Bush Raises the Ante

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John Kerry has been calling on President Bush to condemn the 527 group that has been criticizing his Vietnam War service record. He probably didn't expect Bush to respond positively, but now Kerry has to deal with much more than he bargained for. Bush has raised him one. He asked Kerry today to join him in condemning and fighting against all 527 groups. The one quote I heard on CNN was that he said he meant all of them when a reporter asked if he meant to include Swift Boat Vets for Truth.

I think Kerry's words have now backfired. I don't expect Kerry to accept the offer, of course, since he's got far more 527s in service of his cause than Bush does, and they have far more money behind them. This will make him appear to be self-serving (which he probably will be) as well as not really being serious in his call to remove such forces as Swift Boat Vets for Truth from the campaign.
Yet if he joins Bush, he'll appear to be conceding to Bush rather than having the moral high ground that he wanted to be able to present himself as having. Not only that, but he'd have to give up all this free advertizing he's been encouraging this month through not running any ads for the whole month, not that there's a lot of it left, but George Soros and his empire have too much money ready to be spent on behalf of Kerry for him to want to lose it to save face here. As usual, Bush's poker playing skills have gained him the advantage in a situation that looked to some as potentially damaging.

One Hand Clapping has more, though he also has an extremely strange argument that this is all Bush's fault for not vetoing a bill that has restricted most such political speech but allowed only this thin sliver. If he had vetoed the bill, there wouldn't have been less of this. There would have been more of it, and not vetoing a bill that creates restrictions doesn't cause such speech to come into existence, nor does it count as creating the groups. It simply means his signature didn't force another version of the bill that could have been more repressive of political speech, as most conservatives would put it. So Sensing's argument is extremely strange in more than one way.

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A couple of bloggers, such as Jeremy Pierce and Ed Morrisey, are noting how Bush has turned the tables on Joh... Read More

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Imagine: You own one of two grocery stores in a small town, and are engaged in tough competition for customers. A close business associate of the owner of the competing store posts a billboard full of untruths about your store (lots of rats running around at night, etc.). The lies are so despicable, that not only you, but also some of your competitor's associates, call on him to renounce the billboard. He replies that he'll do more than that by proposing that all billboards in town, including the one in question, be banned. They're ugly eyesores, and several of them are untruthful, he explains. He challenges you to join him in calling for the banning of all billboards. When challenged to specifically renounce the billboard in question in virtue of its content, he refuses, explaining that he's calling for the banning of all billboards, including that one.

Satisfied? Not if you're smart. Your competitor has not renounced the billboard in question in virtue of its content, but just in virtue of its being a billboard. He has not met & raised the challenge, for he has not yet met the challenge, but evaded it. His call for banning all billboards may or may not have merit. But whatever is to be done about that general question, there's still the question of whether the particular billboard in question should be specifically renounced because of its content. That's the question your competitor is evading by raising the more general question. If the townfolk are smart, they won't let him so evade the challenge.

Well, make the comparison more fair, I should have included that your competitor does say in his own voice that you run a clean store. (Though when, for instance, he is it at a rally for his grocery store, taking questions/comments, and someone starts spouting the stuff that's on the billboard about your store, he won't correct the person, but says something like "Thank you for that.")

Admittedly, now perhaps you should be a bit more satisfied. But your competitor, it seems to me, if he's a straight dealer, can take one of two positions. "Look, I say he runs a clean store, but I refuse to renounce that billboard" -- that's a legitmate position. Or else renounce the billboard (specifically, in virtue of its content). It's evasive to try to make it look as if you've met the challenge of whether to specifically renounce that billboard by instead backing some general ban on all billboards. The townsfolk should press for a straight-dealing position on whether the particular billboard in question should be renounced in virtue of its content.

