Saturday, July 10, 2004

What the Framers thought of the vice presidency.

The Insignificant Office

By Walter Berns

Why should John Edwards or anyone else want to be vice president? One of the men who held the post spoke of it as "the most insignificant office" ever contrived by the wit of man, and the men who wittingly contrived it — I mean, of course, the Framers of the Constitution — may have been of the same opinion. At least, they said nothing whatever about the qualifications of those who were to hold the office; unlike presidents and members of the House and Senate, vice presidents — so far as the Constitution is concerned — may be of any age and any nationality.

But the vice presidency is taken more seriously today than it apparently was by the Framers. The reason for this has nothing to do with the office itself — after all, its powers are almost nonexistent — and much to do with a presidential candidate's chances of winning an election. Interestingly enough, the reason the Framers created the office in the first place had something to do with — in fact, had only to do with — the election of the president.

The Framers had a hard time settling on the method by which the president was to be chosen. It was proposed that the president be chosen by the national legislature; by a part of the legislature; by state governors; by popular vote of the people; by electors appointed by the state legislatures, the national legislature, or in districts within the states; or by the people directly. But there were objections to each of these methods. A chief executive chosen by the Congress would make him its agent, which would be a violation of the principle of the separation of powers. If by state governors, "the executive thus chosen will not be likely to defend with becoming vigilance and firmness the National rights against State encroachments" (as James Madison wrote in his notes about the argument put forward by Edmund Randolph at the Convention in 1787).

By popular vote of the people? George Mason of Virginia "conceived it would be as unnatural to refer the choice of a proper character for chief Magistrate to the people, as it would, to refer a trial of colours to a blind man." Besides, said Hugh Williamson of North Carolina, "the people will be sure to vote for some man in their own State, and the largest State will be sure to succeed."

By electors appointed by the state legislatures? This proposal engendered no discussion whatever; put to the vote, only Maryland and Delaware favored it. "We seem," said Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, "to be entirely at a loss on this head." Indeed they were. As Madison said, "there are objections against every mode that has been, or perhaps can be proposed."

What is of interest here is that during the entire course of the debate — which began in May when Randolph introduced the so-called Virginia Plan for the Constitution and continued for over three months — no mention was made of a vice president.

This was not the result of oversight. The convention was aware of the necessity to provide for the case of the president's removal, death, or resignation. Thus, in its report of August 6, the Committee of Detail recommended that in such an event "the powers and duties of his office" be exercised by the president of the Senate. The office of vice president did not make its appearance until September 4 when, in its report, the Committee on Unfinished Parts recommended the establishment of the electoral college.

As adopted in the Constitution, the report provided that the electors were to vote for two people, "of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves," and "the Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed.... In every case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be Vice President."

A careful consideration of this provision reveals why we have a vice president. Each elector was given two votes, both to be cast for president (it was not until the adoption of the 12th Amendment in 1804 that electors were required to cast one vote for president and the other for vice president). Why two votes? Because, if each elector had one vote, and if he cast it for "an Inhabitant of the same State with [himself]," no one would win an electoral college majority and the choice of the president would devolve upon the Senate (subsequently changed to the House of Representatives).

But give the electors two votes each and the result would likely be the same. That is because, without a second office to fill, they would have reason to "throw away" their second votes. Consider the situation that would have attended the selection of the first president had George Washington (everyone's first choice) not been a candidate. There were 69 electors casting a total of 138 votes for president. The number required for election was 35 ("a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed," not a majority of the ballots cast). If, as the Framers assumed, most electors were to cast their first votes for a favorite son, no one would win a majority, and the issue would turn on the second votes. How would they be cast? Would the Virginians, for example, having cast their first votes for Thomas Jefferson, cast their second for John Adams? Not likely. To do so might give Adams (Massachusetts' favorite son) the 35 votes needed for election. They would be more likely to cast them for, say, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer of Maryland or (except that he had been killed in a duel) Button Gwinnett of Georgia — someone for whom no other elector was likely to cast a second vote. In a word, to enhance the chances of their first choice, electors would be inclined to "throw away" their second votes.

The vice presidency was created to make it less likely that electors would do this. With two offices to fill, and knowing that the vice president would succeed to the office in the event of the president's death or removal, they would have reason to cast their second votes for the best man from some other state rather than for a nonentity. "Such an officer as vice-president was not wanted," said Hugh Williamson on September 7. "He was introduced only for the sake of a valuable mode of election which required two to be chosen at the same time."

The vice president's only constitutional duty is to preside over the Senate (and cast a vote only in the event it "be equally divided"); and he was given that assignment only because, as Roger Sherman put it, "he would [otherwise] be without employment." With little to do — Dick Cheney is an exception to this — most vice presidents have spent their time in office doing little, and the republic is none the worse off for the little they did. But nine of them succeeded to the presidency, a fact that John Kerry (we hope) remembered when choosing his running mate.

Israel's Intifada Victory

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, June 18, 2004

While no one was looking, something historic happened in the Middle East. The Palestinian intifada is over, and the Palestinians have lost.

For Israel, the victory is bitter. The past four years of terrorism have killed almost 1,000 Israelis and maimed thousands of others. But Israel has won strategically. The intent of the intifada was to demoralize Israel, destroy its economy, bring it to its knees, and thus force it to withdraw and surrender to Palestinian demands, just as Israel withdrew in defeat from southern Lebanon in May 2000.

That did not happen. Israel's economy was certainly wounded, but it is growing again. Tourism had dwindled to almost nothing at the height of the intifada, but tourists are returning. And the Israelis were never demoralized. They kept living their lives, the young people in particular returning to cafes and discos and buses just hours after a horrific bombing. Israelis turned out to be a lot tougher and braver than the Palestinians had imagined.

The end of the intifada does not mean the end of terrorism. There was terrorism before the intifada and there will be terrorism to come. What has happened, however, is an end to systematic, regular, debilitating, unstoppable terror -- terror as a reliable weapon. At the height of the intifada, there were nine suicide attacks in Israel killing 85 Israelis in just one month (March 2002). In the past three months there have been none.

The overall level of violence has been reduced by more than 70 percent. How did Israel do it? By ignoring its critics and launching a two-pronged campaign of self-defense.

First, Israel targeted terrorist leaders -- attacks so hypocritically denounced by Westerners who, at the same time, cheer the hunt for, and demand the head of, Osama bin Laden. The top echelon of Hamas and other terrorist groups has been either arrested, killed or driven underground. The others are now so afraid of Israeli precision and intelligence -- the last Hamas operative to be killed by missile was riding a motorcycle -- that they are forced to devote much of their time and energy to self-protection and concealment.

Second, the fence. Only about a quarter of the separation fence has been built, but its effect is unmistakable. The northern part is already complete, and attacks in northern Israel have dwindled to almost nothing.

