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CHANNELING ATRIOS! We interrupt our tedious series to further a point made by Atrios: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JANUARY 18, 2007

GLOBAL WARNING, CONTINUED: Three cheers to David Roberts for his latest post about the attempt to reframe the global warming discussion. We’ll suggest that you read every word. But here is Roberts’ nugget:
ROBERTS (1/17/07): This is how the far right colonizes the debate: they caricature a far-left strawman position, attribute it to "some" on the other side, and then cast their own position as the "center" between the far-right position and the mythical or marginalized far-left position. They've done this dozens of times, on a whole panoply of issues. (Roberts’ emphasis)
This involves “a right-wing script that dates back decades,” Roberts writes. We’ll suggest that you read every word.

Roberts cites five different writers who have helped create that “far-left strawman” in the ongoing warming debate. Of the five, we’ll remain most concerned about the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin. In his January 1 report, Revkin created a goony intellectual/moral equivalence between Al Gore and crackpot senator Jim Inhofe, who claims that warming is a gigantic “hoax” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/15/07). We think it’s strange—and it should be disturbing—to see the Times start to go there.

This is an important post. We strongly recommend that you read it.

YOU CAN’T GET DUMBER: It doesn’t take long to get an answer. Yesterday, we again suggested that journalists shouldn’t recite major candidates’ slogans for them. But Tucker Carlson had a better idea. Here he was, on yesterday’s Tucker, referring to a photo pf Rudy Giuliani:
CARLSON (1/17/07): Coming up, do you want a Republican presidential frontrunner? You‘re looking at one. “America’s Mayor” leads the latest Gallup poll by quite a ways.
It can’t be done. There’s no way to do it. You simply can’t get dumber.

DUMB—AND DUMBER: Many observers have criticized Bush for his answer to this question from Jim Lehrer:

LEHRER (1/16/07): Let me ask you a bottom-line question, Mr. President. If it is as important as you've just said—and you've said it many times—as all of this is, particularly the struggle in Iraq, if it's that important to all of us and to the future of our country, if not the world, why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something? The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the volunteer military—the Army and the U.S. Marines and their families. They're the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point.
Yes, the first part of Bush’s response sounded dumb. (“Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.”) But Lehrer’s “bottom-line question” was perhaps even dumber. What sort of “sacrifice” did Lehrer have in mind? He didn’t say, and he didn’t explain the theory on which his question seems to be based: People should sacrifice during a war. But why should they sacrifice during a war? And what should they be made to sacrifice? Lehrer, sleepwalking, didn’t say. And uh-oh! After Bush defended his decision not to raise taxes, Lehrer’s follow-up question was even dumber:
LEHRER: Well, for instance, Mr. President, some people have asked why—and I would ask you about—have you considered some kind of national service program, that would be civilian as well as military, that would involve more people in the effort to—not just militarily, but you talk about ideology, all this sort of stuff—in other words, to kind of muster the support of young Americans, and other Americans, in this struggle that you say is so monumental and so important?
Do you have any idea what he’s talking about? (And by the way—was that question in English?) For our money, Lehrer’s performance was dumber than Bush’s in this two-question exchange.

We interrupt our special report!


CHANNELING ATRIOS: A confession: We’ve never understood claims like the following, from Dan Balz, in this morning’s Post. Balz is reporting Hillary Clinton’s press conference on Iraq:
BALZ (1/18/07): Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) offered her harshest assessment to date of President Bush's Iraq war strategy yesterday, continuing her steady evolution from one of the war's staunchest supporters to one of the administration's most prominent critics.
But how long has it been since Hillary Clinton was “one of the war's staunchest supporters?” Was she ever one of the “staunchest supporters?” The war’s staunchest supporters—think McCain and Lieberman, but there are others—still support the original decision to go to war. But omigod! All the way back in August 2004, Clinton said this about her vote for the war resolution. She spoke on Late Edition:
BLITZER (8/29/04): When you voted for that resolution, like almost everyone else, you believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction?

