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HOW GORE CAN BECOME NEAR-PERFECT! Gore could still become near-perfect—and we tell you how: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2006

RUSSERT’S VENERATION: As we’ve noted, they simply can’t stop it. On yesterday’s Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked Ted Kennedy about John McCain’s plan to speak at Liberty University. And Russert just couldn’t help himself! It’s Hard Pundit Law, so he did it:
KENNEDY (4/23/06): He’s going to obviously separate himself from, probably, past statements or accusations of the—of Reverend Falwell, but I imagine he'll make a very candid speech, the sort of person that he is. But I think the idea that he's going down there is, is constructive and positive. I think he talks to the young people. It's an incredible national radio structure that he has that goes all over the country, every part of the nation, talks to people that support Falwell. And the idea that they hear a different voice on a lot of the issues that John McCain's involved in I think is good for the country.

RUSSERT: Straight—straight talk!

KENNEDY: Straight talk.

If we didn’t keep seeing it, we wouldn’t believe it. As we’ve noted, it’s Hard Pundit Law—these men feel obliged to recite McCain’s slogan for him. Whenever they hear the great man’s sainted name, they know they’re required to act.

HOW GORE CAN BECOME NEAR-PERFECT: Is it possible? Could justice prevail? Could Al Gore still become “the near-perfect Democratic candidate for 2008,” to borrow the language of the Post’s Richard Cohen? (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/21/06.) Even in this imperfect world, we’d say that outcome is possible. (We have no idea if Gore would run under any circumstance.) But before we tell you why we’d say that, let’s review Gore’s approval numbers again. And let’s recall the damage that can be done when the mainstream press—not the “right-wing noise machine”—stages a multi-year slander campaign against a man who was right all along.

As we mentioned last week, Gore’s current numbers are far from “near-perfect.” Here are favorables/unfavorables from a Roper survey conducted in February. We’ll add in John Kerry’s digits this time:

Survey by the Roper Center/Quinnipiac, February 2006
John McCain: 40 percent favorable/18 percent unfavorable
Rudy Giuliani: 49-15
Hillary Clinton: 42-40
John Kerry: 30-41
Al Gore: 27-46
George W. Bush: 36-49
Dick Cheney: 29-50
Condoleezza Rice: 44-27
Bill Clinton: 49-33
As we’ve said, those numbers for Gore are far from perfect. But let’s recall where those numbers came from. And this time, let’s add some new information. Let’s recall what Gore’s numbers were like before the mainstream press—not the “right-wing machine”—began its nasty slander campaign against him in March 1999.

How did voters view Gore in the past? Over the weekend, we were reading through old HOWLER posts about the press corps’ gonzo treatment of Gore’s 1992 book, Earth in the Balance (the much-maligned book in which Gore was right). And omigod! Something we posted in July 1999 offered a sad review of the terrible damage the press corps did when they conducted their nasty campaign against Gore. In this post, we were discussing the string of slanders the press had been pimping since Gore had begun to campaign in March 1999:

THE DAILY HOWLER (7/2/99): Does it matter if scribes behave in this way? Only if America's public discourse matters. In the time since [RNC chairman] Jim Nicholson devised his spin [about Gore’s early life on the Gore family farm], Gore's approval ratings have dropped substantially. According to CNN/Time, his "favorable/unfavorables" were 58/26 in late January, and stood at 48/43 on June 10. If it matters who serves as president of the United States, then negative spin by the press corps does matter. In March, Jim Nicholson devised a bit of spin so absurd it's amazing that he dared bring it forward. But it fit right in with other silly spins—his nonsense about internal combustion, for example—and maybe Nicholson has been an insider so long that he knows what he can expect from our sad, sorry press corps.
For full background, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/2/99. (You’ll get to see Countdown demigod Dana Milbank peddling total bull about Gore.) But in those highlighted approval numbers, you begin to see what happened to Gore when the mainstream press corps began to push its endless, ginned-up attacks on his character. According to Time/CNN, Gore was quite favorably viewed in January 1999; his numbers were more than 2-to-1 positive. But by early June, his numbers had declined badly—knocked down by a string of ginned-up attacks. (Al Gore said he inspired Love Story!) And in that tragic Roper survey, Gore’s numbers now stand a lot lower. So it goes when voters are told, year after year, that a public figure is “unhinged” and “delusional”—that he’s a pathological liar. That’s what happens to decent people’s numbers when laughable people—like Milbank and Cohen—are allowed to recite dimwit tales.

