In New York City this is a day of sparkling skies, droning bagpipes and wrenching memories. Tonight, I'll go to the neighborhood tavern where we spent the strange evening of that awful day two years ago. I have little to add to the reading of names and playing of music that I heard on the radio this morning. (But my column in the current New York Observer does consider the contradictions of White House policy in the years since Sept. 11, 2001.)
Even on a dark anniversary, there is always a politician lurking somewhere whose antics can provide some amusement. Proof came in my e-mail this morning from a kindly Capitol mole. The mole sent me a copy of "Fall Communications Environment," the funny memo dispatched yesterday by Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, to all of her GOP colleagues. Having verified its authenticity with a helpful member of Pryce's staff, I think parts of it are definitely worth sharing -- especially because it provides insight into what Republicans really worry about behind the usual partisan bluster:
"Welcome back. As you are well aware from meeting and talking with your constituents over the August district work period, House Republicans are facing a difficult communications environment. Following the summer vacations and back-to-school preparations, families are returning to their daily routines and focusing again on "kitchen table" issues such as the economy, health care and national security.
"More than any time this year, Americans are increasingly concerned about the economy, their job situation, and the latest developments in Iraq. Because of these concerns converging together in recent weeks, anxiety about the direction of the country has escalated. In the most recent New Models survey conducted by the Winston Group (September 3-4, 1,000 registered voters), the direction of the country now stands at 37-51 right direction-wrong track."
Worse yet, the House Democrats seemed to be getting some traction, according to the Republican pollsters' findings:
"Of those who heard a message from House Democrats, 44 percent were more favorable to Democrats, and 38 percent were less favorable. This is the first time this year that their message received a positive reaction. By contrast, the House Republican message was neutrally received among those who heard a message from Members, with 40 percent being more favorable to House Republicans and 43 percent less favorable."
That sounds like trouble, particularly in combination with the president's recent polling decline. Pryce offers an explanation that isn't altogether convincing:
"The communications terrain during the month of August was rocky for Republicans in sharing our message. For the better part of six weeks, nine Democrats running for their party's presidential nomination saturated the airwaves. With the exception of the California recall, these Democrats jumped from issue to issue, attacking Republican initiatives without abandon [sic] or shame."
Haven't Republicans been saying that nobody pays attention to those Democratic candidates? Anyway, there is good news too, offered in the kind of advertising jargon that can only cheer up everybody:
"The good news is that this communications setback can be remedied and turned around if we start now.
"Despite a favorable reception of Democrat messages during August, House Republicans continue to sustain a favorable brand image with American households, significantly better than House Democrats. This is a tremendous achievement of which we should all be proud.
"For over a year now, House Republicans have surpassed Democrats in effectively communicating our messages. The brand image of House Republicans stands at 50-39 favorable-unfavorable, and the brand image of House Democrats stands at 46-43. We can't let up now.
"Throughout the course of the past five years, we have worked diligently to build a favorable brand image. Despite shifts in the direction of the country and a tough communications environment, our brand has been successfully sustained."
Branding isn't everything, though. Consumer (or in this case, voter) preferences must be taken into account:
"Once again, economy/jobs has eclipsed national security/terrorism as the top concern among Americans. Today, the message is simple yet powerful: jobs, jobs, jobs. According to the New Models survey, economy/jobs stands at 33 percent, followed by defense/terrorism (14 percent), education (10 percent), and health care/prescription drugs (9 percent).
"The issue of the economy is more important than ever, and because voters tend to define the economy in the context of jobs, our central message must remain focused on jobs. The House passed a job creation [sic] package in May, but our jobs message and our efforts to create more jobs must continue.
"During these final weeks, keep in mind that we need to frame every bill and issue in the context of jobs and communicate our message from the perspective of jobs and job creation. As your Conference Chair, I ask that you please be attentive to driving a jobs message more than ever before. It is not possible for you to talk about jobs too much!"
Talking about jobs is great -- although some rude person is likely to interrupt and point out that so far, Republican "job creation" efforts have been spectacularly unsuccessful.
A more sobering, realistic perspective on the American economy (and the Republican radical right) can be found in "The Great Unraveling," which I've been reading today. It's much more than a collection of Paul Krugman's columns. As his many fans know, Krugman is an elegant writer as well as an important economic analyst, whose talent for explaining complex issues in lay terms is exceeded only by his political courage. If for some reason you are not already a Krugman reader, listen to this interview yesterday on "Fresh Air." Then buy his book.
This hectic life, Coulter episode
Ann Coulter and I met on "Paula Zahn Now" yesterday evening for a brief discussion of America's international position after 9/11. She doesn't think we need any stinking allies and suggested that we quit the U.N. -- in other words, John Birch Society policy circa 1962 (or Richard Perle circa last spring). The transcript is here; pertinent excerpts with commentary are here (scroll down). Also, I made my first (and perhaps only) Fox News Channel appearance of the new season on Greta van Susteren's show, "On the Record," after the Democratic debate last Tuesday night.
Tomorrow morning I'll be talking about "Big Lies" and other topics with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now, the alternative news broadcast that airs on various stations at various times around the country.
[1:30 p.m. PDT, Sept. 11, 2003]