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WHO LOST BEINART? Peter Beinart, a scrub-faced lad, seems to know that he must never notice: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JANUARY 12, 2007

WHO LOST BEINART: How might American failure in Iraq play out in our domestic politics? Before we limn Peter Beinart’s thoughts, we’ll recommend Jebediah Reed’s Radar piece, a profile of the cultural absurdity we’ve described as “rule by the wrong.”

Years ago, we pointed it out, though the striking case of Scott Ritter: In our irrational press-and-political culture, pundits are punished for being right, and they’re rewarded for being wrong (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/4/04). In Radar, Reed fleshes out this deeply irrational folkway. As Reed notes, pundits who were right on Iraq have been ruined. And those who were wrong? Such dudes thrive.

Which brings us back to Beinart’s piece, about political fallout from Iraq. Assuming that Bush’s “surge” won’t work, he ponders the future, thinking back to the fallout from Vietnam:
BEINART (1/12/07): But, if the surge makes little difference in Iraq, it could make a profound difference in the United States, shaping the way Americans see the war for years to come. Even as Bush makes a last stab at victory, the “who lost Iraq?" debate is well underway. And, like all such debates, there are two main factions: those who believe the war was not winnable and those who believe it was—had we only taken off the gloves.

The last time the United States endured such a debate, over Vietnam, the hawks more than held their own. One of Vietnam's great ironies is that, rather than empowering the American left, it ended up empowering the American right. It was in Vietnam's aftermath that the conservative movement, after decades in the political wilderness, finally seized power. It did so in part by blaming the antiwar movement—which had burrowed deep within the Democratic Party—for America's defeat and by claiming, as Ronald Reagan told the Conservative Political Action Conference in 1974, that the real "lesson of Vietnam" was that the United States didn't “pledge our full resources to achieve victory.”
Democrats and liberals got blamed for losing Vietnam. But that won’t happen this time, Beinart says. According to Beinart, hawks could claim that the U.S. didn’t “pledge our full resources” back in Nam. But now, “because of the surge, that's going to be very hard to say about Iraq,” Beinart judges. “The blame game has already been different this time around because conservatives are in charge.”

Major parts of this piece seem strange. Beinart’s thesis turns on the notion that President Nixon was just a “moderate,” while President Bush is a real “conservative.” But did that “moderate” put fewer resources into Nam than this “conservative” has put into Iraq? That’s a difficult case to make—although it’s certainly clear that this war’s policies were produced by self-identified “conservatives.”

But the oddest part of Beinart’s piece is its author’s apparent belief that such matters are decided rationally—by rational pols and rational analysts speaking to a rational public. That is a child’s understanding. After all, the stab-in-the-back Vietnam theories were developed by the Rambo films as well as by people like Reagan. We live in a deeply irrational world. In this world, the political judgments which emerge over time are often driven by corrupted elites—elites which generate self-serving tales which appeal to the public’s irrational nature. How irrational is the world which produces our political discourse? We live in a world where a millionaire “press corps” will promote bizarre tales about Targeted Pols, reciting these tales for years at a time. We live in a world where pundits advance if they get big things wrong—and end up in the dumpster if they get those things right. In short, we live in a deeply irrational world. And Beinart shows no sign of knowing.

Democrats are right to worry that they will be blamed for losing Iraq. And uh-oh! Beinart turns out to be one of the pundits profiled in Radar—a pundit who has greatly gained from being wrong about Iraq. How irrational is our discourse? At TNR, Beinart pretended not to notice while the millionaire press corps which now pays his bills conducted its crackpot assaults against Gore. Then, he managed to get it all wrong as Bush, the beneficiary, went to Iraq. Few pundits were wrong in so many ways along the long, winding road to Iraq. Now, Beinart seems to be wrong once again. But then, being wrong is the proven way to advance in an irrational culture.

Our political discourse is deeply irrational. It’s so irrational that even victimized liberals keep refusing to discuss major parts of the problem. But the elites which invented those tales about Gore will also invent crazy tales of Iraq. Beinart seems innocent of this fact—as he seemed during Campaign 2000.

DIGGING DEEPER: For Digby’s take on the Radar piece, you know what to do—just click here.

“There needs to be some discussion about how to change this incentive structure,” Digby writes, of rule-by-the-wrong. Aw heck—here’s the whole paragraph:
DIGBY (1/11/07): There needs to be some discussion about how to change this incentive structure. It's hurting the country. It's one thing for the rightwing noise machine to do this for the sad little wingnut welfare queens like Jonah Goldberg. Their industry is designed to reward being wrong for ideological reasons. The mainstream media, however, has no such rationale. (Or does it?) A nation that rewards those who are wrong and punishes those who are right is doomed.
Our suggestion: Liberals should discuss Campaign 2000, the two-year episode in which that “mainstream media” completely merged with the “right-wing noise machine.” Under the pressure of Bush’s failures, the two groups have broken apart once again (just click here, for example). But from March 1999 through November 2000, there was no way to distinguish Cokie Roberts from Barbara Olson, Richard Cohen from William Kristol. They all recited the same crackpot tales—stories which were deeply irrational.

In fact, the mainstream media is now a multimillionaire elite—and, increasingly, it behaves like same. To date, Campaign 2000 (an extension of the Clinton wars) is the most striking example of this development. Why in the world do liberal elites (and liberal bloggers) still work so hard to avoid this discussion? It keeps the public barefoot and clueless when we simply refuse to discuss the most striking events of our time.

WE WISH WE TAPED IT: Bob Schieffer, on Thursday’s Imus, assuring his host that Bush is fully sincere in his plans for Iraq. Unmentioned by Imus and Schieffer, as always: Schieffer’s long-standing personal ties to Bush. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/12/04 and 10/13/04. Elites keep quiet for each other. And they vouch for each other’s motives.

Schieffer on Gore? Astoundingly different. See
THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/13/03, to revisit a truly kooky episode—an episode which helps us trace the fault lines of our millionaire elites. Beinart swims in a deeply irrational sea—and knows that he must never notice.