Meanwhile, what makes Gore’s numbers especially sad? The fact that Gore has been right all along! He was right on Iraq; he was right on warming; he was right in his critiques of George Bush. (For example, in his critique of Bush’s Social Security plan—for which he was called him every name in the book by our biggest mainstream pundits. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/19/05, with links to earlier reports..) But alas! In that Roper survey, even Bush—the man who has been constantly wrong—out-polled Gore—the man who was right. So it goes when the Richard Cohens peddle their inane, endless slanders.

Sadly, it’s hard to be “the “near-perfect candidate” with numbers like those from the Roper survey. But is it possible? Could justice prevail? Could Gore still become “the near-perfect candidate?” Yes—imaginably, he could. We base that on a conversation in our local bagel joint this weekend—a conversation with a friend who had just seen Gore’s forthcoming film about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth.

The film is great, our friend declared. (He’d seen it with his wife, a film critic. It opens in New York and L.A. in late May.) And yes, he said, it’s highly watchable; it will produce strong word-of-mouth. To tell the truth, our friend almost surely overstated the amount of business this film will do. But this film will produce something beyond ticket sales; it will likely produce a string of columns like those by Cohen and David Remnick last week. And a message could emerge from all those columns: Al Gore was right all along! And this: Imagine if we had elected Gore, instead of “the worst president in history.” Cohen suggested this lament in last week’s piece—without admitting his own role in that process.

Al Gore was right all along! Right about warming—and right on Iraq! Almost surely, many voters will hear that message over the course of the next few months. It will fall to liberals and progressives to explain one more thing to those voters—to tell them why they heard such different, kooky things about Gore in Campaign 2000, when it actually mattered. Voters deserve to understand the way they’ve been deceived in the past. And if liberals want Gore to be their near-perfect candidate, they need to start debunking the gong-show tales that have Gore’s numbers so low.

Gore was favorably viewed in early 1999—and then the mainstream press corps began with their gong-show tales. We’ll have a few more thoughts on this topic this week. Tomorrow: George Bush on the car.

TOMORROW: Bush played the fool about “Gore banning cars”—and the mainstream press corps let him.

KRUGMAN GETS IT RIGHT: It’s important for liberals to understand something Paul Krugman wrote in Friday’s column. Why will it be hard for Dems to win back either the House or the Senate? Krugman explained it, chamber-by-chamber. Progressives should listen to “Krug” very carefully:

KRUGMAN (4/21/06): That's not a prediction for the midterm elections. The Democrats will almost surely make gains, but the electoral system is rigged against them. The fewer than eight million residents of what's left of Red America [Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska] are represented by eight U.S. senators; the more than eight million residents of New York City have to share two senators with the rest of New York State.

Meanwhile, a combination of accident and design has left likely Democratic voters bunched together—I'm tempted to say ghettoized—in a minority of Congressional districts, while likely Republican voters are more widely spread out. As a result, Democrats would need a landslide in the popular vote—something like an advantage of 8 to 10 percentage points over Republicans—to take control of the House of Representatives. That's a real possibility, given the current polls, but by no means a certainty.

In the first paragraph, Krugman explains why the electoral system is “rigged against Dems” in the Senate. (This point is often discussed.) Small, rural states get two senators—just like populous, urbanized states. But at present, small, rural states tend to be strongly Republican. This tilts the Senate against Democrats—badly. The best example is the 2000 election: Gore won the popular vote—but won only 19 states in the process. By contrast, Bush took 31 states that year despite losing the popular vote. In short, a 50-50 nation currently tilts roughly 60-40 Republican in the Senate. By the way: This makes it hard for the Democratic Party to forge a liberal national message. If Dems want to compete in the Senate, they have to consider the need to pick up at least ten senators from those “red states.” This is unfortunate—but it’s simple reality, a quirk of our electoral system.

In his second paragraph, Krugman explains a point which is discussed less often—the problem Democrats face in the House. In House elections, Democrats are at a disadvantage because many urban congressional districts are so heavily Dem. For example, consider our own 7th district in Maryland—a Baltimore district. The district is massively Democratic by registration, and the very capable Elijah Cummings won re-election in 2004 with 74 percent of the vote. Yes, there are unbalanced Republican districts around the nation too—but we Dems have more of them. This produces the built-in disadvantage to which Krugman refers. We don’t know if Krugman’s math is right—if it would take a national 54-46 (or 55-45) vote for Dems to regain the House. But we don’t doubt that his math is correct.

These are important, nuts-and-bolts matters—and yes, they help explain national messaging problems. Liberals and progressives should consider them well—unless we don’t care about winning.

