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PUZZLING PUNDIT PROFILES (PART 1)! Why does one pundit love a dangerous war? Because Bush ain’t Bill Clinton:

THURSDAY, MARCH 20, 2003

STUCK ON BILL: We often wonder where they find this strange breed which makes up our “press corps.” If you want to ponder with us, just read Tuesday’s Boston Globe piece by columnist Brian McGrory.

Make no mistake: Writing two days before war began, McGrory saw massive potential problems with the action in Iraq. After imagining possible fruits of a lightning-fast victory, he rattled a raft of worst-case scenarios. We reprint his fears in detail:

MCGRORY: On the flip side, trouble unfolds in virtually endless scenarios. A rejuvenated Al Qaeda could launch a retaliatory attack on American soil. Hussein could gas his own people—or ours. The Iraqi leader could lure the US military into weeks or months of block-to-block warfare.

At home, the teetering airline industry could collapse because few people will want to fly. Consumer spending could tumble through the floor. The auto industry could buckle. Unemployment figures could balloon toward double-digits.

Abroad, the Muslim world, which already despises us, might grow to hate us with an intensity heretofore unknown. Our occasional allies in Europe might ostracize us, which might not be so bad.

Yikes! But matters only seemed to get worse as McGrory continued. “None of this seems to matter to Bush, not the politics or the peril,” he wrote. “[H]e’s risking American and Iraqi lives. He’s risking the economy of the United States. And he’s risking his entire presidency on a cause that large swaths of his country can’t quite comprehend.” Indeed, McGrory seems to be part of that group. “I don’t necessarily agree with [Bush],” he continued. “My stomach turns at the thought of the inevitable CNN footage of missiles screaming toward Baghdad in the dark of an unfortunate night, live people, some of them innocents, waiting on the other end.”

Yikes! But if you thought McGrory was slamming Bush, you need to think again. Bush is risking great calamity, the scribe says—but McGrory sings his praises. The pundit’s reasoning seems so odd, we thought that we’d quote it in full:

MCGRORY: None of this seems to matter to Bush, not the politics or the peril, because he’s guided not by polls but by principle—and that’s what makes him so tough to understand. He 100 percent believes that Hussein poses a grave threat to the United States and, having experienced the realities of terrorist actions, thinks history has called upon him to stop it.

So he’s risking American and Iraqi lives. He’s risking the economy of the United States. And he’s risking his entire presidency on a cause that large swaths of his country can’t quite comprehend.

I don’t necessarily agree with him. My stomach turns at the thought of the inevitable CNN footage of missiles screaming toward Baghdad in the dark of an unfortunate night, live people, some of them innocents, waiting on the other end.

And yet, there’s something uniquely, unusually admirable about the man. Bush truly believes in the depths of his heart and the corners of his soul that what he is doing is just. Now, on the eve of battle, the rest of the country can only hope that the president it elected will somehow, some way, get it right.

End of column. In short, Bush is risking our lives, and he’s risking our fortunes; it’s not real clear that he knows what he’s doing. But that’s basically OK, McGrory says, because George Bush truly believes in his cause. He believes it 100 percent.

We’re stunned by McGrory’s reasoning. First, we’re amazed that the scribe seems to think he can see the souls of public officials. How does McGrory know that Bush is uniquely sincere in the action he takes? The scribe doesn’t try to explain it. Beyond that, we’re amazed that McGrory stresses Bush’s pure motives above the perils he describes. Americans “can only hope Bush will somehow get it right,” McGrory says. But what truly matters in all this? What truly matters is the fact that Bush “truly believes in the depths of his heart and the corners of his soul that what he is doing is just.”

Of course, when Brian David Mitchell kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, he “truly believed in the depths of his heart that what he was doing was just.” To anyone except Peter Pan, the merits of a person’s action counts much more than his motive. But to oddball pundits like McGrory, all that matters is Bush’s assumed purity of motive—and the fact that Bush isn’t Bill Clinton. Yes, dear readers, it all comes down to the fact that George Bush just isn’t Bill:

MCGRORY: I spent nearly three years following Bill Clinton around the planet as this paper’s White House correspondent…It was a time in which every presidential proposal and proclamation was based on an intense political calculation. He didn’t pick a vacation spot without asking his pollster.

It got so bad that when Clinton rained down missiles on what he said were terrorist installations in Afghanistan and Sudan in the summer of 1998, his actions were met with a collective eye roll. The nation believed he was trying to divert attention from Monica—and, in better times, largely accepted it.

Flash ahead to George W. Bush. There is no easy calculation in his war with Saddam Hussein, an undertaking that New York Times columnist Tom Friedman described as “the greatest shake of the dice that any president has voluntarily engaged in since Harry Truman dropped the bomb on Japan.”

Why is Bush’s “shake of the dice” OK? Because he isn’t Clinton! (And there’s your old favorite, Monica Lewinsky, right in the middle of this piece on Iraq!) McGrory assumes that Bush’s action isn’t based on political calculation, as it would have been with ol’ Debbil Clinton. For that reason, the pundit praises Bush to the skies—even as he lists the disasters that we “can only hope” will never occur.

We can’t imagine why McGrory thinks he can look into Bush’s and Clinton’s souls. We can’t imagine why he thinks he knows Bush’s “calculations.” But one aspect of your pundit corps is nicely laid out in this bizarro piece. McGrory sees apocalypse all around—but at least we don’t have to put up with Clinton. We advise you to read this odd piece top to end. Truly, we have a strange, troubling breed at the top of our national discourse.

WHEN LAST WE MET: When last we looked in on Brian McGrory, he was telling us all about John Kerry. Why does the press dislike Kerry so? McGrory offered the oddball complaints which come so naturally to this press corps. (Example: The weirdo scribe was troubled by the way Kerry asks for snacks at a bar. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/17/03.) But then McGrory broke the code. Why were pundits troubled by Kerry? When he was single, he had too many girl friends! Where do they find them? Where do they come from? What happened in childhood to make them so strange? And what on earth did we ever do to deserve the reign of this disturbed corps of pundits?


The Daily update

THE CASE OF THE MISSING, LAPSED LIBERALS: We strongly recommend Todd Gitlin’s American Prospect piece about the Washington Post and the war. We do take exception to this passage about the Post’s op-ed “liberals:”

GITLIN: Part of the problem at the Post is the mildness and self-vexation of liberals. Regular columnists Hoagland, Kelly, George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer abhor doubt; [liberal] counterparts [William] Raspberry, Richard Cohen, E. J. Dionne Jr. and Mary McGrory are in the doubt business. Now, there’s value in unpredictability. Doubt, including self-doubt, is refreshing in pundits. But the doubt ratio is terribly skewed—in American politics overall, not just at the Post. When you are the only serious daily newspaper in the nation’s capital, even if you have been yanked rightward by the government’s center of gravity, you should stoke up the strongest possible counterarguments.
We disagree with this presentation. Raspberry, Cohen and Mary McGrory aren’t burdened by doubt; they’re principally burdened by utter, screaming laziness. Their recent clowning about Colin Powell was just the latest example. Nor is it entirely clear why these pundits should still be listed as “liberals.” In particular, Mary McGrory and Cohen embarrassed themselves with their trivial work during Campaign 2000. What “liberal” principals do these pundits assert? During Campaign 2000, these pundits cared deeply about Al Gore’s clothes, and seemed to care about very little else.