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Daily Howler: Gore had made a string of sound judgments. But omigod! Someone laughed at his jokes
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RICH IN THE BALANCE! Gore had made a string of sound judgments. But omigod! Someone laughed at his jokes! // link // print // previous // next //

BRODER GETS IT RIGHT: But only because Kevin Drum did so first—and golly Ned, did Kevin nail it! By the way, we note that it was the blogger who got it so right, not all them fancy, higher-priced “experts.” (In fairness, some of the high-falluters made good assessments too. You know what to do—just click here.)

Just for the record, though, one of them experts had his head in the clouds. Here was Gregg Easterbrook’s forecast for the Bush second term. No, we aren’t making this up:

EASTERBROOK (9/1/04): Second-term presidents traditionally turn their thoughts to history. Of the two most recently reelected presidents, Ronald Reagan in his second term became interested in nuclear-arms reduction treaties with the Soviet Union, in part because they could make him a historic president; Bill Clinton's thoughts of history were postponed by the Monica mess but, by his final year in office, he was trying desperately to solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. If George W. Bush is reelected, how future historians remember him may become a White House concern. There remains a chance that history will come to regard the invasion of Iraq as a liberation and a progressive turning point in Arab society, but the odds are greater the invasion will be pronounced a colossal folly. A reelected Bush, if he wants to win favor with historians, will have to do something impressive, statesmanlike, and out of character.

Which is why I think a second-term Bush will be the president who imposes global-warming controls...

Only at Slate! Of course, Bush still has two years to make Easterbrook the world’s greatest seer. No, Kevin Drum didn’t call it this way. But in fairness, this isn’t wrong yet.

Special report—Frankly, that’s Rich!

PART 2—RICH IN THE BALANCE: Frankly, no one but a major pundit could find such a Rich way to balance the equities. Mocking all comers from Cannes to the Kossacks, a nattering New York Times know-it-all was weighing the pros and the cons of Al Gore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/31/06). So let’s see! In 1991, Gore had been right about the Gulf War. And in 2002, he’d been right on Iraq, back when big players got trashed for such heresies. And omigod! Gore had also been right all along about the future of life on the planet! You’d almost think that this bill of particulars might tip the scales in a positive way. But then, our pundit, Frank Rich, found himself cruelly forced to sit through Gore’s god-awful new movie. Struggling to hold down his large buttered corn, Rich finally staggered out into the air—and he explained how the frightful new film proves that Gore’s just the same, fake as always:

RICH (5/28/06): Though many of the rave reviews don't mention it, there are also considerable chunks of “An Inconvenient Truth” that are more about hawking Mr. Gore's image than his cause. They also bring back unflattering memories of him as a politician. The movie contains no other voices that might upstage him, not even those of scientists supporting his argument. It is instead larded with sycophantic audiences, as meticulously multicultural as any Benetton ad, who dote on every word and laugh at every joke, like the studio audience at “Live With Regis and Kelly.”
Let’s try to follow this now—and no, speaking Frankly, it won’t be real easy. For starters, Rich is upset because this film shows audiences laughing when Gore tells a joke. And readers, it gets even stranger; these audiences are multicultural, Rich notes, letting you shape your own conclusion about how that fact is supposed to create “unflattering memories of Gore as a politician.” Frankly, it’s hard to get much more foolish than this; in the film, Gore is shown speaking all over the world, so two of the crowds about whom Rich complains aren’t exactly “multicultural”—if memory serves, they’re Japanese and Chinese (graduate students, we would have guessed). So let’s see how this works so far. On the positive side, Gore has solved every major world problem. But then again, there’s the negative side: Some Chinese students have laughed at his jokes! And they’ve even dared to “dote on his words”—perhaps because they’re still able, as Rich is not, to admire Gore for the astonishing knowledge on display in this film. Yes, it’s hard to get much dumber than this, but Frankly, Rich is up to the challenge—with his utterly foolish complaint about those AWOL Big Scientists, for example. Why doesn’t this film include other narrators? Why didn’t director Davis Guggenheim interview scientists, augmenting Gore? Mind-reading brilliantly, Rich tells all: There are no scientists in the film because Gore was afraid that he’d be upstaged! And yes, this does make perfect sense—if you consider the charisma of most warming scientists, many of them just a screen-test away from careers in big Hollywood thrillers! Of course, as almost everyone knows, this film is meant to record the “slide show” on global warming which Gore has given all over the world; no other scientists speak at those sessions, so it didn’t strike us as shocking when Guggenheim failed to record them. But Frankly, it can’t be that simple for Rich; he has to conjure an unflattering theory, taking us back to his cohort’s great “narrative”—the narrative in which Al Gore is a “punch line,” as he’s been all these long years. (Tom Toles explained it in Monday’s Post, right there in that dead-on cartoon.)