BUNGLING BASIC FACTS ABOUT DUKE: Over the weekend, Byron Calame and Dahlia Lithwick posted interesting reports about the way the Duke lacrosse case has been treated. But neither scribe really came to terms with the puzzling way the facts of this case have been handled on tabloid cable—and in the mainstream press.

For the record, we humans work poorly with facts. (We’ve mentioned this point fairly often in the past eight years.) Consider Thursday’s news report by Duff Wilson in Calame’s own New York Times. The headline trumpeted a powerful claim: “Duke Player Has Proof of Innocence, Lawyer Says.” But if you simply read Wilson’s report, it’s obvious that the player doesn’t have such “proof.” Yes, he left the party in a cab at 12:19 AM—but that leaves a 16-minute window in which he could have taken part in an assault. (We have no idea if he did so, of course, or if an assault even happened.) So here’s our question: Why in the world do you use your headline (and your opening paragraph) to trumpet a claim which is patently false? We don’t know, but Wilson repeated the bogus claim in Sunday’s news report:

WILSON (4/23/06): Defense lawyers say the accuser was drunk when she arrived at the party, and fabricated the assault. Taxi and bank receipts and dormitory access records prove that Mr. Seligmann could not have raped the woman, his lawyer says. A statement by the team captains said the sexual assault accusations were ''totally and transparently false.”
Once again, Wilson reported the lawyer’s claim—this time, without giving readers any way to know that the claim is plainly false. On cable, the handling of this matter has been equally hapless. We constantly hear about this player’s “airtight alibi”—although it’s clear that no such thing exists.

But yes, we humans work poorly with facts—even on the highest levels. Here’s another groaning example, which we’ll call The Question Unasked. As everyone knows, tests showed that none of the players’ DNA was in or on the accuser’s body. But some DNA was found. Here’s the way the Raleigh News-Observer reported the findings (reporter, Benjamin Niolet):

NIOLET (4/11/06): [Investigators] also found no DNA on the woman's clothing or belongings, players' attorneys said. The tests found DNA matches to two players, from a towel outside the bathroom and on another object, [defense lawyer Joseph] Cheshire said.

One sample was from a player's semen and another was a different type of DNA, Cheshire said. He said that was to be expected in a bathroom shared by the three men who lived in the house.

What do we learn in this report? Someone’s semen was found in or outside the bathroom. And while Cheshire implies that it belonged to a player who lived in the house, he doesn’t say so in this report—and we can find no news report where such a claim is explicitly made. This mean that investigators may have found semen in the bathroom from one of the other players—from the player who called that cab, for example. But we’ve seen no one on any cable show try to establish the facts of this matter. Did that semen belong to one of the players who lived in the house? On cable, they simply don’t ask. (Rejected sentence: “On cable, they’re too dumb to ask.”)

We humans deal very poorly with facts. If you doubt it, just catch some cable tonight—or read the Times tomorrow.

DUFFER COMES A-CROPPER: Wilson, in yesterday’s news report:

WILSON (4/23/06): The accuser said later that both women re-entered the house after one player apologized for the behavior during their dance. She said two men then pulled her into a bathroom, locked the door and said, ''Sweetheart, you can't leave.''

It was then, she told the police, that Mr. Seligmann forced her to perform oral sex, and Mr. Finnerty raped and sodomized her and the third suspect strangled her, according to a transcript of a photo identification session with police on April 4. The transcript was obtained by WTVD in Raleigh, N.C. She told the police that the attack lasted about 30 minutes.

Defense lawyers say the rape could have happened only in an improbably short period, between 12:04 and 12:30 a.m.

But why would that period be “improbably short?” Wilson typed what he’d been told—and left puzzled readers to wonder.

MAYBE THESE LOSERS SHOULD TAKE IN A MOVIE: We don’t know if an assault occurred. But what makes these young men such complete, total losers? Duke is full of smart, attractive, hip young women. Why were these idiots off at their frat house, getting drunk and wasting money like this?

This brings us to our all-time favorite movie—Hitchcock’s Notorious, a decades-before-its-time look at male hatred of women (and a great thriller to boot). Essentially, Notorious is a much better version of Psycho (conversely, Psycho can be thought of as Notorious on steroids.) For the central male character (played by Cary Grant), we see the same themes explored later in Psycho—the controlling mother at the top of the stairs, and the lovely woman he’s drawn to and yet wants to hurt (in this case, Ingrid Bergman). Notorious is a fascinating psychological study—and a truly great work of suspense.