Oh, sorry for speaking in parables, but it seemed appropriate at this blog! --Keith

One thing this parable leaves out is that the same thing had already happened in reverse far more times you can count and on many different subjects, with a denunciation occurring in only one case. So can the store owner who doesn't denounce the content of most of the independent billboards then complain when this one appears and doesn't get denounced for its content? Maybe it should be denounced, but such a store owner has no right to expect it if he didn't do the same himself in similar circumstances. Also it's worth noting that the store owner discovered one of his employees was working on the billboard, and he promptly fired him. Yet the other store owner is, with no evidence, accusing the first one of even coordinating the billboard campaign.

One thing you put in there seems just wrong. "Oh, he runs a clean store, but I refused to renounce that billboard." Bush didn't say "Kerry served honorably and should be proud of his record, but I refuse to renounce that billboard." First of all, that would be contradictory, since saying the first part is a renunciation of the content of the billboard. Second, he didn't even say anything that gives a conversational implicature of the second part. What he said is a flat-out denial of the conclusion of the Swift Boat Vets for Truth. I think it's neither false nor misleading to say that Bush really did fully renounce the content of those ads.

I have watched & listed to the tape of Bush answering questions about the ad, and, whether or not it's coherent for him to do so, he steadfastly refuses to specifically condemn that ad. When asked whether he condemns that that ad in particular, he refuses to answer directly, but instead insists says that all 527 ads should be stopped. It's not a good position for him to take, but I actually think it is consistent. In the parable, "I say he runs a clean store, but I will not condemn the billboard" is consistent. One can, for instance be very reluctant to condemn others' claims, even when one finds them false. I, for instance, don't renounce/condemn all claims people make that I believe are false. [For example, you claim that it "would be contradictory" for Bush to say, "Kerry served honorably and should be proud of his record, but I refuse to renounce that billboard," and I think this claim of yours is false, and by expressing my opposing opinion, I contradict your claim. But I wouldn't dream of renouncing/condemning your claim. It strikes me as an honest mistake. (And I hope that you think my claim, which you disagree with, is an honest mistake, and should not be condemned/renounced.)] So Bush's seems a consistent position, even if an unattractive one. (Unattractive if the ad in question clearly should be specifically renounced, as Kerry, McCain & others (including me) believe.)

Bush doesn't say, "I believe he served honorably but I refuse to specifically renounce that ad." But he does say "I believe he served honorably," while he in fact refuses to specifically renounce the ad.

In fact, just in case someone might have thought Bush had specifically condemned the ad in question, the White House was quick to correct that mis-apprehension. From today's news:

His press secretary, Scott McClellan, said Mr. Bush had not intended to single out the Swift boat advertisement as one that should be stopped.

Bush has refused to specifically condemn the ad. The only way I think that can be denied is via the false principle that whenever S1 claims that P, and S2 responds "Not-P", S2 not only contradicts, but also thereby automatically renounces/condemns, S1's claim.

We seem to be losing site of Keith's original point that Bush's challenge is an evasion, not an upping of the ante. To sum up the issue: Kerry has called for Bush to renounce the content of the ads of one particular 527. Bush has responded by calling for the renunciation of all 527's regardless of content.

Bush's call is not a "one-upping" of Kerry as it is not in the same category. It is akin to confusing the meduim with the message (with Kerry objecting to the message and Bush objecting to the meduim).

Now Bush may well be right to call for the end of 527s (though I personally don't think so, or at least certainly not in this manner--as uggabugga wonders, "Why does the Bush campaign object to ads that the Oregon Grocery Association might run? What are they doing that is objectionable?" (via Crooked Timber), Keith is right to point out that there is a category mistake occurring here. Bush's move may be politically clever, but it doesn't logically follow. I'm surprised that Jeremy thought so highly of the move considering that he is usually more careful about following the logic of people's arguments.

I guess you've revealed yourselves to be working with a very different notion of renouncing an ad than I am. If Kerry's notion is the same as yours, then I think his is strange too. What I see as renouncing an ad is to say that what it claims is false. You can do that without saying that the people who ran the ad are were immoral to run the ad. Since Bush believes Kerry to have served honorably, he has said so. He has chosen to give him the benefit of the doubt. That doesn't mean he knows that what those people are saying is false (and neither do you), which is what should be required to give the kind of moral condemnation you're calling him to give to them (and I think should be required for you to give such moral condemnation). I think it would be immoral for him in such a public profile to give that kind of condemnation without more evidence. I was probably being foolish assuming Kerry wouldn't ask him to do that, but I guess it shows the lengths Kerry will go, asking him to do something that any reasonable person would never do without more evidence.