This success does not just save innocent lives; it changes the strategic equation of the whole conflict.

Yasser Arafat started the intifada in September 2000, just weeks after he had rejected, at Camp David, Israel's offer of withdrawal, settlement evacuation, sharing of Jerusalem and establishment of a Palestinian state. Arafat wanted all that, of course, but without having to make peace and recognize a Jewish state. Hence the terror campaign -- to force Israel to give it all up unilaterally.

Arafat failed, spectacularly. The violence did not bring Israel to its knees. Instead, it created chaos, lawlessness and economic disaster in the Palestinian areas. The Palestinians know the ruin that Arafat has brought, and they are beginning to protest it. He promised them blood and victory; he delivered on the blood.

Even more important, they have lost their place at the table. Israel is now defining a new equilibrium that will reign for years to come -- the separation fence is unilaterally drawing the line that separates Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians were offered the chance to negotiate that frontier at Camp David and chose war instead. Now they are paying the price.

It stands to reason. It is the height of absurdity to launch a terrorist war against Israel, then demand the right to determine the nature and route of the barrier built to prevent that very terrorism.

These new strategic realities are not just creating a new equilibrium, they are creating the first hope for peace since Arafat officially tore up the Oslo accords four years ago. Once Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and has completed the fence, terrorism as a strategic option will be effectively dead. The only way for the Palestinians to achieve statehood and dignity, and to determine the contours of their own state, will be to negotiate a final peace based on genuine coexistence with a Jewish state.

It could be a year, five years or a generation until the Palestinians come to that realization. The pity is that so many, Arab and Israeli, will have had to die before then.

Thursday, July 08, 2004


Kerry's introduction of Edwards is slightly weird, but effective.
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The Kerry-Edwards rollout has been almost flawless, a triumph of image that obscured uncomfortable realities. The two senators are not, as the Boston Herald merrily front-paged yesterday morning, "THEY'RE LEFT OF TED!" They are the son of a mill worker and the husband of an 'umble immigrant.

Wednesday morning's unveiling of the Kerry and Edwards clans at the leafy Heinz compound in what looked like exurban Pennsylvania, but which they repeatedly referred to as "Pittsburgh," was a handsome Kennedyesque photo-op in which Mr. Kerry's elder daughter--long, blond ponytail, lithe and chic--seemed to play the part of the late Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and tall, dark-haired Chris Heinz seemed like the late John Jr. The Edwardses' towheaded children looked like John-John and Caroline when they lived in the White House. It was all very glamorous in a way that Democrats like (Hyde Park, Hyannis, Clinton in Hollywood--we like big houses and boats, we have a secret weakness for wealth!) and Republicans don't (We're clearing brush here, get out of the way! We sleep in two twin beds held together at the posts by old rubber bands!) Teresa Heinz had the best line of the day: "Pittsburgh taught me to be an American."

Tuesday's Edwards announcement was also well done, slightly weird but only mildly so for Mr. Kerry. The solid week of head-fakes on who the choice would be was brilliantly executed. It not only built what suspense could be built, it forced the networks to keep rolling out minibios of Dick Gephardt and Tom Vilsack and Dianne Feinstein. This made it look like the Democrats had a deep bench. It made it look as if Mr. Kerry had a lot of serious prospects to choose from. In 1988 Vice President Bush literally kept his choice a secret by telling no one around him until the day of the announcement of Dan Quayle. Jim Baker was as surprised as Tom DeFrank. Mr. Bush was surrounded by leakers who advanced their position with the press by feeding them tasty morsels. Mr. Bush couldn't be sure any of them would keep the formation to themselves. Mr. Kerry must have felt pretty much the same. He must know that the primary lesson of "I, Claudius" is now the primary rule of all political campaigns: "Trust no one."

I continue to wonder why an accomplished athlete like Mr. Kerry handles his body with such unease. He never seems to know what to do with his arms and hands. They fly away from him. His physical actions do not seem coordinated with his expression, with what his face is doing and his eyes are seeing. And so he has taken to pointing. When he goes on stage he looks out at the audience and then makes a face as if he's surprised to see a friend standing over there to the right, and another over there to the left. He lurchily points at them with his long arm. Sometimes he gives them a thumbs up. Sometimes it ends with a finger flutter.
He does this because Bill Clinton did it. Mr. Clinton did it because someone told him that pointing in a commanding way while the cameras click makes him look like a leader. It also makes him look as if he has friends in the audience. I used to go to Mr. Clinton speeches and watch him point. I'd swing my head around to see who he was pointing at. He was never pointing at anyone. No one knew who he was pointing at. They always thought it was the guy behind him or the girl over there. But they liked it. Anyway, the Point is a perfect Time/Newsweek cover, and often has been.

I remain impressed by Teresa Heinz Kerry's palpable boredom and disinterest in playing the part of Mr. Kerry's wife. Tuesday, when Mr. Kerry first came out and started to do the pointing-at-my-friends-in-the-crowd thing, he took her hand and whispered in her ear something like, "There's Bob Smith." Meaning, "I want you to look with me at Bob and smile." She couldn't hear him and shook her head, twice. Then finally when she heard him she smiled wanly as if to say, So what? She stifled a yawn on stage too. I love her.

By the way, Republicans tend not to point at the crowd in this way. They wave. I think it's because their mothers taught them pointing is rude. Someday, in 2008 or 2012, there will, however, be a Republican pointer. And we will know history has truly changed. Because that man's mother will not have taught him that pointing is rude, for she was working 18 hours a day in a law firm, and forgot.

In his Tuesday announcement, Mr. Kerry was 20 minutes into his remarks before he said anything interesting: "John Edwards and I would never think about sending young Americans . . . into harm's way anywhere in the world without telling the American people the truth." This is going down into Michael Moore territory, and it's going to be a big theme. He also talked about American independence from oil. That's been an issue for 30 years, but this time it may take off.

Before that Mr. Kerry did nothing but boring boilerplate--John Edwards "shares American values"--all that vague stuff. What does that mean? It means someone's focus group said "they like the word values" But they like it when it has meaning, when it is connected to issues that mean something, not when it's just some dumb word cynically thrown out for the boobs. Boobs are sophisticated now. They may be sophisticated beyond their intelligence, but they know rote words used to please them are rote words used to please them. And they're not impressed.

