FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2004
THEIR OWN LATEST RANTS: It has always been easy to make fun of Al Gore, Bob Herbert says in this mornings column. Why has it been so easy? Herbert doesnt try to say. But after praising Gores extraordinary speech about Iraqthe one in which he showed so much passionHerbert did a bit of dreaming. Those who disagree with Mr. Gore should challenge him on his facts, the scribe says. But no such challenge will ever occur. Indeed, many who disagree with Gore have decided to clown once again. For example, here was hopeless Soledad OBrien, hosting CNNs American Morning:
OBRIEN (5/27/04): All right, Mark [Pfeifle], lets talk about Al Gore. Did you see this?I think its fair to use the word rant, the hapless CNN anchor said. He went on and on, she further complained. Comically, the actual clip which CNN played was kind of calm, she was forced to admit. Indeed, as anyone who watches Gores speech can see, the lengthy address was quite calm throughout, except for the fleeting portion in which Gore called for resignations. So what did many pundits do? Of course! They played the part where Gore raised his voice, then complained about his rant. Like many pundits of her vacuous class, OBrien seemed most disturbed that Gore spoke for so long. In the press, theres a word for such addresses. Such lengthy addresses are boring.
Of course, theres little chance that OBrien had actually watched the 64-minute speech she critiqued. Since early March 1999, it has been easy to make fun of Al Gore, and vacuous pundits are eager to do it. Beyond that, we were struck by the clueless comments pundits made about Gores speech. Consider Alan Murray on Capitol Report. After saying Gores speech was very much like Howard Dean (i.e., a scream), Murray wondered why Gore would have made it:
MURRAY (5/26/04): Barbara [Comstock] raises a good point though. What is the point at this point in a presidential election of Al Gore doing this? This is not John Kerrys position. What he was saying today is not what John Kerry says at all.Imagine! Gore said something that Kerry hadnt! Murray puzzled about this phenomenon all through his segment on Gore.
For ourselves, we dont know why Gore gave his speech. (One obvious possibility: because he believed it.) But Alan Murrays odd befuddlement was extended last night by Nina Easton, the Boston Globes ace Kerry reporter. Easton did NewsNight with Aaron Brown. As per Pundit Union Requirement, she started with the pleasing point about Gore-seeming-just-like-Howard-Dean:
EASTON (5/27/04): People are scared. They want a stable, secure leader. They want somebody who they feel comfortable with. Al Gore, who gave a speech that made him looking like a bit like Howard Dean in the howl speech that came after the Iowa Caucusesits out of the comfort zone for a lot of people.Having recited this Standard Point, Easton responded to a question. Could Gores lusty attacks on Bush help Kerry? We were struck by the clueless response:
BROWN: Let me ask this slightly differently, hopefully. Is it in some ways helpful to [Kerry] to have the Naders and the Gores out there clearly to the left of him?Its amazing that people who memorize so well are so clueless in all other areas. Like Easton, we dont know if Gores attacks on Bush will affect the White House race. But readers, when he gave his speech for MoveOn.org, Gore was addressing a group of young antiwar votersvoters who might be inclined to abandon Kerry in favor of Nader. The fact that a famous Democrat is attacking Bush (while praising Kerry) might tend to keep such voters in the Dem camp. Easton, referring to the Nader-Gore vote, couldnt have been much more clueless. In his speech, Gore explicitly aligned himself with Kerry. He spoke up for Big John, not for Ralph.
But then, thats the shape of your post-affluence press corps. Overpaid, pampered, perfumed and powdered, theyre good at one thingreciting spin. There seems to be little in which they believe, and they seem to get nervous someone shows passion. They know theyre supposed to make fun of Gore, and it bothers them when a speech gets too loud. Empty, vacuous, dumb to the core, they rise up in righteous fury when a speech gets too loudor too lengthy.
THE DOCTOR WAS IN: Then, of course, you had Charles Krauthammer on Special Report. The doctor was IN as the brilliant shrink unwrapped his latest diagnoses:
KRAUTHAMMER (5/26/04): Well, it looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again, but the real issue here is he speaks for the Democrats, who are sort of energized by the difficulties that were having in Iraq. And as you mentioned, by a lot of supporters of the war who are now defecting, who are now believing that the objectives are not attainable.The doctor offered a twofer this night. He said that Gore was off his meds. And he even explained the psychiatric state of a lot of supporters of the war who are now defecting.
Meanwhile, one more part of the pundit reaction to Gore was played out on Special Report. As the all-stars began their discussion, Jeff Birnbaums Gore-bashing was so far off base that Brit Hume even had to dispute it:
BIRNBAUM: Well, I think the tone of this and the direction of this is reason enough for John Kerry not to go in this direction. Kerry cannotit is not presidential to say that what the U.S. is doing in, what its 130,000-some troops are doing in Iraq isHad Birnbaum actually watched Gores speech? As Hume knew, Gore went to considerable lengths to blame the leadership, not the troops (who he praised). But the notion that Gore dishonored all the troops was standard RNC cant this day, and the simpering Birnbaum recited so well that even Hume stepped in to stop it.
FINAL NOTE: Were not sure why Brown and Easton think that Gore went to the left of Kerry. In this past week, General Anthony Zinni also called for Bush to fire all his high-ranking aidesand Zinni said that hes a Republican who will vote for Bush if he does so. Alas! Even Brownone of cables most professional anchorsseems prepared to restrict himself to the most simplistic analytical categories. For the record, Nexis records only one punditPaul Begala on Crossfirenoting that Zinni made the same proposal as Gore. Other pundits knew where to focus. They focused on how loud Gore wasand on the fact that he spoke much too long.
MORE ON THOSE ADS: Were sure that well return to the question of Bush-and-Kerrys campaign ads. In the meantime, we recommend Paul Waldmans excellent post from Wednesdays Gadflyer. We share Waldmans sense that Bushs ads have been unusually misleading. And we share his sense that the mainstream press has shown little interest in policing these ads.
Have Bushs ad been worse than Kerrys? That would be our strong impression. Presumably, thats why Jim Rutenberg zeroed in on such a trivial Kerry claim in his overview in Tuesdays Times (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/04). In the text of his piece, and then in the graphic, Rutenberg worried about this:
RUTENBERG: [O]ne of Mr. Kerrys new commercials boasts that he provided a decisive vote for President Bill Clintons 1993 economic plan, which, it maintains, created 20 million new jobs. The bill passed by a single vote in the Senate, giving anybody who voted for it a claim to have provided a decisive vote. But at the time, it was the last-minute support of Senator Bob Kerrey, Democrat of Nebraska, that was considered decisive. And even economists who credit the plan with playing a significant role in the 1990's boom say Mr. Kerry's spot goes too far.Ignore the waste-of-time passage on Kerry v. Kerrey. Did Clintons plan create 20 million new jobs? Of course, such claims are hard to assess and overblown. But such claims suffuse our political discourse (note recent claims that the Bush tax cuts are now creating jobs). If this were the worst thing we met in our ads, wed have little reason for griping.
Yes, Kerrys boast is very standard. But so what? Rutenberg examined this claim two separate timesbut ignored the serial claims in Bushs ads that might really mislead the voters.
As weve noted, it isnt easy to unpack the claims made by this years campaign ads. Modern spin is slick and devious; misleading ads are flying thick and fast as Campaign 04 unfolds. So far, though, as Waldman suggests, no news org has really tried to unpack their slippery charges.