For someone to call someone else's behavior in a factual dispute morally deficient on the basis of little evidence for either side is at best not fair. As far as I've been able to see, this is just a he-said/he-said case, with a couple points of record at the time favoring Kerry's story (e.g. that there was enemy fire and thus more likelihood that enemy fire could have caused his injuries than SBVFT were making it sound, not that that disproves the claim that it his case it was ricocheted fire from his own weapon) and a couple points of record favoring SBVFT (e.g. that he put in for his purple hearts himself for extremely minor injuries over a very short time and thus has showed that he was as interested as Bush in getting out of combat duty).

As for the Oregon Grocery Association, Bush may well have been opposed to 527s in this context (a presidential election), not in general. That was the sense I got. I wouldn't draw any conclusions about what he thinks about the Oregan Grocery Association.

Also, I should say that my original point about raising the ante wasn't supposed to be saying anything about whether this was a morally legitimate move. I was just pointing out that he was putting Kerry in a very difficult decision and thus making a politically savvy move. I do happen to think Kerry's response has been wrongheaded, for the reasons given in my last comment, but I don't think the other options Bush gave him, the two morally legitimate ones, would have been favorable to him. So I understand his political motivation to go this questionable way.

On this ABC News site, I found a somewhat balanced discussion of all the information (though I disagree strongly with a few statements in this). It's balanced more in that it dishes out to all parties than in its acknowledgement of the defenses both sides have against those charges.

It makes it pretty clear that some of the claims of the SBVFT crowd are unsubstantiated and conflicting with official reports, but it also makes my primary point for me:

There is no evidence that the Bush campaign is orchestrating the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and the known ties between them are significantly less close than between John Kerry's campaign and the 527s supporting him.

Combine that with John Kerry's on-again/off-again commitment to renouncing vs. affirming the analogous third-party statements defaming Bush (without evidence), and he has no standing to call Bush to do anything here. It may be that Bush has the moral obligation to do something for fairness, but if so it's not because Kerry was fair with him first.

But you agree (on what appears to be the main point of your original point) that advocating a general ban on 527 ads is an evasion, not a meeting, of the challenge to condemn the first SBVfT ad?

If so, then our disagreement would be over the issue of whether that particular ad is egregious enough to make it appropriate to call on Bush to condemn it. I certainly believe it is. The Commander-in-Chief, especially, has a duty to stand up against irresponsible attacks that not only damage the decorated veterans in question, but would cast general suspicion on the awards of the armed forces.

Of course, that isn't to say that there haven't been egregiously irresponsible attacks on the other side, as well. You're certainly free to raise those on a case-by-case basis.

Well, I'm not sure you've been precise enough for me. I think Bush did meet the challenge, since I think he did express his disagreement with the content of the ad. If he merely advocated a ban just on the nature of 527s and didn't comment at all on the content, you'd probably be right, but that's not what he did.

See my next post (not yet posted but will be shortly) on why Bush can't condemn it in the way you want. There are legal reasons that at best are unclear, but it's best for him to be on the safe side. I'd be surprised if his campaign advisers don't know of those issues.

It's not just that there have been egregiously irresponsible attacks but that Kerry hasn't challenged them in the way he says Bush should challenge these. He has challenged some of them, but he hasn't done so consistently, and there are so many that you might think he can't hope to challenge all of them, but the existence of so many there raises questions about why just this one is raising so much attention and then isn't being treated in a parallel way to the others.

Calling SBVfT & telling them "You'd better stop running that" might be illegal coordination -- Indeed, why wouldn't it be?

But publically condemning the ad as irresponsible wouldn't be.