By the way, I continue to be impressed by how Mr. Kerry plays Vietnam. He served four months in Vietnam, and everyone thinks it was years. It's like a guy showing up on the History Channel talking about the Pacific war, and breaking into tears as he remembers the bombardment. Gray head, sagging face, old aviator glasses. And then the interviewer says "Tell us how long you were there?" And the old guy chirps, "Oh, four months! Scratched my arm, got my ticket punched, and got out of Dodge!" If Mr. Kerry had not led with his weakness--if he had not boldly gone forth from day one presenting his candidacy as one of a Vietnam hero--the whole subject would at this point in the campaign be not a theme but an embarrassment.
The way he's played it, putting the spotlight on his weakness--that has been a triumph of image that obscured uncomfortable realities too.

puppy love

Kerry Has 'Watergate'-style Dirty Tricks Operation

Nader: Kerry Has 'Watergate'-style Dirty Tricks Operation

Maverick presidential candidate Ralph Nader is accusing the Kerry campaign of launching a "Watergate"-style dirty tricks operation in a bid to keep him off the ballot in November.

Nader personally leveled the allegation in a conversation with John Kerry Tuesday morning, and detailed the exchange later in the day for national radio host Sean Hannity.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform in Washington, D.C., and is considered one of the shrewdest political, observers in Washington told in an exclusive interview: “One week ago, the United States transferred power to a sovereign government in Iraq. By choosing John Edwards over Dick Gephardt, the Democrats today transferred power in their party from the labor unions to the trial lawyers."

“Like Kerry, Edwards has a nasty record of voting against taxpayers," Norquist explained. "In six short years he has amassed an anti-taxpayer record rivaling both Kerry and the other Massachusetts senator, Kennedy.

"Edwards voted against the 2001 and 2003 tax relief plans, voted 12 times against repealing the marriage penalty, 8 times against repealing the Death Tax, against the per-child tax credit, against suspending the gasoline tax, and is an ardent protectionist.

"In the last six years, if a policy was good for taxpayers, Edwards was on the wrong side every time,” said Norquist.

According to Norquist, Edward's background as a trial lawyer will inject tremendous energy into both the business and medical communities.

By choosing Edwards, Norquist said, Kerry declared war on on both groups. "This choice was a declaration of war on doctors, hospitals and the entire business community.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Economy Set for Best Growth in 20 Years

Economy Set for Best Growth in 20 Years


(AP) The economy appears headed for a banner year despite a springtime spike in energy prices and a...

WASHINGTON (AP) - The economy appears headed for a banner year despite a springtime spike in energy prices and a recent increase in interest rates.

In fact, many analysts are forecasting that the overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, will grow by 4.6 percent or better this year, the fastest in two decades.

There were strong 4.5 percent growth rates in 1997 and 1999, when Bill Clinton was president and the country was in the midst of a record 10-year expansion.

But if this year's growth ends up a bit faster than that, it will be the best since the economy roared ahead at a 7.2 percent rate in 1984, a year when another Republican president - Ronald Reagan - was running for re-election.

"We are moving into a sweet spot for the economy with interest rates not too high, jobs coming back and business investment providing strength," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Bank One in Chicago, who is predicting GDP growth of 4.8 percent this year.

President Bush is highlighting the improving economy at every opportunity while Democratic challenger John Kerry has focused on what he calls a middle class squeeze of rising health and tuition costs and laid-off workers forced to take lower-paying jobs.

Who will win on the all-important pocketbook issues? Economists aren't sure.

"It is unclear whether voters will remember the past year and the better jobs created during that period or the past four years," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at "It will be a close call and that is one of the reasons the election could be so close."

Assessing the economy at midyear, most private economists are sticking with the optimistic forecasts they had six months ago, even though inflation, driven by surging energy prices, rose higher than expected and the Federal Reserve started raising interest rates last month.

"We are looking for a darn good year despite the fact that we had a big jump in oil prices and interest rates are going up faster than people thought would occur," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's in New York.

Offsetting those drags on the economy has been stronger growth in Japan and China, which helps U.S. exports, better-than-expected consumer spending and much better job growth than analysts were expecting as the year began.

The economy has now created 1.5 million new jobs since last August, compared with a loss of 2.7 million jobs in the previous 29 months, when the country was struggling with a string of blows from a collapsing stock market to a recession and terrorist attacks.

Even with the 10 months of consecutive job gains, Bush is still facing a 1.2 million jobs deficit, from the last peak for employment in March 2001.

However, many analysts anticipate the economy will generate around 200,000 jobs per month over the next six months, a pace that would be enough to erase his deficit figure by the end of the year. That would enable him to escape being the only president since Herbert Hoover in the Great Depression to have lost jobs while in office.

Although the economy created only 112,000 jobs in June, after averaging 304,000 jobs for the previous three months, analysts expect strong job growth the rest of this year.

They predict the unemployment rate - stuck at 5.6 percent for most of this year - will improve gradually, to 5.3 percent by December, as a strengthening job market draws people back into the labor force.

Analysts also are optimistic about inflation in the months ahead, noting that oil prices recently retreated from peaks above $42 per barrel in June, and regular gasoline have declined from highs over $2 a gallon in late May. If the trend continues, inflation pressures will be eased.

The Bond Market Association's economic advisory committee, made up of economists from large financial institutions, is predicting that consumer prices will rise 3.1 percent for all of this year, a significant moderation from the 5.1 percent rate of increase through May.

The group projects overall GDP growth will be at a 20-year high of 4.7 percent, based in part on a belief that the Fed will keep to its pledge of moderation in future rate hikes because of the absence of inflation pressures.

Michael Moore, Alas

America’s corroded politics, benighted democracy, scandalous history and pliant media, have created a monster. Todd Gitlin on Fahrenheit 9/11 and Michael Moore, “the master demagogue an age of demagoguery made”.


André Gide, when asked in 1905 whom he considered the greatest French poet of the 19th century, is said to have replied: “Victor Hugo, hélas!”

Who is the most compelling, useful filmmaker of the 21st century (so far)? Michael Moore, alas–

But now a pause for a moment of conscience. Let intellect have its due. Moore cuts plenty of corners, so how good can that be? Compelling? Useful? Moore specializes in hodgepodge. He jokes his way past the rough edges. He’s neither journalist nor documentarian, for he doesn’t set out to discover what he doesn’t already know. To patronize Michael Moore by calling him useful is to give him a pass for shoddy work, sloppy insinuations, emotional blackmail and all–around demagoguery.

He’s an entertainer (when it suits him) whose brush is so broad, at times, as to coat all evidence and logic with bursts of sensational color. His chief method is the insinuating juxtaposition. Presto, proof by association. Fahrenheit 9/11, his election year release, is like a beer commercial. When you see the gorgeous women drinking the beer, the subterranean layer of your cortex is supposed to think: if I drink, I get. This deep layer is protected by the more deliberate thought: hey, it’s all in good fun. Bush–haters can say, I knew it! Moore can say, I don’t do proofs, I do provocations.

