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BEINART STARTS GETTING IT RIGHT! Peter Beinart starts getting it right in the Post—just about six years too late: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MAY 9, 2005

BEINART STARTS GETTING IT RIGHT: Yes, the crazies are coming for Hillary Clinton, as we warned you just last week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/3/05). Indeed, see this morning’s follow-up piece by the New York Times’ Raymond Hernandez. And omigod! In the matter of Possible Candidate Clinton, Peter Beinart starts getting it right, in today’s Washington Post! In an op-ed column, Beinart warns against the coming attacks on Clinton’s character, and he sets the record straight about her ballyhooed “move to the center.” This is exactly what libs and Democrats should be doing—and they need to start doing it now.

But of course, this is also what libs and Democrats should have done when the attacks began on Candidate Gore. With that in mind, our analysts couldn’t suppress mordant chuckles at one part of Beinart’s piece. Beinart describes the heroic efforts of his own New Republic:

BEINART (5/9/05): In the 1980s Republicans demonized Democrats as ultra-liberals. But once Bill Clinton moved the party to the center in the '90s, that argument became less effective. And so in the past three presidential elections—1996, 2000 and 2004—Republicans have focused less on what Democratic candidates believe than on whether they believe anything at all. As the New Republic's Jonathan Chait has noted, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry were each called flip-floppers—politicians willing to say anything to get elected. Those three GOP campaigns were all variations on the same theme: The Democrat running for president has no moral core.
As the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait has noted! In fact, Candidate Gore wasn’t principally attacked as a flip-flopper, although Chait seemed to say so in the piece to which Beinart refers, a piece which appeared last October. In fact, Gore was attacked as “delusional,” as a “liar”—was attacked this way for two solid years while the New Republic stared silently on. And in the main, he wasn’t attacked this way by Bush—he was attacked this way by the mainstream press corps. But here’s the way Chait smoothed history out in the piece to which Beinart refers:
CHAIT (10/18/04): In 2000, Bush painted Al Gore as a flip-flopper whenever possible. Voters, he declared, "don't want flip-floppers as president of the United States." Rather than dispute Gore's positions, he derided them as incoherent. When Gore criticized privatizing Social Security, Bush's spokesman mocked it as Gore's "third position in six months." This characterization was amplified in the media. "Mr. Gore has a bit of a reputation for flip-flopping and corner-cutting on issues like abortion and trade," reported a New York Times news story in August 2000.
Simply put, that is an absurd account of the two-year War Against Gore which drove Campaign 2000. But never mind! Even as he does the right thing regarding Clinton’s future race, Beinart continues to play the fool about that earlier White House campaign—the one which put Bush in the White House.

What does Beinart omit in the quoted paragraph from this morning’s piece? Oh yes—he omits the fact that it was the Washington Post—the paper which prints his column today—which led the War Against Candidate Gore, the war which painted the Dem as a crackpot and liar! And he omits the fact that the New Republic sat and watched while this war rumbled on! But never mind that! According to the earnest Beinart, Jonathan Chait has duly “noted” the way the last few Democrat hopefuls were spun! And here’s the deal: The Post lets Beinart print this cant—in return for his silence about the Post’s conduct! We don’t have to hear what really occurred in Campaign 2000—and Beinart gets his piece in prime space.

Good grief! “As the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait has noted?” In real time, TNR sat out the War Against Gore—a war conducted by the Post and the New York Times. Today, Beinart starts to get it right about the future attacks on Clinton. But how Zeus’ halls must have rocked with laughter when the gods read that quoted passage! How the Olympian gods must have roared as they saw recent history recast.

REWRITING HISTORY: For the record, we conducted an incomparable Nexis search on “Gore AND Bush AND flip-flop!” (The exclamation point calls up all variants of that key term.) Our finding? During calendar year 2000, the Washington Post records exactly no instances of Bush using the term to refer to Gore. The single quote which Chait records occurred on 9/23/00, reported in the New York Times. It’s the only time the New York Times records Bush using the term.

“In 2000, Bush painted Al Gore as a flip-flopper whenever possible,” Chait wrote last October. Sorry—that really isn’t how it worked. As an account of Campaign 2000, that’s deeply misleading. Let’s be more frank—it’s just wrong.