As for why all this attention to this one irresponsible ad, there are many reasons, among them:

-This one, more than any other, was explosively effective. Kerry's approval among veterans was dropping precipitously. When an ad has that much impact, but turns out to be so, well, factually challenged (to put it extremely kindly), it deserves special attention.

-No doubt McCain's call for the President to specifically condemn that ad helped in making it a prominent issue. Bush has campaigned with, and, quite literally embraced, McCain in this campaign. When such a close associate calls for this, that's news.

-Closely related, the ad falls into a pattern: This is not the first time that when Bush finds himself lined up against a war hero, well financed groups of veterans appear to renounce the war hero.

1) Bush didn't say "Kerry served honorably and should be proud of his record, but I refuse to renounce that billboard." First of all, that would be contradictory, since saying the first part is a renunciation of the content of the billboard.

Surely you think that renunciation is more than merely saying something that contradicts what you are supposedly renunciating. What you suggest here is that by saying that Kerry served honorably, Bush is thereby renouncing the SBVFT ads. That hardly counts as renunciation. For example, if one of Bush's top administration officials said something that was blatantly anti-semitic, it would hardly be sufficient for Bush to merely say "I think Jews are great." For it to be true renunciation, he would have to say that he neither supports nor condones his official's statements. McCain's renunciation of SBVFT is an example of how it is done correctly. (Yes, the example is not a perfect parallel insomuch as SBVFT is not dirctly connected to Bush, but we are not here discussing the appropriateness of renunciation, but rather what constitutes renunciation.)

Another example of what renunciation is not: When Wesley Clark was on the campaign trail, Michael Moore was on stage with him as a supporter and called Bush a deserter. Many of us hoped that Clark would renounce Moore's comments. When pressed on the matter, Clark replied that while he disagreed with Moore and thought that Bush was not a deserter, he also felt that Moore had freedom of speech and was thus free to say whatever he felt about Bush. Those of us who were hoping for a renunciation were sorely disappointed (though apparently you, Jeremy, would have been satisfied). While Clark was right in saying that Moore had freedom of speech, freedom of speech does not mean that you should not condemn said free speech. (On a slightly technical note, freedom of speech is not absolute, and slander is not covered under the first amendment, so Moore might not even have had the freedom to say what he did.) (Another technical note: Moore's statement was patently false. Even if all the accusations against Bush were true (and if I were Jeremy, I would here add a "and you don't know that they aren't"), Bush would not have been a deserter; he would have benn AWOL. Deserter is a more serious charge.)

2) That doesn't mean he knows that what those people are saying is false (and neither do you), which is what should be required to give the kind of moral condemnation you're calling him to give to them (and I think should be required for you to give such moral condemnation). I think it would be immoral for him in such a public profile to give that kind of condemnation without more evidence.

If we hold Kerry to the same standard that you are holding Bush, then Kerry doesn't need to renounce anything either.

I'm a little confused by your applications of the "benefit of the doubt". When Bush is accused of not showing up for National Guard duty, you seem to feel that Bush should be given the benefit of the doubt (i.e. you feel that the accusations against Bush should have been called groundless and immoral) until evidence can prove that he indeed did not show up.

When Kerry is accused of non-valor in Vietnam, you seem to feel that SBVfT should be given the benefit of the doubt (i.e. you feel that the accusations against Kerry should not be called groundless and immoral) until the accusations can be disproven.

So which is it? When someone is accused, who gets the benefit of the doubt, the accused or the accusor? Both cases are essentially "he-said/he-said cases" (to use your terminology) Or maybe I'm misunderstanding you and you think that either a) the accusations against Bush should not have been called groundless and immoral, or b) the accusations against Kerry should be called groundless and immoral.

3) I should say that my original point about raising the ante wasn't supposed to be saying anything about whether this was a morally legitimate move.

I'm glad you cleared that up. I agree that it was a fairly savvy political view, but it lowers my opinion of Bush from a logical reasoning point of view as it seems to be a giant non-sequiter, and from a moral view as it give the appearance of meeting a challenge while actually being designed to evade it--that's at best misdirection and more likely outright deception.

