Wolves, Orcs, and Drew Barrymore

Which presidential candidate, wonders US News & World Report, has been able to most effectively exploit our fear? As Roger Simon reminds us, scare tactics are nothing new: In previous campaigns, we’ve had messages like, “[v]ote for Barry Goldwater and he will plunge the nation into a thermonuclear war that will incinerate little girls innocently plucking the petals off a daisy, [and] [v]ote for Michael Dukakis and he will release dangerous murderers from prison who will invade our homes to rape and torture us.” This year, however, the candidates have more to work with, what with legacy of Sept. 11, continuing chaos in Iraq, flu vaccine shortages, the specter of a draft, and a still-sluggish economy. It’s no surprise, then, that we’ve seen the recent “Battle of the Animal Ads.” According to the Democrats, Bush is like an ostrich with his head in the sand, unable to put the country on the right track. And according to Republicans, if you vote for Kerry, you’ll be eaten by wolves.

Kerry, meanwhile, has trotted out Bill Clinton to help him among black voters, where Newsweek reports President Bush has been gaining ground, thanks to “the president’s promotion of faith-based initiatives and his opposition to gay marriage.” Another Newsweek story says that Bush is trying to rally the GOP faithful by playing up … his opposition to gay marriage. (And we assume the faith-based initiatives don’t much hurt either.) US News also offers up reports that deal with the two parties’ ground games. We remember the ground game pieces that came before the pivotal contests in the Democratic primary battle, and all the crow eaten when final returns came back and the conventional wisdom was proved wrong. Not surprisingly, this time around the magazine generally steers clear of making any grand pronouncements about who’s got the better get-out-the-vote operation.

Time’s cover story deals with the nightmare scenarios we might see if the election is contested. “In the darkest vision, Nov. 2 will be a day of apocalypse, with battalions of volunteers, geeks, cops, feds and assorted party watchdogs guarding the polls; 20,000 lawyers riding into battle, brandishing suits challenging the results in half a dozen states; campaign war rooms spitting out charges of fraud and intimidation; and branches of government built to balance and cool one another instead starting to melt.” Scary. (Time also has a less Lord of the Rings-style companion piece that deals with specific issues, like whether the voting machinery will work.)

The New Yorker, meanwhile, has endorsed John Kerry for president, the first time in history the magazine has made an endorsement. After spending most of the piece outlining the case against Bush, the editors say Kerry has more to offer than just being the anti-Dubya. “In every crucial area of concern to Americans (the economy, health care, the environment, Social Security, the judiciary, national security, foreign policy, the war in Iraq, the fight against terrorism), Kerry offers a clear, corrective alternative to Bush’s curious blend of smugness, radicalism, and demagoguery. Pollsters like to ask voters which candidate they’d most like to have a beer with, and on that metric Bush always wins. We prefer to as which candidate is better suited to the governance of our nation.”

Finally, the Weekly Standard has all sorts of goodies, including a piece on why the Colorado ballot initiative could backfire on the Democrats. The argument for the initiative — that it will bring greater attention to the unfairness of the Electoral College system — is disingenuous, argues James Piereson, since the long running debate about “America’s Worst College” always intensifies around an election anyway. Plus, he points out, the fact that small states have an interest in maintaining the status quo means nothing is likely to change anytime soon. And the court precedent set by the initiative could hurt Democrats in the future, since they “rely heavily on those 55 electoral votes from the state of California. In view of the Colorado precedent, Republicans might move to place a similar initiative on the ballot in California, and perhaps in Michigan and Washington as well, before the next presidential election.”

The Standard’s Matt Labash, in a piece taking on P. Diddy, Robert Downey Jr., and Drew Barrymore, says celebrities are embarrassing themselves with their GOTV documentaries. “If journalism, like politics, is show-business for ugly people, credit the news-gatherers with this much: We know our limitations. We are aware that we’d make awful actors, as Gridiron Dinner sketches acutely remind us. But this self-awareness seems unfairly one-sided. Celebrities have no idea that they make awful journalists. For the purpose of becoming a journalist is to explore the wider world. The purpose of becoming a celebrity is to explore yourself.”

Brian Montopoli

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.