“Flip-flop” is a term from Campaign 04; Gore was endlessly attacked as a delusional liar (who was indeed “willing to do and say anything”). And it wasn’t Bush who spearheaded these attacks. Starting in March 1999, these claims were driven by the Post and the Times; Bush barely mentioned Gore’s name until March of the following year. According to Chait’s account, Bush was out there calling Gore a flipper, and the critique leaked into the mainstream press. As everyone surely knows by now, this is a complete inversion of what actually happened.

Let’s say it again—Beinart does the right thing today, pre-rebutting the coming attacks on Clinton. But this is precisely what “liberal spokesmen” failed to do in 1999 and 2000. If the New Republic had stepped up then, George Bush wouldn’t be where he is. Luckily, though, Chait “noted” what happened—in October 2004!

THE STREAM OF BROOKS’ LOGIC: Yes, the Olympian gods must laugh at our discourse. This Sunday, for example, David Brooks was in a tizzy about those perfidious Dems:

BROOKS (5/8/05): [In the past few years], Democrats have been hectoring President Bush in the manner of an overripe Fourth of July orator. The president should be summoning us to make shared sacrifices for the common good. The president should care for the poor, and stop favoring the rich. He should make the hard choices and impose a little fiscal discipline on government.
But now we learn that Dems were “faking it” when they said that Bush shouldn’t favor the rich. “It was all hokum,” Brooks reveals. Here’s his comic explanation:
BROOKS: Over the past few weeks, the president has called their bluff. By embracing the progressive indexing of Social Security benefits, the president has asked us to make a shared sacrifice for the common good. He's asking middle- and upper-class folks to accept benefit cuts so there will be money for the people who are really facing poverty...

So how has the St. Francis of Assisi wing of the Democratic Party responded to Bush's challenge? Does it applaud him for doing what it has spent the past years telling him he should do? Of course not.

The Democratic leadership has dropped all that shared sacrifice talk and started making demagogic appeals to people's narrow self-interest. Nancy Pelosi cries out that Bush's progressive indexing idea means ''cutting the benefits of middle-class seniors.'' Representative Sander Levin protests it ''would result in the biggest benefit cut in the history of Social Security.''

Give Brooks credit—at least he uses the short-hand term “benefit cuts” to describe Bush’s proposal. But according to Brooks, Dems are revealed as total fakes when they complain about these benefit cuts—cuts on the middle-class.

Readers, does anyone ever reason this poorly except at the New York Times? When Dems have complained that Bush “favors the rich,” they have generally complained about the way his tax policies affect “the top one percent” of earners. This has been the Dems’ major mantra at least since Campaign 2000. But to Brooks, this somehow means that Dems are committed to accepting cuts for the middle-class. Indeed, the benefit cuts which Bush has proposed affects the top eighty percent of all earners. As Brooks knows, these proposed cuts would affect people earning as little as $20,000 per year.

Comical, isn’t it, when we follow the stream of Brooks’ meandering logic? Try to follow: If Dems criticize tax breaks for the top one percent, they have somehow committed to benefit cuts for the top eighty percent! They’ve somehow committed themselves to benefits cuts for low-income workers! One percent? Eighty percent? What’s the difference? It’s close enough for New York Times work!

If we couldn’t observe such clowning, who would think it could really occur? And let us ask our question again: Does anyone ever reason this poorly, except at the top of our millionaire “press corps?” Is anyone ever this inept except when they’re paid for their work?

Bonus: Defining dishonesty down!

KINSLEY’S KISSES (PART 1): Bush was lying in voters’ faces. But Kinsley praised Bush for his honesty. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/2/05.

GEORGE WILL IN THE WORLD (PART 2): Liberals had to turn to George Will to hear someone say, “Not so fast.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/4/05.

IT’S TIME FOR HIM TO GO (PART 3): Yes, we’ve really defined dishonesty down when “liberal spokesmen” praise George Bush for his “remarkable honesty” on Social Security. The president keeps telling average voters that SS will be “bankrupt” (will “go broke”) in 2041; this presentation is baldly misleading, but Bush doesn’t draw the line there. As he stages his SS pep rallies, he repeats the statements of misguided voters who think SS “won’t be there” for them; indeed, he tells misguided voters that they “understand the math” when they make such misinformed statements. How far will Bush go to mislead the public? At every stop, he repeats the iconic claim of clueless young voters who think they’re “more likely to see a UFO” than to get a Social Security check. And sometimes, he simply lies in voters’ faces. In Virginia, he openly lied to five young workers, saying there will be “nothing there” in Social Security when they retire; in Mississippi, he openly lied to mothers and grandmothers, playing on their deepest fears about their children and grandchildren. This ongoing performance by Bush has been an open, unvarnished disgrace—an appalling display of public dissembling. When mothers tell Bush that they fear for their children, the grimy praises them for their concern—and proceeds to mislead them yet further.