I could go on and on in this vein – some have – with examples. Here are four:

Moore implies that a reason why Bush invaded Afghanistan was to boost UNOCAL’s prospects for building a pipeline there, for Zalmay Khalilzad once consulted for UNOCAL, supporting the Taliban then, and so did Hamid Karzai, and anyway, the Taliban visited the U. S. in March 2001 and Bush made nice, while the Taliban representative made a sexist remark. Stipulated: UNOCAL wanted a pipeline. Say it still does. Does that make UNOCAL a cause of the war? Or the cause? Might there be any others? Moore doesn’t say. “You can see where this is leading,” he says, but he doesn’t have to say it out loud. It’s Conspiracy Lite. He doesn’t attempt to reconcile his sneer at that war with his disdain for the Taliban or with former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke’s sound–bite that the intervention was “slow and small.” He doesn’t have to. Argument isn’t his franchise.

Moore shows shoddy airport security in action and implies (mainly the cute way, with questions) that shaky airport security was intended to amp up American fear in order to sell the Iraq war. So do we want more intrusive security, or less; or is security all shuck–and–jive, a John Ashcroft ploy?

Moore shows Saddam’s pre–war Iraq as a land of cheer, kite–flying and Ferris wheels. Iraq is “a nation that has never attacked us.” (He can’t say the same of Afghanistan, so he doesn’t.) Saddam Hussein – sans WMD, sans al–Qaida collaboration, sans imminent threat, but very much avec torture and tyranny – might just as well have been some mustachio’d clown.

Moore shows Bush and his honchos being made up for television. Can you beat these phonies? But when Moore was boosting Ralph Nader in the 2000 campaign and assuring his public that Tweedlegore = Tweedlebush, was he not made up for the cameras? Was Nader not powdered? If Paul Wolfowitz uses saliva to caress his pompadour into shape, ugh, but what does gross conduct have to do with the neocon view of the world?
And then again –

Sorry, but before this vein goes one more inch, conscience must interrupt. Isn’t all the indignation about Michael Moore unseemly, to say the least, from those who’ve been rather restrained about Bush’s long list of deceptions? Then again, Moore makes thunderous propaganda, all right, but it’s our propaganda, at last, and much of it is right. He’s got more in his arsenal than cheap shots. He’s a not–so–secret weapon against the bully propaganda machine called the White House, which sold a war – a war – on delusional grounds. With jokes, outtakes, hissable villains, the mother of a dead American soldier from Flint, Michigan – a woman who could make Donald Rumsfeld weep – and rhetorical questions, and insinuating music, and bomb damage footage, and whatever else it takes, Moore gets people who don’t follow antiwar websites to see Iraqi casualties, usually invisible and countless, not to mention a bereaved mother, at length. Don’t some means justify some ends – specifically, the end of impelling people to wonder about Bush, the Saudis, the facts of the Iraqi expedition, and the class structure of the armed forces?

Look at some of the evidence of Bush’s insularity, cluelessness, and illegitimacy that Moore puts on display:

Bush was catapulted into the White House thanks to the family gift of Florida and the intervention of his party’s favorites on the Supreme Court. You’ve probably heard this before. Still, given the momentousness of those events and the power of the memory hole, the point can’t be made too often.

Moore revels in slapstick shots of Bush, especially on vacation much of 2001, down through September 10, including August 6, when the CIA briefed him that bin Laden wanted to attack inside the United States. On another occasion, Bush intones against terror, then whips out his golf club and crows to the supine press (which would never let the rest of us in on the banter): “Now watch this drive.”

Bush in Florida on 11 September, after hearing about the second plane attack on the World Trade Towers, reads a kids’ story aloud (Moore says it’s a book called “My Pet Goat” but there’s some doubt whether it’s a whole book, if you care) and stares into space for seven minutes. To say the least, it shows Bush is “in over his head,” said the talk show idol–demon Howard Stern. Some things are right even if Howard Stern says so.

Moore brandishes Craig Unger’s argument in House of Bush, House of Saud about Bush I and II ties to the Saudi chiefs (more intimate by far than Saddam’s “ties” to al–Qaida & Co.) Why the special flights for the bin Ladens after 11 September when airspace was closed? Why is the Secret Service protecting the Saudi Embassy (from Michael Moore, yet)? Moore doesn’t have the answers but the questions are well worth asking now that the national journalists have moved on. Moore is not quite cogent on the significance of the Saudi–Bush buddy system – why didn’t Carlyle Group crony James Baker love the Taliban and argue against the Afghanistan war? – but he tells the hitherto clueless or clue–impaired that Bush lived in an oil–soaked bubble of (at best) gullibility most of his life. That’s worth knowing. (But better without Moore’s leading question, “Was [Bush] thinking he needed to think about business relations?”)

Moore shows Bush opposing an independent 9/11 investigating commission – and there’s a fact that’s been shoved down the memory hole.

And Colin Powell said in February 2001 that Saddam was unable to build WMD. There’s another clip worth recycling. (American news organizations haven’t gotten around to it.)

And Bush jokes to a fancy fundraiser: “Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.”

And Moore shows that state authorities in Oregon are short–handed when it comes to antiterrorist staff.

Moore ambushes Congressmen to make the point that their kids aren’t the ones fighting Bush’s war.

Mostly, Moore argues with splices – bang, bang, and another bang. But his best moments are something quite different. As several reviewers have noted, he breaks new ground by hanging around with Lila Lipscomb, the mother of a Flint soldier killed in Iraq, and with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital. You can say it’s war, any war, but when the war’s being antisepticised, exposing some raw flesh and hurt souls can’t be a bad thing. It’s necessary. So give Moore a cheer for this.

And because, in the thick of a rolling political emergency, he’s packing in blue–state crowds and blue–niche–of–red–state crowds and who–knows–what–color–in–purple–state crowds. Fahrenheit 9/11 opened as the highest–grossing nonfiction (some would quarrel with the label, but never mind) film of all time. Its average box office take per theatre beat out – good God – Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. According to Fox Sports (!), the auto racer Dale Earnhardt., Jr. – son of the eponymous lionized father – told his pit crew to see Fahrenheit 9/11, saying, hey, it'll be a good bonding experience no matter what your political belief.

Benighted democracy needs the contention that Moore provokes because the newspapers don’t provoke it, television doesn’t, the Democrats didn’t, Congress didn’t, judicious folks didn’t. No one who didn’t get worked up about the administration’s distortions re WMD, al–Qaida, and mushroom clouds has the right to pure rage against Michael Moore. He’s not running for president, after all. (More good news.) It was Moore who put the issue of Bush’s evasion of military service back in play a few months ago, when he called Bush a deserter on a platform with General Wesley Clark. That was overkill – and it filled an enormous hole.

