MAY NOD OFF AGAIN! Why did Matthews ask dumb questions? Bored silly, Broder explains it: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MAY 11, 2007
SEE DUB SPIN: It was a typical shaky decision to have Bob Woodward review Tenets book. After all, theres a giant conflict involved here. The most ballyhooed passage from Woodwards Plan of Attack was the famous slam dunk scene, where Tenet persuades a high-minded Bush that Saddam really does have WMD. (In Woodwards account, Bush wisely tells Tenet, several times, not to stretch any intelligence. This is all happening four months after Bush and Cheney started stretching the intelligence.) But uh-oh! When Tenets book appeared last month, the instant talking-point was his claim that this anecdote unfairly made him the scapegoat—that Woodward had gotten it wrong.
Predictably, Woodward spins and spindles Tenet, criticizing his take on this matter. But Woodwards review does include a fascinating new statement:
WOODWARD (5/6/07): Tenet incorrectly suggests that I had one source for this report. There were at least four firsthand sources. When I interviewed President Bush in December 2003, he quoted the "slam dunk" phrase four times, and then in a fifth citation the president said, "And Tenet said, 'Don't worry, it's a slam dunk.' And that was very important." I provided this portion of the transcript to Tenet.Wow! One year after the 12/02 meeting where Tenet made the slam dunk comment, Bush was pimping the incident hard. No, this anecdote never really made chronological sense, for the reason we cite above. But it was very helpful to Bush in his 2004 re-election campaign. And there he was, in 12/03, quoting Tenets statement so many times that anyone except Brother Woodward might have become suspicious.
In his review, Woodward continues to pass by the matter he first passed by in his book. Here he is, describing a speech which was given four months before Tenet said slam dunk:
WOODWARD: On Aug. 26, 2002, seven months before the invasion of Iraq, Tenet says he was totally surprised when Vice President Cheney said during a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars that "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." Cheney was effectively issuing his own National Intelligence Estimate—he was treading on Tenet's territory. "The speech also went well beyond what our analysis could support," Tenet writes, and he acknowledges that he should have privately told Cheney so.In Plan of Attack, Woodward describes how shocked Powell was when Cheney made this provocative speech. There too, Woodward said that Cheney effectively issued his own NIE. Implausibly, Woodward claimed that Bush had no idea that Cheney was going to say these things. Nor did he make any effort to say how Bush reacted to Cheneys new claims. Powell was shocked—and Tenet was shocked. But somehow, Woodward forgot to ask Bush how he may have reacted.
In Woodwards book, Bush begins stretching the intel in September—three months before the slam dunk comment. But then, maybe Woodward is just too fat and happy to bother with calendars any more. In this part of Sundays review, he continues from the passage above about the slam dunk comment:
WOODWARD: "I truly doubt President Bush had any better recollection of the comment than I did," Tenet writes in At the Center of the Storm, "Nor will I ever believe it shaped his view about either the legitimacy or timing of waging war." Tenet could be right about that...Woodwards error there isnt important. But the slam dunk comment was made on December 21. Powell made his UN presentation on February 5. That is nowhere near 10 weeks. Bushs subsequent slam dunk hype to the side, perhaps modern life is a typo.
YOU GO TO THE POLLS WITH THE VOTERS YOU HAVE: What do voters think about evolution? In Sundays Post, Chris Cillizza filed this intriguing report on the subject. We thought it was the most interesting thing we saw in the papers all week.
Theres nothing new here, but the facts about this are always striking. In this part of Cillizzas report, he describes the three choices voters were given in a recent survey:
CILLIZZA (5/6/07): A recent Newsweek survey presented people with three explanations for the origins of human life:  that humans developed over millions of years, from lesser to more advanced forms of life, while God guided the process;  that God played no hand in the process; and  that God created humans in their present form.Those were the three choices. As you might have been able to guess, a small percentage—just 13 percent—said they believe in straight-up evolution. Almost half picked Option 3:
CILLIZZA (continuing directly): Nearly half the sample, 48 percent, said the creationism option was closest to their beliefs, and 30 percent chose the hybrid option. Just 13 percent of the sample chose evolution alone as the best approximation of their view of human development.As Cillizza notes, these results are quite typical. At any rate, 48 percent of this sample dont believe that humans evolved at all.
This isnt exactly a voting issue. But we think its good for us high-minded liberals to remind ourselves what the public is like. We were especially struck by this report because it appeared just as we began to marvel at liberal reaction to Sally Quinns op-ed column this Saturday—a column in which Quinn gave Obamas campaign some good sound basic advice.
In the column for which she was battered, Quinn speculated about the reasons behind Obamas incredible popularity. After praising his many attractive attributes, she discussed his possible downside:
QUINN (5/5/07): The doubts about Obama in this country are usually twofold: He's too young and he doesn't have the necessary experience. People tend to forget that in fact, if Obama were elected next year, he would be older than Teddy Roosevelt, Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton were when they became president.Quinn pokes some holes in the youth/inexperience card—but she also offers superb advice about the way Obama will be attacked if he becomes the Dem nominee. Because Obama is relatively new and unknown, she says, he should offer reassurances about himself by helping us see what sorts of advisers hed select. The staff Obama chooses will speak volumes about his judgment of people and what he thinks the job of president entails, Quinn writes. [W]hat will matter more for him than for other candidates, because of his youth and inexperience, is the expertise, wisdom and decency of the administration he puts together.