But none of that mattered when Michael Kinsley sat down to type on SS. Amazingly, Kinsley praised Bush for the honesty he displayed in his recent TV press conference—and he said that Bush was especially honest when he discussed SS! “There was a remarkable amount of honesty and near-honesty” in the conference, the scribe weirdly said. “Above all, Bush was honest and even courageous about Social Security.” But good grief! Kinsley’s column appeared two days after Bush lied to those five young workers, and two days before he lied to the mothers. Yes, we’ve really defined dishonesty down when a conservative president gets praised by a liberal in the midst of a grisly performance like that. When such praise comes from a famous “liberal spokesmen,” we’ve reached the day when this gentleman’s burn-out must be described as it is.

So how burned out is Michael Kinsley, once the brightest man of his age? Sadly, Kinsley is deeply burned—a virtual drop-out from the public discussion. You have to be completely burned to praise this prez for his honesty on SS. But Michael Kinsley is just that burned. Let’s consider two recent examples.

First, consider the column Kinsley wrote on February 13 of this year. He called his piece “The Meathead Proposition.” Here’s how the sage of San Onofre got started:

KINSLEY (2/13/05): Try to forgive my obsession, but here is another proof that President Bush's designs for Social Security cannot work. This one's not mine. I first heard it from the actor and liberal activist Rob Reiner. Like the argument I have been hawking, this one doesn't merely suggest that Bush is making bad policy. It demonstrates with near-mathematical certainty that the idea he endorses can't work.
As Kinsley explained, he was calling this argument The Meathead Proposition “in honor of Reiner's most famous role.”

Let’s start by noting that Reiner is a serious and intelligent political observer—a man who has spent a lot of time working on education issues. But let’s note something else as well; in Reiner’s most famous role, he did indeed play a guy named “Meathead,” and conservative hacks have long delighted in ridiculing liberal pols for allegedly over-consulting with Reiner. It’s typical of the feckless work of “liberal spokesmen” like Kinsley that he would invite more such ridicule by labeling his new thought the “Meathead Proposition”—by suggesting that he gets his ideas at glittering Hollywood parties. But let’s put that minor point to one side, because that was the least of the cluelessness Kinsley displayed in this piece.

Just what was “The Meathead Proposition?” What was the great idea Kinsley had heard at a Hollywood party—the great idea he was now sharing, while assuring the world that it wasn’t his? In fact, Kinsley was discussing a valid but thoroughly hashed-out proposition—an idea which had been discussed for months by the time he passed it on, saying he’d heard it from Meathead. Indeed, Paul Krugman had devoted a column to this same proposition twelve days earlier, on February 1. Here was Kevin Drum’s thumbnail summary of that Krugman effort:

DRUM (2/1/05): Paul Krugman writes today about something that's already been batted around the blogosphere a fair amount: the rosy projections that Social Security privatizers use when they estimate stock market returns. Typically, they assume long-term returns of 6.5-7%, but returns like that are only feasible if long-term economic growth is also very strong. The problem is that if long-term growth is strong, Social Security isn’t in trouble in the first place...
Yes, that was The Meathead Proposition: Bush uses rosy projections when he estimates stock returns, but he uses contradictory gloomy projections when he says that the trust fund will expire by the year 2041. Many of you are familiar with this argument, for good reason; as Drum noted, it had already been “batted around a fair amount” by February 1, twelve days before Kinsley’s column appeared—the column which attributed the idea to Meathead. Indeed, the idea had been widely discussed, all across the liberal web. But, as usual, Kinsley was clueless. He seemed to think his idea was new; indeed, he assured us that the idea wasn’t his. He had heard it at a Hollywood party, he seemed to say as he laid out the notion.