Moore is the master demagogue an age of demagoguery made. He’s an impresario of spectacle and he corrals people who don’t pay attention to news to pay attention to him and his facts, his footage, his badinage, his sarcasm, his factoid detonations, all of it, indiscriminately, smashing up the complacency that watched George Bush seize power in the most powerful nation in history. That’s how America goes now. Still, Moore could be a better version of Moore and still be Moore. He could show us that war kills and Bush is appalling, and yet be more scrupulous. But Moore is the only Moore we have – alas. Moore is the anti–Bush, and damn if we didn’t need one.

Saddam In Custody -- Moore, Soros, Dean Still At Large

Saddam In Custody -- Moore, Soros, Dean Still At Large
June 30, 2004

The Americanization of Iraq proceeds at an astonishing pace, the Iraqis are taking to freedom like fish to water, and the possibilities for this nation are endless. It's hard to say who's more upset about these developments: the last vestiges of pro-Hussein Baathist resistance in Iraq or John Kerry's campaign manager.

The New York Times ran a front-page news story on Sunday about how life was better for Iraqi girls under Saddam Hussein -- living under Saddam, that is, not the girls who were literally under Saddam, Odai and Qusai while they were being raped. The article was titled "For Iraqi Girls, Changing Land Narrows Lives." True, they don't have to run from Odai's rape rooms anymore. But apparently not a single Iraqi female has been admitted to Augusta National Golf Club since the liberation!

The Democrats want Saddam back.

Of course we can't be sure if their presidential candidate wants Saddam back, inasmuch as John Kerry will be in an undisclosed location until Election Day. As Mickey Kaus has pointed out, every time Kerry starts campaigning, his poll numbers plummet. According to a recent New York Times poll, after $60 million in warm and fuzzy TV ads about Kerry, 40 percent of Americans have no opinion of him. In other words, the ads are working! So Kerry will be sitting out the actual campaign this year.

But he's got a lot of surrogates campaigning for him. There's Michael Moore, who has said he hopes more Americans will die in Iraq. His movie, "Fahrenheit 7/11" as we call it, apparently supports the Times' view that life in Iraq was better, sunnier, happier under Saddam Hussein. Moore has also accused the American people of being the stupidest, most naive people on the face of the Earth. And after last weekend, he's got the box office numbers to prove it!

Moore keeps whining about all the right-wing hit groups out to get him. Granted he's a large target (or what's known in baseball as a "fat pitch"). But conservatives are frankly relieved we finally have a liberal who tells the truth about what he thinks of America.

Then there's George Soros, who compared Israel to Nazi Germany and President George Bush to the Nazis. Soros later denied comparing Bush to the Nazis, saying he had merely said Bush reminded him of "the Germans." Hmmm, which Germans was Soros referring to -- the Von Trapp Family? Katarina Witt and Steffi Graf? Eric Braeden from "The Young and the Restless"? Wouldn't Soros like Bush if he were similar to the new pacifist, America-hating Germans? If not, why did liberals keep pestering us to get Germany's approval before we invaded Iraq?

Soros blames President Bush for anti-Semitism, and then proceeds directly to the usual liberal talking points attacking Israel. He says Israeli policies are to blame for anti-Semitism -- coming in a close second after the Von Trapp-like Bush -- and Israel was a large part of the reason the United States went to war with Iraq. Also oil, which would certainly explain why gas is so cheap now.

Apparently, given a choice between: (a) lifting the sanctions against Iraq so oil sales could resume, for the cost of a single phone call, and (b) a war costing $120 billion and nearly 900 U.S. lives so far, Bush chose (b). Seriously, there are still adults in the English-speaking world with opposable thumbs who believe this theory?

And then there's Howard Dean, who thinks Bush was in cahoots with the Saudis -- and he's the centrist of the bunch. I'm looking forward to Dean's address at the Democratic Convention this summer. Rumor has it he'll end with a squeal so high-pitched only dogs will be able to hear it.

I admire their savage energy, but these people want to run the country. Even with all their money and power, I don't think they could get the Haitians to let them govern. But Soros and company think they should be running the United States of America.

Apart from the fact that Kerry won't come out of hiding while allowing the nuts to attack Bush for him, these aren't random nobodies popping up to endorse Kerry. Howard Dean was considerably more likely to be the Democratic nominee for president than Joe Lieberman ever was.

Soros has vowed to spend $15 million to defeat George Bush this year -- buying himself more influence than the entire populations of several states.
Michael Moore's endorsement was proudly accepted by erstwhile Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, who -- just to counterbalance his own remarks defending infanticide as "a private matter between a woman and her doctor" -- explicitly defended some of Moore's loopier remarks, which is saying something.

Come to think of it, it's no surprise they want Saddam Hussein back. He made the Democrats seem moderate by comparison.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Kerry Says He Believes Life Starts at Conception

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 5, 2004; Page A06

Kerry Says He Believes Life Starts at Conception

DYERSVILLE, Iowa, July 4 -- As Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) campaigned across Iowa on Sunday with Gov. Tom Vilsack, widely reported to be on Kerry's vice presidential short list, both men dodged repeated questions about whether their joint appearance might be a preview of the Democratic ticket.

But even as he tried to avoid making news Sunday, Kerry broke new ground in an interview that ran in the Dubuque, Iowa, Telegraph Herald. A Catholic who supports abortion rights and has taken heat from some in the church hierarchy for his stance, Kerry told the paper, "I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception."

Spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said that although Kerry has often said abortion should be "safe, legal and rare," and that his religion shapes that view, she could not recall him ever publicly discussing when life begins.

"I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist," he continued in the interview. "We have separation of church and state in the United States of America." The comments came on the final day of a three-state Midwest swing, during which Kerry has repeatedly sought to dispel stereotypes that could play negatively among voters there.

President Bush's campaign said these instances are further evidence of what it says is Kerry's propensity for misleading flip-flops.

"John Kerry's ridiculous claim to hold conservative values and his willingness to change his beliefs to fit his audience betrays a startling lack of conviction on important issues like abortion that will make it difficult for voters to give him their trust," said Steve Schmidt, a Bush campaign spokesman.

On Sunday morning, the day the candidate's abortion comments appeared in the local paper, Kerry sat in a church pew near Vilsack, also a Catholic who supports abortion rights, and his wife, Christie, one of Kerry's earliest backers in Iowa.

Afterward, several parishioners asked him about his position on abortion and his vote against a recent bill that would have banned the late-term procedure opponents call "partial birth" abortion, according to a reporter for the Telegraph Herald who sat behind Kerry's pew. Kerry replied that he would have supported the ban if it had included an exception for the health of the mother.

Kerry took Communion during Mass, which a few Catholic bishops have publicly said he should not do because of his abortion views.

"I wish he was against abortion, but I don't think that'll get settled," said Helen Willenberg, 83, a Catholic who met Kerry later in the day. "But I still hope he wins."

