: catxors on August 31, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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