There are no scientists in the film because Gore was afraid that he might get upstaged! If you can buy that, you’ll buy almost anything—and by now, you know who’ll be selling. Indeed, in his previous paragraph, Rich helps us see how stupid it is when Democrats think that Gore might actually make a good president. And he hands us perfectly scripted claims about Gore’s 2000 campaign:

RICH: The less flattering aspect of Mr. Gore has not gone away: the cautious and contrived presidential candidate who, like Mrs. Clinton now, was so in thrall to consultants that he ran away from his own administration's record and muted his views, even about pet subjects like science. (He waffled on the teaching of creationism in August 1999, after the Kansas Board of Education struck down the teaching of evolution.) That Gore is actually accentuated, not obscured, by ''An Inconvenient Truth.'' The more hard-hitting his onscreen slide show about global warming, the more he reminds you of how much less he focused on the issue in 2000. Gore the uninhibited private citizen is not the same as Gore the timid candidate.
To his credit as a guild member, Rich has the latest scripts down cold. (Gore is a liar has now been abandoned.) Gore was in thrall to his dumb-ass consultants! He shouldn’t have “run away from” Clinton! And of course, the dumbest new script of them all: He should have talked more about global warming! These things are very easy to say—indeed, trained pundits repeat them like magpies—but there’s no way to show that these speculations are true, and there’s plenty of reason to suspect that they’re false. In the case of that silliest point, only a fool could really believe that Gore could have sent himself straight to the White House if only he’d only talked more about global warming. After all, what actually happens, here on this earth, when pols try to discuss such a topic? We got a good reminder last week; when Hillary Clinton gave a serious speech about energy, Broder and Dowd both swung into action. Like Rich, they staggered out into the light, complaining bitterly of all they’d endured—even knowing which word from Clinton’s speech could be used to produce highest mockery. Wonkishly, she had droned on:
DOWD (5/24/06): She droned on numbingly about carbon dioxide sequestration...

BRODER (5/25/06): [S]he read a wonkish text that covered every aspect of the energy situation, down to and including a description of the “geologic sequestration” potential for reducing global warming...

Shorter Dowd and Broder: Just how dare that goddamned bitch make us hear the word “sequestration?” And of course, when Broder spilled out into the air, he announced that the guild will now be talking about Hillary’s sex life—and he dropped the name of a Canadian pol about whom we should start to gossip (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/06). So yes: That is how the press corps acts when pols try to discuss global warming, and that is what the press would have done if Candidate Gore had spoken more on the subject. Meanwhile, the RNC would have run to its script—Al Gore is trying to banish the car!—and pundits would have stared and said nothing, just as they’d done for many years. Frankly, this would have been a Rich way to stage a serious run for the White House. Only a fool could recite this fine claim. Proof? All scribes recite the claim now.

Do we see a certain familiar foolishness when Rich tries to balance the equities? Gore was right on Iraq; right on the Gulf War; and he was right about global warming. On the other hand, a bunch of students have laughed at this jokes and, making it worse, they were multicultural! They dared to resemble a Benetton ad! And of course, there are no scientists in the film, because they make Gore feel unworthy. Reasoning in the ludicrous way our major pundits have done for a decade, Rich puts these two bags of ore on the scale—and he finds that the laughter of those troubling students counts for more than Gore’s good judgments! The Kossacks? They’re mocked for thinking that they might like a president who has good judgment; this is just “desperation,” Rich says. Can’t they see how those audiences look? Elsewhere, such judgments would seem like a sign that their author was mad. But we’ve developed a new term for it: Press corps.

You will be able to judge for yourselves when you go to see this new film. For ourselves, we’ll be eager to judge Rich’s brilliant critique when we go see it again. But why did those audiences hang on Gore’s words? Why did they pay such attention to Gore? Again, we’ll offer the obvious thought: They may have hung on Gore’s every word because they care about the world of their brith, and because they still can admire a man who has assembled such astonishing knowledge. Those attentive young students haven’t spent the past decade talking about earth tones and Gore’s cowboy boots; they’ve managed to skip mindless topics Rich and his cohort have urged on the world. And they aren’t in love with that stupid old “narrative,” the one Toles nailed in that brilliant cartoon, the “narrative” Rich and his cohort still cling to, the one in which Gore is the punch line.

TOMORROW—PART 3: Rich praises Gore for his call on Iraq. But here’s what he said at the time.