Guess what? Thats good advice. If Obama becomes the Dem nominee, the RNC will instantly move to marginalize him; theyll try to paint him as an inexperienced, strange outsider. In short, theyll try to Dukakis-ize him—make him seem slightly alien. (This worked quite well with Dukakis, who had a problem with the pledge of allegiance.) For this reason, Quinns advice makes perfect sense. Obama should identify a set of reassuring advisers, she says. And he should start doing it now.
So how did liberals respond to this? Of course! By trashing Quinn for her racial bad faith! By insisting that she was polluting the world with her rank insider outlook! Even our smartest, most productive leaders had this unhelpful reaction.
For the record, the Bush campaign followed Quinns course early in Campaign 2000. They knew that Bush was like Obama; they understood that his inexperience was one of his major vulnerabilities. So they did precisely what Quinn is advising; they widely pimped a long list of names of Bushs veteran advisers. They did this early and often. In September 1999, for example, Bush gave his first speech on national defense. This was part of Terry Neals report in the Post:
NEAL (9/24/99): While Bush has experience in education and social issues as governor of the nation's second-most populous state, he has virtually none in defense or foreign policy, as his opponents have stressed. Bush has relied this year on advice from former advisers to his father, former president George Bush and former president Ronald Reagan. Among them: Condoleezza Rice, Brent Scowcroft, Colin L. Powell, Richard B. Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, George Shultz, Richard L. Armitage and Richard Perle.As Quinn notes, this turned out to be the worst group of advisers in recorded human history. (Scowcroft, the wise one, got kicked to the curb.) But their names were reassuring back then—and the Bush camp pimped them far and wide. Voters heard about Bushs veteran helpmates all through 1999. This was an obvious move for Bush. Its an obvious move for Obama.
So Quinn offered good advice in her column; we assume the Obama campaign understands this. But we liberals! We seem to revel in our ignorance of recent White House campaigns—in our utter cluelessness about the ways their candidates win and ours get beaten. And theres nothing we seem to enjoy so much as displaying our racial arrogance. No one is quite so fine as we—certainly not the dumb-ass voters! The instincts we put on display in this matter are a road-map for how Dems can lose.
Quinns perspective on Obamas race isnt ours, but there was nothing wrong with what she said about race in her column either. But how we luvv to tell the world about our vast superiority! For our money, the most annoying observer was Reed Hundt, who ought to know much better. (His Savannah kin-folk would be insulted!) But our preening, priggish moral superiority was quite widely observed. By the way: Hundt figured out what happened to Candidate Gore—seven years too late.
You go to the polls with the voters you have, and most of those voters are fair, decent people. But no, they dont always see the world in quite the way we high-minded liberals do. Cillizzas report reminds us of this—and it suggests an important question. Do we want to win next year—or do we want to announce how much better we are? Most voters wont see a problem with what Quinn wrote. They will see a problem with us.
Special report: Lets play nut-ball!
EPILOGUE—MAY NOD OFF AGAIN! True insanity! Crazy! Close to criminal! Madness! In yesterdays column, the Dean of All Pundits was having a fit about the upcoming primary schedule! But sadly, this Dean doesnt reason real well any more. In what follows, he explains one of the two scary scenarios he says we face next year. This is what happens if the two parties nominees still havent been chosen after February 5:
BRODER (5/10/07): [I]f nothing is decided by the night of Feb. 5, the chance of a quirky result from the oddity of the political geography of the remaining states will be greatly increased. Democrats will have to compete in Indiana and North Carolina, where they rarely win in November. Republicans will be judged in Massachusetts and Vermont, where their party membership is minuscule.Nightmare! If the nominees arent picked by February 5, Democrats will have to compete in Indiana! And the Reps will be forced to please-come-to-Boston! Its hard to know why Broder finds this thought scary; presumably, this would favor centrist candidates, the type he constantly says he prefers. But Broders columns rarely make sense—though the press corps agrees not to notice.
But our analysts really howled at the first of Broders scary scenario. Suppose the nominees are chosen in February! When Broder spoke about that dread option, he showed us the broken soul of his press corps, in a familiar manner:
BRODER: This crazy calendar sets up one of two scenarios—both scary. If one candidate in each party wraps up the nomination by gaining momentum in the January contests and amassing delegates on Feb. 5, we will be looking at the longest, most-dragged-out general election ever. The conventions are late in 2008; the Democrats' the last week in August, the Republicans' the first week in September. The time from February to Labor Day will be boring beyond belief.Poor darlings! The Washington press corps will find itself bored! Months will roll by with nothing to do! Theyll be bored beyond belief.