4) I don't think the other options Bush gave him, the two morally legitimate ones, would have been favorable to [Kerry].

Well, I think that Kerry has more than 2 options. In particular is the option that Keith employed, namely, to show that Bush's challenge is an evasion, a non-sequiter. If Kerry can make that meme stick, then Bush's somewhat savvy move will have been turned into a failed gambit and will cost him politically.

5) It may be that Bush has the moral obligation to do something for fairness, but if so it's not because Kerry was fair with him first.

Admittedly, Kerry is no saint in this regard either. However, this post was about Bush. A candidate who is running on character does not do well to use the arguement "He started it". If Bush has a moral obligation, then he should carry it out regardless of how hypocritical his opponent is.

6) If he merely advocated a ban just on the nature of 527s and didn't comment at all on the content, you'd probably be right, but that's not what he did.

From what I can tell, that's exactly what he did. He called on Kerry to denounce all 527 ads simply because they are ads put forth by 527s. He then responded in the affirmative when asked if "all" includes SBVfT.

He may have commented on the content of the SBVfT ads in other places (without mentioning SBVfT itself), but I don't see it in his challenge to Kerry. Do I have my facts wrong here?

Actually, we do know that some of the charges against Bush are false, as you noted, since the deserter charge is false whether or not he was AWOL. Also, the charge that his service was a way to avoid serving is fairly obviously false.

There's a big difference with the Moore-Clark case. Moore said these things while standing right next to Clark. Clark only later said that he disagreed with the statements. At the moment he was acting as if he was in perfect agreement with what Moore said. In this case, Bush has all along said that 527 groups shouldn't be saying anything, so when one comes along it's not as if they've been allowed onto the stage with him before saying things he wouldn't support. In that way things like Clark-Moore and the Whoopi Goldberg incident at a Kerry-Edwards event are much more clearly things associated with the candidate.

Let me state my view more clearly. When a 527 group that is not associated with a candidate says something bad, it's important for a candidate to indicate disagreement with that message or way of putting it if the candidate does so disagree. It's important for the candidate to indicate non-association when there is none. This is all given the assumption that the candidate doesn't ask others to renounce those ads or groups. When the candidate does that, the candidate better renounce those ads or groups that are doing the same thing against the opponent.

Of course, when there is association or agreement, it's dishonest to do renounce a connection. We know that John Kerry's campaign has actually illegally co-sponsored events with moveon.org, and he has moved back and forth between expressing disagreement with some of the negative stuff against Bush and using it himself when he feels like it. That's why I think there's a stronger case with Bush saying such things against Kerry than with Kerry against Bush, but Bush is notably not doing that except to oppose 527s in general. Kerry is asking Bush to do things that Kerry wouldn't himself do.

By 'benefit of the doubt', I just mean that we shouldn't assume either side is true unless we have good reason. Having a dislike of the person is not a good reason. Finding that there's no evidence for charges is a good reason to favor the other side, but if there's no evidence either way then perhaps it's best to suspend judgment. On the Bush National Guard issue, there was some evidence that Bush served, with what seemed to me to be minor questions, and that evidence has increased over time, with some things still having no evidence one way or the other. With the Kerry issue, a couple things are glaringly inconsistent, a couple things just seem to have no evidence either way, and a number of things seem to favor Kerry's account. It's the inconsistencies that most of the people keeping this story alive are waiting to hear on.

I don't think this is an evasion. That's been my main point of the last couple comments. An evasion requires changing the subject. Bush did deal with the content of the ads, and he indicated his disagreement with them. He's at least giving Kerry the benefit of the doubt and possibly just believing the official Navy reports. An evasion would have been simply saying that 527s are illegitimate without saying what he thinks about the content. The sound clips they were playing on the news didn't include it most of the time, but he also said that Kerry "served admirably and he ought to be proud of his record". That contradicts the charges pretty clearly.

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