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Caveat lector

TRIBAL TERROR! Rivals were savaged in Saddam’s Iraq. So too in our pseudo-con press corps:


A CULTURE IN RUINS: On page one of today’s New York Times, Charlie LeDuff helps us see the ugly face of Saddamism. LeDuff describes the contents of a 200-page book which “used to be the property of the local branch of the Baath Party.” The locality in question is Qalat Sukkar, one of Saddam’s dusty outposts:

LEDUFF: In the book, a sort of ledger of doom, are the names of every person who was arrested or vanished [in Qalat Sukkar] after the Persian Gulf war of 1991, when Mr. Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, struck back viciously against the Shiites of southern Iraq.

It is divided into chapters: insurgents, deserters, exiles, Kurds and so on. The book is a record of the local people hostile to the regime, their family members, political sympathies, party affiliations, religion and arrest records.

There are about 15 names on each page, or a total of about 3,000 people. Of them, residents of the town now say, at least 100 disappeared.

Throughout human history, all over the globe, Saddamists have dealt with their rivals this way. First, transgressors are defined as “The Other.” Then they’re punished—often harshly—for belonging to the wrong party or tribe.

But then, the Saddamist impulse is found worldwide, as we have frequently noted. Inside today’s NYT, for example, Carl Hulse describes some local practitioners. According to Hulse, The Club for Growth (often confused with The Hair Club for Men) is about to start sliming two Republicans senators—outrageous solons who have dared to oppose ongoing Bush tax-cut plans:

HULSE: The conservative Club for Growth is going the not-so-subtle route, starting a $100,000-to-$150,000 television advertising campaign this weekend in Ohio and Maine that compares Senators Voinovich and Snowe to the French and accuses them of disloyalty to the president for their tax cut position.
Tired of sliming Dems and “doom-saying” journalists, these local Saddamists have begun to compare Republican senators to “the French” too! By their votes, Snowe and Voinovich aligned themselves with the wrong tribe. To Saddamists, such acts must be punished.

No, comparing Voinovich and Snowe to “the French” isn’t the same as murdering rivals. (Talk-show cons, you can put away your “moral equivalence” flash cards.) But in fact, American culture is taking a beating as the sliming of dissent boils on. Iraqi culture lies in ruins in the aftermath of Saddam and the war. But then, American culture is being harmed too, as Saddamists run to slander and slime all those who aren’t from their own village.

How bizarre has the stateside payback been? In Monday’s Washington Times, Mona Charen was hard at work, naming those who failed to recite the party line in the war. Her column begins with a single suggestion: “Let’s recap some of the antiwar sentiments, shall we?” Then Charen provides a lengthy list—a list of Vile and Unapproved Statements. We’re supposed to be shocked that such vile things were said. But just how foolish is Charen’s performance? Consider this statement, for example:

CHAREN: Columnist Joe Klein offered on April 6: “The military campaign has been a success, but it is far from clear that victory in Iraq will be a net positive in the larger war on terrorism or even, ultimately, that it will be seen as an American foreign policy success. Indeed, two of the basic rationales for the war—that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that the Iraqi people were eager to be liberated—have proved more complicated on the ground.”
Clearly, we’re supposed to be shocked by Klein’s statement. But what is supposed to be wrong with his statement? Charen doesn’t bother to say—good tribe members can simply tell. Similarly, we’re supposed to recoil from this comment:
CHAREN: David R. Henderson of the Independent Institute warned, “The way to make it more likely that weapons of mass destruction will be used on the U.S. is to have our government continue poking its military stick in hornets’ nests around the world.”
But how is someone supposed to know if Henderson’s claim will end up right or wrong? At this point, no one knows how these matters will end. But at the Washington Times, such foofaw doesn’t matter. Charen’s horde is sweeping the plains, sliming those who have failed to conform. Pundits who didn’t recite Approved Points? Charen assembles their names in a list. It’s time they were slandered and savaged.

Of course, right below Charen on the WashTimes page, a very-tribal pundit, Michelle Malkin, was naming a long list of troubling names too. As we’ve long seen, Malkin is always prepared to savage those who fail to recite her tribe’s Approved Points. In Monday’s column, she focused on “[t]he antiwar grouches, naysayers and quagmirists [who] were so, so sure there would be no jubilation at the Iraqi liberation.” As many scripted pundits have done, Malkin included Diane Sawyer on her list. Here was Sawyer’s troubling deviation:

MALKIN: [W]hile co-hosting ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Diane Sawyer derided: “What happened to the flowers expected to be tossed the way of the Americans? Was it a terrible miscalculation?”
That’s right—Sawyer had dared to ask a question about the progress of the war! Of course, Sawyer posed her question to a guest in the last week of March, when leading U.S. commanders, in the field, were commenting on the very problems she cited (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/15/03). No real journalist could have failed to ask the questions Sawyer posed this day. But so what? Just as names were taken in Qalat Sukkar, domestic Saddamists are taking names too. In columns like those penned by this pair of Saddamists, many scribes are being savaged for having dared to ask basic questions—questions which were perfectly obvious at the time that the questions were asked.

Charen and Malkin are listing vile names. Their nasty conduct harms our culture. But it’s their sheer, unrelenting, Saddamist stupidity which harms our troubled culture most deeply. Everyone has to recite Approved Points—or nitwits like these will revile them.

A TRIBAL IMPULSE: The tribal impulse is quite widespread. In this morning’s New York Times, for example, David Rosenbaum pens the latest chapter in a silly, sad, long-running tale:

ROSENBAUM: Mr. Bush wants no part of the policies politicians usually advocate to give the economy a quick jolt: tax cuts for low-income families who are most likely to spend the money right away, public works projects to create construction jobs and job-training programs for the unemployed.

Such steps are anathema to the conservative economic principles the president espouses. He and his aides even avoid the words “stimulus” and “stimulate,” seeing them as Democratic words, and prefer to use the more Republican words “growth” and “grow.”

At least one of our tribes even has its own words now! Indeed, this tribal impulse has been acted out quite frequently in the past decade. Over that period, the “inheritance tax” became the “death tax;” Medicare “cuts” had to be renamed too. As once in Bosnia, so here too; certain tribes want to have their own language. They want to have their own names for every event, where once we all spoke the same tongue.

Things fall apart? The center can’t hold? Domestic tribalists push for that outcome! For the record, focus groups are usually involved in the effort to create the new tribal language. “Republican words” seem to be those words to which people respond well in polls.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: In the 1995-96 Medicare debate, a certain Speaker made up a new language. For a look at this important episode, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/99.

The Daily update

SABATO, TEACHING THE STUDENTS WELL: We extend thanks to Larry Sabato and his delightful students for their hospitality on Tuesday night, when we took part in a UVA panel discussion, “The politics of political comedy.” C-SPAN will likely air the session on Saturday night.

During the session, a lively discussion boiled up concerning that first Bush-Gore debate. For students who want to review the way the event was covered by the press, we recommend THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/21/03. And for the diligent, Extra credit! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/1/02. (Our real-time work was done for, whose links are no longer active.)

Meanwhile, don’t miss three other presentations. They note the way three major pundits have reinvented their take on that crucial debate.

Jeff Greenfield seemed to reinvent his view of that first debate in his book, Oh Waiter! One Order of Crow! We penned a ruthless five-part report. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/29/01.

In Ambling Into History, Frank Bruni explains what he thought as he watched Bush that night. But what did he write in the next day’s New York Times? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/18/02.

And inevitably, Chris Matthews has totally reinvented himself on the subject of the Bush-Gore debates. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/15/02. Alas! We think those young students should learn an odd truth: Major pundits will sometimes mislead them.