No, this isn’t a hanging offense, although it seemed to suggest that Kinsley was clueless—that he didn’t know the shape of the discourse occurring all over the liberal world. Indeed, our analysts rolled their eyes at this column only because they had seen this gentleman’s consummate cluelessness before. How out-of-touch is Michael Kinsley? In October 2004, he did a segment on Washington Journal, a segment where his utter cluelessness rang out loud and clear. An e-mailer asked him what he thought about a widely discussed Washington think tank. Our analysts (and several of our readers) were startled by Kinsley’s odd reply. He spoke with C-SPAN’s Steven Scully, who presented the e-mailer’s query:

SCULLY (10/24/04): An e-mail from J. Steele: “Mr. Kinsley, how much influence do you believe the Project for the New American Century has had on President Bush?”
The e-mailer asked an obvious question. But as usual, Kinsley was utterly clueless. Here was the full discussion. And yes, this exchange should amaze:
SCULLY (10/24/04): An e-mail from J. Steele: “Mr. Kinsley, how much influence do you believe the Project for the New American Century has had on President Bush?”

KINSLEY: Now, someone will have to remind me what that is.

SCULLY: That was the, the letter—wasn’t that the letter that came out in 1997, co-written by Donald Rumsfeld and others?

KINSLEY: I gotta confess, I don’t know.

SCULLY: OK—

KINSLEY: I, so I, so obviously—it may be influencing President Bush but it isn’t influencing me much. And I apologize.

Readers can watch this remarkable exchange on the tape of the C-SPAN program. Just click here; the exchange begins about 16:45 into the session.

Many readers will understand what made this exchange so remarkable. As Scully seemed to know (but Kinsley clearly didn’t), The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) is an important Washington think tank—a think tank whose highly influential members began arguing for military intervention in Iraq during Bill Clinton’s second term. Indeed, here’s the PNAC letter to which Scully referred (it was actually written in January 1998); in it, PNAC’s members urged President Clinton “to turn your Administration's attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam's regime from power” “This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts,” the letter continued. “Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater.”

As many of our readers will know, this letter created a great deal of discussion in the run-up to the war in Iraq. It created discussion because of its authors; the letter had been written by a string of big players in the current Bush Administration. Its authors did included Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, and several other big players in the Admin which eventually went to war in Iraq (among them: John Bolton, Richard Armitage, Robert Zoellick, Richard Perle). To state the obvious, there was no reason why these people shouldn’t have lobbied Clinton this way; they argued openly for their policy views, which is every citizen’s perfect right. But the letter, written in early 1998, showed that major players in the Bush Admin had wanted to go to war with Iraq long before the events of September 11, 2001. This letter helped support Paul O’Neill’s later claim that the Bush Admin wanted war with Iraq before 9/11—that it may have wanted war with Iraq at the time it came to power. In response to all this, mainstream news orgs performed their puppy-dog function, generally failing to discuss the implications of this well-known letter. (For an exception, see this discussion in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Knight-Ridder’s William Bunch. Headline: “Invading Iraq not a new idea for Bush clique.”) But the letter was widely discussed on the liberal web, before and after the war with Iraq. And as usual, Kinsley seemed innocent of all knowledge. Apparently, no one was discussing PNAC at Hollywood parties in the last several years.

Several readers wrote us last October, expressing their surprise (and dismay) at Kinsley’s remarkable ignorance. Now we see where such ignorance leads us. Here at THE HOWLER, we’re sick of seeing our major “liberal spokesmen” drift through life in this feckless manner, accepting the benefits of their high station but doing none of the work. But in our view, the cluelessness of this burned-out cohort really does reach critical mass when they praise Great Bush for remarkable honesty even as he lies to the public on the subject of Social Security. Kinsley was once a brilliant man, but frankly, he’s been a burn-out for years. But then, he joins a growing cohort of limousine “liberal spokesmen”—millionaire burn-outs who get their news from Meathead and embarrass themselves by their cluelessness.

And yes, as always, let’s recall how we got here. For the record, these are the same burned-out “liberal spokesmen” who sat around saying nothing while their friends in the mainstream press conducted their two-year War Against Gore—the astonishing press corps jihad when put George Bush in the White House. In fact, Kinsley has been a journalistic car wreck for years, as he helped us see last October. But we’ve really defined dishonesty down when Bush is praised for his “remarkable honesty.” What next? You could almost picture Time putting Ann Coulter on its cover, pretending her comments are all in good fun and assuring the world that she makes few “mistakes.” Oh wait a minute! That already happened! But so it goes when high-profile burn-outs like Kinsley continue to represent “liberal” interests.

Kinsley has never heard of PNAC. He gets his ideas from his Hollywood pals—and praises Bush for remarkable honesty. Luckily, George Will was on hand last week, warning us about Bush’s real motives. But what does it mean when our most famous “liberals” are out there praising Bush’s high character? When we have to turn to major conservative writers to hear someone say, “Not so fast?”