CLINTON: Right, right. Well, indeed I did. And if someone asked me that if we had known then what we know now, there wouldn't have been a vote. You know, no administration would have come to the Congress and asked for a vote that would have authorized any kind of action based on what we now know.
Was she still “one of the war’s staunchest supporters?” According to Clinton, there wouldn’t even have been a vote if we knew there were no WMD! That same day, more than two years ago, she had this exchange with Tim Russert:
CLINTON (8/29/04): There would not have been a vote, Tim. There would never have been a vote to the Congress presented by the administration. There would have been no basis for it. But we are where we are, and what I think we have to do now is try to understand the series of miscalculations which for the first time ever the president admitted in an interview last week, have occurred, which have rendered our situation more dangerous, less safe, and have put back the effort to try to stabilize and democratize Iraq. I believe with all my heart that, you know, we have to have new leadership at the highest level of our government in order to be successful in the strategy we have embarked upon in Iraq. No matter how we got there, and as I said, we wouldn't have even had a vote if all the facts had been available.

RUSSERT: But John Kerry said he would vote again today for authorization, even knowing what he knows now. You don't agree with that.

CLINTON: Well, but I think the point John was making was the same one I was making, that we don't have a choice to have hindsight.
Let’s review. Even today, the war’s “staunchest supporters” say the decision for war was correct. All the way back in 2004, Clinton was saying that there would have been no basis for a war if we’d had good intelligence. Was she one of the “staunchest supporters” back then? When she was saying the war should never have happened? We think Clinton’s vote on the war resolution was horrendous—a giant, gruesome, cosmic mistake. But what makes her one of the war’s “staunchest supporters?” We’ve never understood the claim—or the attempt to draw tedious distinctions between herself, John Edwards and John Kerry, all of whom cast the same vote.

But the nation’s reporters love to novelize. And, as Atrios noted yesterday, under the current rules of the game, you can say any damn thing you want, as long as you say it about the Clintons. For example, here’s a novelized passage from by Balz’s report. Good lord, how brilliantly the gentleman writes! What a craftsman! What a wonderful stylist!
BALZ (1/18/07): That resolution haunted her politically as public support for the war began to erode, particularly among Democrats. As other Democrats recanted their support for the resolution—including Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.)—she resisted.

That put her on a twisting path that moved her slowly away from the vote and that finally led her a month ago to say that, knowing what she knows now, she would not have voted for the resolution. But unlike Edwards, who is an announced candidate for president, and Kerry, who may run, she has not apologized for that decision.
The long and twisting road! Clearly, we’re in the hands of a brilliant stylist—a man who could write great novels, if he chose—and he’s sculpting a taut, pleasing story, complete with conflicts among his key characters. But while Balz is surely a wonderful novelist, is he telling his readers the truth? Here is what Clinton “finally” said, a month ago, as she “slowly” moved away from her vote:
CLINTON (12/18/06): Obviously, if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn’t have been a vote, and I certainly wouldn’t have voted for it.
Our suggestion: Clinton should perhaps drop “obviously” from her lexicon as long as there are novelists like Balz around. Obviously, the second part of her statement—“I certainly wouldn’t have voted for it”—is implied by the first, where she says there wouldn’t even have been a vote if we knew then what we know now. But uh-oh! She first said that in 2004, a fact Balz doesn’t offer his readers. Instead, Balz offers his readers a tight, gripping drama—a drama that’s notably weak on the facts. As good novelists like to do, he offers a story in which Clinton stands in stark opposition to Edwards—in which she “slowly” moves away from the war. But the facts of the case make this contrast less clear—so Balz threw the facts down the toilet.

Has Clinton been one of the “staunchest supporters?” We’ve never understood the claim—but it makes for a tight, gripping drama. Is Clinton in stark opposition to Edwards? If your IQ is 17, yes, she is. But Clinton hasn’t “apologized” yet, Balz says—and, according to Balz, Edwards and Kerry have. In fact, we’ll show you some text down below. Balz writes his novels for children.

Yesterday, Atrios semi-nailed it: Under the current rules of the game, you can say any damn thing you want, as long as you say it about the Clintons. Atrios linked to this Media Matters post, which discussed Anne Kornblut’s speculations about Clinton’s imagined dishonesty. But he might just as well have linked to that vacuous post by Ana Marie Cox (click here for a superlative takedown), or to Wednesday’s vacuous column by Dana Milbank. Or he might have linked to this Media Matters post, recording Chris Matthews’ latest snide, sex-based remark. But then, Matthews has a jones about Hillary Clinton that just won’t let his soul go.