NOW THEY TELL HIM: For the record, the hot new notion that Gore should have talked about global warming comes from Joe Klein’s new book, Politics Lost (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/18/06). Result? All good pundits now rush to repeat this—although it’s a very dubious claim. For the record, no one seems to have offered this advice in real time. We’ve been searching through the record, and so far, we can’t find anyone saying this in real time.

NARRATIVES IN THE BALANCE: Did Gore “waffle on the teaching of creationism in August 1999, after the Kansas Board of Education struck down the teaching of evolution?” Seven years later, Rich is still disturbed by the matter; to Rich, this episode shows how Gore “muted his views, even about pet subjects like science” back when he ran for the White House. And apparently, this was Gore’s most egregious episode; it’s the only one Rich mentions, except for Gore’s refusal to spend more time talking up global warming. How hard will Rich work, even today, to retain the “narrative” in which Gore is the “punch line?” You might like to know what lies behind this tale—the one which seems to tip the scales against all Gore’s good judgments.

Earth to Rich: Sometimes pols do “mute their views,” seeking the goal of getting elected. But in this matter, Rich refers to at most a two-hour “waffle”—a “waffle” which actually involved a Gore staffer, while Gore was on vacation. Indeed, how bad was this troubling waffle? Rich’s own paper didn’t devote a single word to the troubling story. (Neither did a long string of other big papers.) And here was the headline of the AP report on the day of the troubling incident:

AP HEADLINE (8/26/99): Gore favors teaching of evolution in schools
Shocking, isn’t it? What follows is the AP report. Frankly, this is the best Rich can dredge, even now, seven years later:
THE AP (8/26/99): Weighing in on a Kansas controversy, Vice President Al Gore's office said Thursday he favors the teaching of evolution in public schools but would not oppose instruction in creationism if taught as part of a religious course.
"They may teach creationism in the context of a religious course; that is clearly up to the local districts to decide," said Alejandro Cabrera, speaking for Gore. He said Gore bases his opinion on court rulings that allow the teaching of creationism as part of a religious course but not as a science.

The Kansas state school board this month adopted new testing standards that play down the scientific importance of evolution. Local school districts will decide what subjects are taught but critics and advocates of the new standards say the decision could bring more religion into the classroom.

The U.S. Supreme Court has forbidden the teaching of creationism, the belief that a higher power created the universe, because of the religious foundation of that idea.
"The vice president favors the teaching of evolution in public schools," Cabrera said.

The next day, Gore’s office said that Gore thought the Kansas school board’s decision was “a mistake, and he opposes it.” By the way, what exactly was the “waffling” here? In his initial statement, Cabrera hadn’t specifically said that the teaching of creationism would have to be in a religion class. So there’s the best that Rich can do to show how Gore “muted his views about science.” And remember: Gore and his family were off at the beach when all this dark “waffling” occurred. (Note: This matter drew so little coverage that it’s somewhat hard to compare the other candidates’ views.)

So once again, it’s Rich in the balance. On the one hand, we have Gore’s long-time leadership on global warming and his prescient call regarding Iraq. On the other hand, Gore’s staff once said that a state could teach creationism as part of a religion course, as the Supreme Court had said. To Rich, the latter just seems more important; sadly, it tips the scales against Gore. And, of course, it tells Rich something very pleasing. It tells him that all those good judgments by Gore aren’t enough to kill a treasured “narrative,” one in which Gore, for all his good judgments, serves as a crowd-pleasing “punch line.”

By the way, what did Rich say about this at the time? Here he is, in the New York Times, cutting-and-pasting the corps’ favorite bite, the one they repeated again and again until they had Bush in the White House:

RICH (9/11/99): More recently, Mr. Gore hedged about the teaching of creationism—who would have thought the inventor of the Internet would believe that the Earth was invented in seven days?until an outcry from his own supporters led to a hasty retreat.
Yes, that’s what this idiot wrote. But Frankly, Rich’s record on Gore is appalling, in various ways. But so what? You know the rules of this High Pundit Class! Even today, just like Arianna, Rich refuses to state the obvious: I was the one who bungled these matters! Even today, as in that great narrative, it has to be Gore who was wrong.

Much more, in the next two installments, about the string of cosmic bad judgments which came to us straight from Rich, not from Gore. Why is the man with worse judgment now president? Frankly, Rich played a key role.

BUSH AND GORE GET WARM: Bush and Gore had a long exchange on environmental matters in their second debate. Below, we present the transcript of that exchange. We’ve highlighted segments dealing with warming. Remember: As we’ll see in future installments, Rich insisted, all through this race, that Bush and Gore were well-matched twin losers. Only the mighty McCain stood apart. What possible difference could it make, which of these two hapless men became president? You can assess Rich’s gruesome misjudgment as the hopefuls discuss global warming. Note the way Gore is constantly trying to “mute his views about science.”