Later, Kerry and Vilsack walked the same Cascade, Iowa, parade route, shaking hands with voters, but rarely walking alongside each other or conversing publicly.

"Come on up here, Mr. President, we've got room for you," said a man seated on the porch of the Hughes Realty agency, as Kerry hopped over to say hello. There were also scattered Bush signs, some Bush stickers on folks holding Kerry signs and at least one heckler, in a T-shirt that read "W in '04," who yelled, "Kerry go home."

With speculation rampant Sunday, Kerry's daughter Vanessa told CNN that even she had tried but failed to get a hint from her father about his choice as running mate.

Asked whether he had decided who would join his ticket, Kerry said, "I made a decision to get a drink and eat some lunch." Afterward, the group proceeded to Dyersville for a photo opportunity on the spot where the 1989 movie "Field of Dreams" was filmed.

Surrounded by a half-dozen Little Leaguers with baseball gloves, Kerry ambled across the diamond into the thigh-high Iowa corn. As the children's heads disappeared, the 6-foot-4 senator ducked out of view, re-creating a scene from the movie, in which long-dead baseball players vanish after a game.

Kerry took a turn at bat, fielded ground balls at second base and pitched to an assortment of kids, and later to Vanessa Kerry, who, along with her sister, Alexandra, joined him on the campaign trail over the weekend.

At an evening barbecue at a home in Independence, Iowa, Kerry told about 200 supporters how happy he was to be back in the Hawkeye State. Kerry's comeback victory in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 19 propelled him to the front of the Democratic pack.

"I was being mentioned on the obituary pages here," he said, half-jokingly, before thanking those gathered for backing him and asking them to continue their support.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

S A D D A M ' S Interrogation logs

S A D D A M ' S


- - - -

Interrogation commenced: 0735 hours

Colonel Beckwith and I decided to play Good Cop/Bad Cop again. I came into the room as Bad Cop and yelled at SH. He immediately laughed at me because last week when I came in I was Good Cop and had given him a sandwich. I tried to play it off that I had some heartburn and was still Good Cop but "just a little cranky." Colonel Beckwith tried to cover for me by entering the room as Bad Cop and yelling, but that didn't seem to work either. SH muttered something but wouldn't say what.

Interrogation terminated: 0749 hours

- - - -

Interrogation commenced: 1430 hours

I tried to break the will of SH by showing him an Iraqi newspaper editorial calling for his trial and punishment. SH told me that our Psychological Ops folks obviously printed a fake newspaper. I told him I swore that I bought the paper at an off-base coffeehouse. He insisted it was a fake. I told him I crossed my heart. He said he did not believe me. I asked him what I needed to do to prove to him that it was a real newspaper and he suggested taking him to the off-base coffeehouse to see it firsthand. I asked, but Gen. Farley said absolutely no way. SH didn't say anything else aside from asking how much my PsyOps newspaper subscription cost and if there were any PsyOps coupons in it. I asked where the WMD were and he suggested I look in my copy of PsyOps Weekly.

Interrogation terminated: 1540 hours

- - - -

Interrogation commenced: 0330 hours

Woke SH quite early to catch him off-guard and groggy. I asked, "What's your first name?" and he said, "Saddam." Again I asked, "What's your first name?" and he said, "Saddam." I kept asking, "What's your first name?" and he kept saying, "Saddam." Once I had a rhythm going, I quickly asked, "Where are the WMD?" and he said, "Saddam."

Interrogation terminated: 0338 hours

- - - -

Interrogation commenced: 2210 hours

I played chess with SH, who is not too bad a chess player. At one point, my bishop took his rook. I told him that in the U.S., when you lose your rook to a bishop, it is customary to divulge a little personal secret, like maybe where the WMD are. He said we weren't in the U.S., then he took my pawn with the horse piece.

Interrogation terminated: 0122 hours

- - - -

Interrogation commenced: 2000 hours

I told SH that we would be paid a visit by Baghdad's longest-running improvisational comedy troupe, and that they often ask for audience suggestions. I had one of the players ask SH for the name of something you'd return to a department store. He said "pliers." They did a quick scene about returning pliers, and then another "player" asked for a geographic location where one might hide WMDs. SH was quiet for a long time, and so I suggested Wal-Mart.

Interrogation terminated: 0122 hours

- - - -

Interrogation commenced: 1241 hours

After lunch, SH informed us he was willing to talk. Colonel Beckwith and I sat down with him. He spoke for quite some time and answered every question fully. We believe we have made great progress and we are researching the data.

Interrogation terminated: 1551 hours

- - - -

Interrogation commenced: 0940 hours

Colonel Beckwith and I told SH that we didn't think it was particularly funny that he had us looking for "Monkey Valley" and the "Camel Ass Testing Facility" when, it turned out, there were no such locations. Also, we told him we were unable to verify the existence of Mohammad Mohahaha and we do not believe his claims of having built an "infidel ray." We told him that, as a result of our disappointment, we would be denying his TV access. He said TV sucks anyway because they don't sing about him anymore.

Interrogation terminated: 1100 hours

- - - -

Interrogation commenced: 0250 hours

I roused SH from his slumbers and told him Tariq Aziz was on the phone and wanted to know where the VX gas was. Didn't bite.

Interrogation terminated: 0252 hours

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Saving Blake

Saving Blake

When he died in 1827, William Blake was widely regarded as 'mad'. His reputation was restored by an extraordinary biography, begun by a young lawyer and finished by his wife. Richard Holmes celebrates the work of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist

Saturday May 29, 2004
The Guardian

When William Blake died in London in 1827, he was already a forgotten man. His engraved and hand-painted Songs of Innocence and of Experience had sold fewer than 20 copies in 30 years. His Prophetic Books had disappeared almost without trace. A single mysterious poem, "The Tyger", had reached the anthologies. As a poet - once read in manuscript by Coleridge, Wordsworth and Charles Lamb - he was virtually unknown outside a small circle of disciples, a group of young men who pointedly called themselves "The Ancients". Robert Southey, the Poet Laureate, magnanimously dismissed him as "a man of great, but undoubtedly insane genius".
As an artist, his reputation was little better. He was chiefly remembered as a one-time commercial engraver of grimly improving texts: Edward Young's Night Thoughts, Robert Blair's The Grave, the dark Biblical drama of the "Book of Job", and Dante's Inferno still unfinished at the time of his death. In 1830 Blake was given a short and gently patronising entry in Alan Cunningham's Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters. Blake was a lovable, minor eccentric: unworldly, self-taught and self-deluded.