Lets start with a few basic facts. If the nominations are set by February 5, that will produce a long campaign—but it wont be much longer than the last two. In 2004, Kerry wrapped up the Democratic nod on March 2, with Bush set as his opponent. In 2000, Candidates Bush and Gore went over the top with primary wins on March 7. Next years general election would be longer than those—but only by about a month. Of course, the press corps was bored beyond belief during those campaigns too. But only by their own doing.
Why will the press corps be so bored if the nominations get settled that early? Lets consider what these dim bulbs did during Campaign 2000.
What happened in Campaign 2K after Bush and Gore wrapped up their parties nods? Heres what happened: The candidates put forward important proposals—and the press corps refused to cover them! In Politics Lost, Joe Klein described what happened to Candidate Gore when he tried to discuss global warming in June 2000:
KLEIN (page 151): Gore decided that what he really wanted to do was give a major speech on global warming. This elicited a chorus of groans from his political consultants, who pointed out that the environment was way down the list of issues people cared about, according to their polls. But Gore ignored them. The environment was the issue he cared more about than any other; he had written a best-selling book about it, Earth in the Balance. He wanted to tell the public, as precisely as possible, what he was going to do about it—and he wanted to do a lot: a $150 billion program over ten years, using the Clinton budget surplus to pay for it...Klein goes on to blame the consultants, his iconic bogey-people. (You know the rules—the press corps itself is never at fault.) But by this time, the press corps had already refused to cover another major proposal—Bushs proposal for partial privatization of Social Security, which he brought forward in a ballyhooed speech at (where else?) Rancho Cucamonga on May 15 of that year. Weve discussed, in great detail, the press corps refusal to explore the merits of Bushs proposal and Gores opposition (links below). Instead of fleshing out Bushs ideas, they turned this giant policy dispute into their latest morality tale; robotically, they pimped Bush as a brave bold leader who was daring to touch the third rail of American politics, and they said that Gores opposition just showed, once again, that he was too nasty and negative (examples below). Its hard to believe how little they did to help the public understand how Bushs proposal might actually work. But the press corps clowning was simply cosmic. So too its refusal to serve.
Why does Broder look with horror on the boredom of early nominations? Because of his cohorts sad, broken soul! In fact, early nominations could be a great thing. They would sweep the lightweights off the stage and let us focus on the real proposals brought forward by the real nominees. But Broders gang has long made it clear—they find such tedious matters quite boring! As readers may recall, this is how this tired old man described Gores convention speech in August 2000—in a year which changed the worlds history:
BRODER (8/20/00): But my, how he went on about what he wants to do as president....Amazing! By using the contemptuous phrase swell ideas, Broder advertised his open disdain for the man who made him listen to all that claptrap. Others, of course, thought different. As you may recall, Gores speech was hugely well-received by the public; it sent his polling through the roof, and changed the shape of the White House race, to the point where the press corps finally had to invent new examples of Gores troubling lies. (The doggy-pills; the union lullaby. Mid-September, 2000.) But plainly, Broder was bored beyond belief during Campaign 2000 too! Indeed, he almost nodded off during Gores tiresome speech. And he fears the same death sentence this year, absent the distraction of primaries and conventions, which may help keep him awake.
For Broder, this reaction to Gore was no anomaly. Last May, Hillary Clinton made The Dean sit through a speech about energy policy; once again, he made no effort to hide the fact that the event bored him silly (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/06). In fact, this millionaire press corps has long made it clear—they just dont care about energy, health care or Social Security, or all those other swell ideas. This brings us around to an e-mail we got about Chris Matthews god-awful performance last Thursday. Why did he ask such damn-fool questions, our e-mailer sensibly asked:
E-MAIL (5/10/07): Why didn't Matthews ask about health care or climate change? Why didn't Bob Schieffer ask one question about the environment in his awful performance as "moderator" of the debate on domestic issues during Campaign 2004? I don't know, but it sure does seem like these guys are covering for the Republicans. I mean, why ask questions about issues people really care about when substantive answers aren't there?Was Matthews covering for the Republicans when he skipped past most of the nations big issues? We dont know either, but in our reply, we suggested a different possibly—one which seems quite apparent:
ANSWER: "Why didnt Matthews ask about health care or climate change?"Poor Broder! He quivers and quakes, thinking how boring it all could become. And Matthews? Matthews asks about Arnold! After all, he was sitting there in the front row—and his muscles were surely rippling.
Afterwards, Matthews went out to eat. And good fortune! Tom Selleck was there!
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: How did the press corps cover Social Security during the boredom of Campaign 2000? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/30/06 (scroll down to SECOND EXCERPT). Or see our four-part report on the topic, starting with THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/14/02.
But make no mistake—the pundits were nicely on-message, well-scripted. Bush began to preview his privatization proposal in early May 2000. Gore expressed his opposition—and the reviews rolled in:
Hardball, MSNBC, May 5, 2000:Calling Gore a one-trick pony, the pundits all said it: Attack-attack-attack. In this manner, world history changed—and we liberals still wont discuss it. Brian Williams opens the new campaign with suggestions of our treasonous conduct. And we liberals stare into air. At least he didnt say it on Fox, we turn and say to our friends.
Bush was looking so clean and so good, Matthews said, way back then.