We assess one statement by Bush down below:

LEHRER (10/11/00): New question, new subject. Vice President Gore, on the environment. In your 1992 book, you said, quote, "We must make the rescue of our environment the central organizing principle for civilization and there must be a wrenching transformation to save the planet." Do you still feel that way?

GORE: I do. I—I think that in this 21st century we will soon see the consequences of what's called global warming. There was a study just a few weeks ago suggesting that in summertime the north polar ice cap will be completely gone in 50 years. Already many people see the strange weather conditions that the old-timers say they've never seen before in their lifetimes. And what's happening is the level of pollution is increasing significantly. Now here's the good news, Jim. If we take the leadership role and build the new technologies, like the new kinds of cars and trucks that Detroit is itching to—to build, then we can create millions of good new jobs by being first into the market with these new kinds of cars and trucks and other kinds of technologies.

You know, the Japanese are breathing down our necks on this. They're moving very rapidly because they know that it is a fast-growing world market. Some of these other countries, particularly in the developing world, their pollution is much worse than—than anywhere else, and their people want higher standards of living. And so they're looking for ways to satisfy their desire for—for a better life and still reduce—reduce pollution at the same time. I think that holding on to the old ways and the old argument that the environment and the economy are in conflict is—is really outdated. We have to be bold. We have to provide leadership. Now it's true that we disagree on this. Governor said that he doesn't think this problem is necessarily caused by people. He's for letting the oil companies into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Houston's just become the—the smoggiest city in the country and Texas is number one in industrial pollution. We have a very different outlook. And I'll tell you this, I will fight for a clean environment in ways that strengthen our economy.

LEHRER: Governor.

BUSH: Well, let me start with Texas. We are a big industrial state. We—we're—reduced our industrial waste by 11 percent, we cleaned up more brown fields than any other administration in my state's history, 450 of them. Our water is cleaner now. We're working—

LEHRER: Explain what a brown field is for those who don't follow this.

BUSH: Brown field is an abandoned industrial site that just sits idle in some of our urban centers. And people are willing to invest capital and the brown fields don't want to do so for fear of lawsuit. I think we ought to have federal liability protection depending upon whether or not standards have been met. The book you mentioned that Vice President Gore wrote, he also called for taxing big—big energy taxes in order to clean up the environment and now that the energy prices are high, I guess he's not advocating those big energy taxes right now.

I believe we ought to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, to—with half the money going to states so states can make the right decisions for environmental quality. I—I think we need to have clean coal technologies. I proposed $2 billion worth. By the way, I just found out the other day, an interesting fact that there's a—there's a National Petroleum Reserve right next to Prudhoe—in Prudhoe Bay that—that your administration opened up for exploration in that pristine area. And it was a smart move because there are gas reserves up there. We need gas pipelines to bring the gas down. Gas is c—is a clean fuel that we can burn to—we need to make sure that if we decontrol our plants that there's mandatory—that the plants must conform to clean air standards.

The grandfather plants—that's what we did in Texas, no excuses. I mean, you must conform. In other words, there are practical things we can do. But it starts to work in a collaborative effort with states and local folks. You know, if you own the land, every day is Earth Day. And people care a lot about their land and care about their environment. Not all—all wisdom is in Washington, DC, on this issue.

LEHRER: Where do you see the basic difference in very simple terms—in two or three sentences—between you and the governor on—on the environment. If the voter wants to make a choice, what is it?

GORE: Well, I'm really strongly committed to—to clean water and clean air and cleaning up the—the new kinds of challenges like global warming. I—he's right that I'm not in favor of energy taxes. I am in favor of tax cuts to encourage and give incentives for the quicker development of these new—new kinds of technologies, and—and let me say again, Detroit is—is raring to go on that. We differ on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as I have said. We differ on whether or not pollution controls ought to be voluntary. I don't think you can—I don't think you can get results that way. We differ on the kinds of appointments that—that we would make.

LEHRER: But you say it's a fundamental difference?

GORE: I think it's a fundamental difference, and let me give you an example. He—
LEHRER: Well, hold on one second.

GORE: OK. Sure.

LEHRER: I—we talked about stra—I just want to know, for somebody—cause we're running almo—we're getting close to the end of the—end of our time here [unintelligible] somebody wanted to make—wanted to vote on the environment, how would you draw the differences, Governor? It isn't—
BUSH: Well, I—I—I don't believe in command and control out of Washington, DC. I believe Washington ought to set standards, but I don't—again, I think we ought to be collaborative at the local levels and I think we ought to work with people at the local levels. ********And—and I—by the way, I just want to make sure we—I can't let him just say something and not correct it.