Or then again, he might have linked to this gruesome post from Media Matters—a gruesome post which helps present the press corps’ ongoing treatment of Gore. Here at THE HOWLER, we were struck by Atrios’ formulation, because we’ve been preparing material for another forum—material in which we describe this very same “Clinton rule.” But in that material, we’re discussing the summer of 1999, by which time it was dramatically clear that you could say any damn thing you wanted to say—as long as you said it about the Clintons or Gore. Yep! By then, the “Clinton rule” had been expanded. The corps was inventing a string of tales about Clinton’s vile veep—phony tales which sent Bush to the White House.

We cheer Atrios for noting this “Clinton rule,” which now applies to Hillary Clinton. As Campaign 08 unfolds, liberals and Democrats need to fight against the work that rule will produce. But again, we think liberals and Democrats should know—and discuss—the fuller story of our recent shared history. We’ve already lost the White House once because of the “Clinton rule” cited by Atrios. We’ll be more effective if we tell the full story as we demand that this vile folkway end.

Atrios is perfectly right. Under the current rules of the game, you can say any damn thing you want—as long as it’s said about Hillary Clinton. But we think it’s worth noting how far back this goes—and it’s worth understanding the way this rule was employed during Campaign 2000. Tomorrow, we’ll cut-and-paste the material we’ve been composing. We Dems will be more effective in our complaints if we understand the full way that long-standing rule has been used.

HOW TO READ NOVELS: Novelists like to draw sharp contrasts between their leading characters. But how sharp is the contrast between Clinton and Edwards regarding their vote for the war resolution? We don’t think it’s very sharp at all. Here’s what Edwards said in the New York Times op-ed in which he discussed his vote:
EDWARDS (11/13/05): I was wrong.

Almost three years ago we went into Iraq to remove what we were told—and what many of us believed and argued—was a threat to America. But in fact we now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when our forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The intelligence was deeply flawed and, in some cases, manipulated to fit a political agenda.

It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake. It has been hard to say these words because those who didn't make a mistake—the men and women of our armed forces and their families—have performed heroically and paid a dear price.

The world desperately needs moral leadership from America, and the foundation for moral leadership is telling the truth.

While we can't change the past, we need to accept responsibility, because a key part of restoring America's moral leadership is acknowledging when we've made mistakes or been proven wrong—and showing that we have the creativity and guts to make it right.

The argument for going to war with Iraq was based on intelligence that we now know was inaccurate. The information the American people were hearing from the president—and that I was being given by our intelligence community—wasn't the whole story. Had I known this at the time, I never would have voted for this war.
The intel was wrong, Edwards said. “Had I known this at the time, I never would have voted for this war.” But Clinton had already said, fifteen months earlier, that no one would have “voted for this war” because there wouldn’t even have been a vote. (“There would have been no basis for it.”) Do you see a stark contrast between those positions? If so, you ought to look in the mirror. You may be seven years old.

Or you may write for the Washington Post! Scribes like Balz will be typing slick novels about opposed characters in this election. Many liberals were conned by these people in Campaign 2000. But could we try to avoid getting conned once again? Could we learn how to read their slick novels?

A POST DRAMA CRITIC: In March 2000, E. R. Shipp was the Washington Post’s ombudsman. In a brilliant column—it was completely ignored—she described the way the Post’s reporters were constructing a “drama” about Campaign 2000. Her column was called, “Typecasting Candidates.” Her analysis accounts quite well for Balz’s latest “news report:”
SHIPP (3/5/00): The Post has gone beyond that kind of reporting in favor of articles that try to offer context—and even conjecture—about the candidates' motives in seeking the office of president. And readers react—sometimes in a nonpartisan way, more often not—to roles that The Post seems to have assigned to the actors in this unfolding political drama... As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.
According to Shipp, it was like the Post had assigned the candidates “roles” in an unfolding “drama!” Shipp went on to describe the way the Post was building its drama—inventing phony quotes from Gore, omitting unflattering facts about McCain. Shipp nailed it that day, right on the nose. Her column was completely ignored.

E. R. Shipp nailed it, right on the nose. But great writers like Balz—great, talented dramatists—knew that they simply had to ignore her. The world deserves to read their novels. Balz types a new chapter today.