Thirty years later, on November 1 1860, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who owned a collection of Blake's unpublished manuscripts, wrote with surprising news to his friend the poet William Allingham. "A man (one Gilchrist, who lives next door to Carlyle) wrote to me the other day, saying he was writing a life of Blake, and wanted to see my manuscript by that genius... I have told him he can see it here if he will give me a day's notice."

When Gilchrist visited him, Rossetti was surprised to encounter a long-haired, dreamy, moon-faced young man who looked rather as if he had stepped out of one of his own Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Alexander Gilchrist was 32, a young writer and art critic, who announced quietly that he had been working on a life of Blake for the past six years. Indeed, he had already signed a contract with the publisher Macmillan.

Who was Blake's unexpected champion? Born in the year after Blake's death in 1828, Alexander Gilchrist had trained as a barrister in the Middle Temple. Restless in his profession, but with great determination and independence of mind, he sought freedom in freelance art criticism. He produced an outstanding article on the unfashionable artist William Etty, once renowned as an exuberant painter of Romantic nudes and erotic scenes from classical mythology. Victorian taste had turned against Etty, and his paintings were scoffingly referred to in Academy circles as "Etty's bumboats". Gilchrist determined to write a full-length biography, and turn back the tide of priggish mockery.

On the strength of a £100 commission, Gilchrist married his 23-year-old sweetheart Anne Burrows in February 1851. They spent part of their honeymoon researching Etty's life in York. They interviewed his friends, and examined his nude studies and historical pictures. This unorthodox nuptial expedition greatly appealed to Anne, who was free-thinking in her views, and impatient with the conventions of her respectable upbringing. She too hoped one day to write. Their first child was born in December 1851, and the controversial Etty biography was published in 1855, when Gilchrist was 27.

The subject of William Blake had probably been in Gilchrist's mind for more than a decade. As a student, Gilchrist had heard rumours of Blake as the eccentric erstwhile occupant of Fountain Court, which he passed through every day on the way to his legal chambers. Initially Gilchrist knew little of the poetry. As an art critic it was a copy of Blake's illustrations to the "Book of Job", found at the back of a London printshop, which first caught his eye. He never lost his sense of their astonishing power, and it was Blake's visual imagination which always remained for Gilchrist the key to his genius. Accordingly, in summer 1855 he decided to write to one of the surviving Ancients, the painter Samuel Palmer, then aged 60.

On August 23 1855, Gilchrist received a long and engaging reply, which he later reprinted entire in his biography. While praising Blake's artistic integrity, Palmer carefully dispelled the notion of Blake's madness, and replaced it with the figure of a gentle, almost Christ-like sage. "He was a man without a mask; his aim was single, his path straight-forwards, and his wants few..." At the same time Palmer hinted at a prophet from the Old Testament, rather than the New: a formidable Blake who could be highly "expressive" and emotional, and with a flashing glance that could be "terrible" towards his enemies. Gilchrist was captivated, and he and Palmer became fast friends.

A year later in 1856, the Gilchrist family moved in next to Thomas and Jane Carlyle at No 6 Cheyne Row. Carlyle, 60-year-old doyen of biographical writing, had admired Gilchrist's study of Etty. This rare mark of approval from the author of On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History (1841), confirmed Gilchrist in his new vocation as biographer.

The pursuit of Blake's trail through London galleries, local museums, antique bookshops, and private collections now began in earnest. Gilchrist purchased Blake prints, and borrowed what he could not buy. Anne started her own collection of Blake's watercolours. Together they tracked down Blake's various lodgings and workshops north and south of the river, in Soho and Lambeth, and meticulously researched his three-year sojourn at Felpham, by the sea in Sussex.

Having established friendly contact with the affable Samuel Palmer, Gilchrist moved on to the other surviving Ancients. His greatest diplomatic triumph was to pierce the peppery reserve of the retired journalist, Henry Crabb Robinson, then in his 80s. Robinson - once the intimate friend of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Lamb - had kept extensive diary accounts of the whole Romantic circle during his time. They were admiring, but sceptical and extremely shrewd. In 1811 he had published a rare appreciation of Blake's work in a German magazine: "William Blake: Artist, Poet, and Religious Dreamer."

In the winter of 1859, Gilchrist submitted an outline draft of his life of Blake to the publisher Macmillan and was offered a contract. Members of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood were excited by the prospect of the forthcoming book, and Dante Gabriel's brother, the art critic William Michael Rossetti, encouraged Gilchrist to think in terms of an even more ambitious project. After the biography, perhaps he could edit a companion volume of Blake's poems, and a catalogue of his art work? Spurred on by these late supporters, Gilchrist promised to deliver the completed biography by spring 1862.

But after six years, the work was now close to exhausting him. Money was short, and by now the Gilchrists had four children. Gilchrist's constitution, never strong, began to fail. Sometimes he collapsed, unable to work on Blake for days on end. It was during this growing professional crisis that Anne Gilchrist began quietly to assert herself.

Anne had probably been working as Alexander's part-time research assistant ever since the Etty days. But now she became his full-time amanuensis. She took dictation, copied Blake's manuscripts, checked facts and dates at the British Museum, and prepared an index.

The book was lucidly organised in 38 short chapters, and Gilchrist sent the first eight to the printers in September 1861. He promised to send in the next batch by November, with the aim of having the complete work in proof by the following spring. But on November 20 1861, Gilchrist wrote to his publisher that he had been unable to send the next "big mass of copy".

He explained that "domestic troubles have during the last month stood in the way". For six weeks his eldest daughter, seven year old Beatrice, had been lying dangerously ill at Cheyne Row with scarlet fever. Anne had insisted on a "rigid quarantine", remaining alone in the child's sickroom to carry out all the nursing herself. A week later, just as little Beatrice began to pull through, Gilchrist was himself struck down. Ten days after he had sent his desperate letter, Alexander Gilchrist slipped into a coma.

Anne later wrote: "The brain was tired with stress of work; the fever burned and devastated like a flaming fire: to four days of delirium succeeded one of exhaustion, of stupor; and then the end; without a word, but not without a look of loving recognition. It was on a wild and stormy night, November 30th 1861, that his spirit took flight."

Alexander Gilchrist died at the age of 33. His great biography of Blake, his labour of love, had been wonderfully researched and written. But it was unfinished.

With her peculiar force and independence, Anne Gilchrist immediately determined to finish the biography for him. Less than a week after Alexander's death, she wrote to Macmillan on December 6 1861: "I try to fix my thoughts on the one thing that remains for me to do for my dear Husband. I do not think that anyone but myself can do what has to be done to the Book. I was his amanuensis."

She packed up his papers, returned a mass of borrowed pictures and manuscripts, refused Jane's invitation to move in with the Carlyles, and took the children and the unfinished book down to a clapboard cottage in tiny village of Shottermill, a mile from Haslemere in Sussex.

To understand what happened next, we have to turn to Anne Gilchrist's own story. She was born in February 1828 in Gower Street, London, but partly brought up in the country at Colne in Essex. Anne's father was a London lawyer, strict and demanding, who died when she was only 11. From then on, the family were on their own, and Anne was in some sense a liberated spirit. They moved to Highgate, where Anne went to school, a handsome tomboy, clever and rebellious.

In 1847 she was devastated by the death of her "angel brother" Johnnie. A year later, aged 20, she announced her engagement to one of Johnnie's friends, Alexander Gilchrist, "great, noble and beautiful". He was probably a substitute brother. She deeply admired him, but from what she said later, she was never truly in love.

After the birth of their four children she set herself to earn additional household money by writing small pieces for the monthly magazines, and Chambers Encyclopaedia. Unexpectedly, she made a speciality of popular science subjects. Moreover, she was remarkably successful. In 1859, the year of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, she wrote a controversial article on the newly discovered gorilla, "Our Nearest Relation", comparing its skills and habits to homo sapiens.

Anne claimed the work on the biography came to her as a kind of posthumous collaboration. "Alex's spirit is with me ever - presides in my home, speaks to me in every sweet scene; broods over the peaceful valleys; haunts the grand wild hill tops; shines gloriously forth in setting sun, and moon and stars." This may have been true, but she was also driven by other, though no less powerful emotions. Essentially, she seems to have felt guilty about Gilchrist's death.

Nearly a decade later, in September 1871, she wrote a remarkable confession of her own. "I think... my sorrow was far more bitter, though not so deep, as that of a loving tender wife. As I stood by him in the coffin, I felt such remorse [that] I had not, could not have, been more tender to him - such a conviction that if I had loved him as he deserved to be loved he would not have been taken from us. To the last my soul dwelt apart and unmated, and his soul dwelt apart and unmated."

Anne already knew much of Alexander's method of working, and his perfectionism. What she did not know was whether she could match it. She wrote to Macmillan: "Many things were to have been inserted - anecdotes etc. collected during the last year, which he used to say 'would be the best things in the book'. Whether I shall be able to rightly use the rough notes of these and insert them in the fittest places I cannot yet tell."

Who, then, finally wrote Gilchrist's Life of William Blake?

Anne regarded the text of the biography as sacred to Gilchrist's memory. She was its sole guardian. "I think you will not find it hard to forgive me a little reluctance," she wrote to William Rossetti, "that any living tones should blend with that voice which here speaks for the last time on earth."

But how far she herself added new materials from Alexander's notes, or made stylistic changes, must remain problematic. In April 1862 she was speaking of "incorporating all the additional matter contained in the notes" into a final draft, which sounds quite radical. But to the end of her days Anne insisted that she was nothing more than her husband's "editor". Since Gilchrist's original manuscript has not survived, there is no way of knowing precisely how she understood this role.

The Life was finally published in two volumes in October 1863. Two thousand copies were printed, and reviews appeared rapidly. There were some initial doubts whether the biography would, as Anne put it, "shock devout minds". One reviewer observed: "a more timid biographer might have hesitated about making so open an exhibition of his hero's singularities." But it was soon clear that the book would be a triumph. It was widely admired by the entire Pre-Raphaelite circle: Robert Browning wrote a fan letter, and Samuel Palmer spoke for the Ancients when he described it as "a treasure".

The great strengths of the work, which Anne had so faithfully preserved, were quickly apparent. Gilchrist's approach is lively, personal, enthusiastic and often humorous - quite unlike much over-earnest mid-Victorian biography. The quick, informal, darting style of his prose lends a sense of continual discovery and excitement to the narrative, and yet allows for virtuoso passages of description and summary.

He also quotes brilliantly throughout from Blake's own works, both prose and poetry, much of it quite unknown to contemporary readers, such as the early "Notes on Lavater" and the "Proverbs of Hell". He was, too, the first Victorian writer to pick out and reprint in full Blake's great "Jerusalem" hymn from the Preface to Milton, "And did those feet in ancient times".

Gilchrist reverts continually to Blake's visions: calmly asking what exactly they were, how Blake described them, and how they should be accounted for. Much apparently outlandish behaviour, such as the "scandalous" Adam and Eve nude sunbathing incident at Lambeth, is given a reasonable and detailed explanation, in this case with a amusing reminder about the poet Shelley's enthusiasm for the early naturist movement.

Chapter 35, boldly entitled: "Mad or Not Mad?" is in many ways the psychological key to the entire biography. Here Gilchrist carefully defines the "special faculty" of Blake's imagination, and vindicates the profound spiritual sanity of the "gentle yet fiery-hearted mystic". One after another, he calls to witness all Blake's circle of friends, from Flaxman and Fuseli to Palmer and Linnell.

In a robust passage Gilchrist rejects any modish Victorian interpretation of Blake's visions. "No man, by the way, would have been more indifferent or averse than he (wide and tolerant as was his faith in supernatural revelations) towards the table-turning, wainscot-knocking, bosh-propounding 'Spiritualism' of the present hour." Instead Gilchrist finally champions Blake in terms that Carlyle would have recognised: "Does not prophet or hero always seem 'mad' to the respectable mob, and to polished men of the world...?"

Gilchrist had a gift for evoking particular London streets, characteristic clusters of buildings or courtyards, and beyond them certain rural landscapes and secluded villages, where Blake had lived and worked. In this way, the biography first gave Blake's extraordinary imaginative life "a local habitation and a name". The descriptions of the gothic interior of Westminster Abbey, or of Hercules Building (and its garden) in Lambeth, or of the cottage and seashore at Felpham and the last, hidden lodgings at Fountain Court are especially evocative. The final picture of Blake "chaunting Songs" to Catherine, as he lay on his deathbed in the little upper room above the Thames, is unforgettable.

Gilchrist's Life of William Blake, with its combative subtitle Pictor Ignotus (The Unknown Painter), is one of the most influential of all the great mid-Victorian biographies. It rescued its subject from almost total obscurity, challenged the notion of Blake's madness, and first defined his genius as both an artist and visionary poet combined. It set the agenda for modern Blake studies and remains the prime source for all modern Blake biographies. It remains wonderfully readable today, and salvaged from death, it still vibrates with extraordinary life.

Yet like so many works of art, it was produced at great cost, and under mysterious conditions. In the absence of an original manuscript of the 1863 biography, the mystery will always remain just how much of this first, ground-breaking text we really owe to Alexander Gilchrist or to Anne; or to some indefinable Blakean collaboration between the two.

· This is an edited extract from Richard Holmes's introduction to The Life of William Blake by Alexander Gilchrist, to be published by Harper Perennial in August

· Richard Holmes appears at the Guardian Hay Festival on Friday. Box office 0870 990 1299.