LEHRER: All right.

BUSH: The decon—electric decontrol bill that I fought for and signed in Texas has mandatory emission standards, Mr. Vice President. [SEE NOTE BELOW] ******** That's what we ought to do at the federal level when it comes to grandfather plants for utilities.

LEHRER: Do you—do—

BUSH: But there's a di—I think there's a difference. I think—I—I think, for example, take the—when they took 40 million acres of land out of circulation without consulting local officials, I thought that was—

LEHRER: That's out in—out in the West, correct? Right.

BUSH: Out in the West, yeah. And so [unintelligible] on the—on the—on the logging issue. I didn't—that's not the way I would have done it. Perhaps some of that land needs to be set aside, but I certainly would have consulted with governors and elected officials before I would have acted unilaterally.

LEHRER: W—would you believe the federal government still has some new rules and new regulations and new laws to pass in the environmental area or do you think—

BUSH: Sure. Absolutely. So long as they're based upon science and they're reasonable, so long as people have input.

LEHRER: What about global warming?

BUSH: I think it's an issue that we need to take very seriously, but I don't think we know the solution to global warming yet, and I don't think we've got all the facts before we make decisions. I'll tell you one thing I'm going to do, is I'm not going to let the United States carry the burden for cleaning up the world's air like the Kyoto treaty would have done. China and India were exempted from that treaty. I think we need to be more even-handed as evidently 99 senators—I think it was 99 senators—sup—supported that position.

LEHRER: Global—global warming, the Senate did turn it down—

GORE: Yeah, I—I think the—

LEHRER: 99-to-nothing—99—

GORE: I think the—well, that vote wasn't exactly—

LEHRER: It's a resolution.

GORE: A lot of supporters of the Kyoto Treaty actually ended up voting for that because of the way it was worded. But there's no doubt there's a lot of opposition to it in the Senate. I'm not for command and control techniques either. I'm for working with the—the groups, not just with industry but also with the—the citizens groups and local communities, to control sprawl in ways that the local communities themselves come up with. But I disagree that we don't know the—the cause of global warming. I—I think that we do. We—it's pollution, carbon dioxide and other chemicals that are even more potent, but in smaller quantities that—that cause this.

Look, the world's temperature is going up, weather patterns are changing. Storms are getting more violent and unpredictable. And what are we going to tell our children? And I'm a grandfather now. I—I want to be able to tell my grandson, when I'm in—in my later years, that I didn't turn away from—from the evidence that showed that we were—we were doing some serious harm. In my—in my faith tradition, it—it is—it's written in the book of Matthew, “Where—where your heart is, there is your treasure also.” And I believe that—that we ought to—to recognize the value to our children and grandchildren of taking steps that preserve the environment in a way that's good for them.

BUSH: Yeah, I agree. I just—I—I think there's been some—some of the scientists, I believe, Mr. Vice President, haven't they been changing their opinion a little bit on global warming. A profound scientist recently made an op—made a different—different—

LEHRER: Both—both of you now have violate—

BUSH: But the point—

LEHRER: Excuse me. Both of you have now violated your own rules. Wait. Hold that thought.


GORE: I’ve been trying so hard not to!

LEHRER: I know. I know. But about—you're not—under you-all's rules, you are not allowed to ask each other a question.

[deletion of crosstalk]

LEHRER: Go ahead, sir.

BUSH: I—of course there's a lot—I mean, look, global warming needs to be taken very seriously and I take it seriously. But science, there's a lot—the pe—there's differing opinions and before we react, I think it's best to have the full accounting, full understanding of what's taking place. And I—I think to answer your question, I think both of us care a lot about the environment. We may have different approaches. We may have different approaches in terms of how we deal with local folks. And I just cited an example of the fe—of the administration just unilaterally acting without any input. And I remember you gave a very good answer in New Hampshire about the White Mountains, about how it was important to keep the collaborative effort in place. I feel very strongly at the same place. It certainly wasn't the attitude that took place out West however.

LEHRER: New question.

BUSH: Yes.

“What are we going to tell our children?” Gore asked. In the case of Rich, is he going to say that his “narrative” mattered most above all?

For what it’s worth, several newspapers analyzed Bush’s “correction” of what Gore said about voluntary emission standards. (See asterisks, above.) Here was the discussion in the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times and the Boston Globe offered similar analyses:

RUBIN AND GOSSELIN (10/12/00): Bush seemed disingenuous in describing his role in combating air pollution in Texas, where some large cities have severe smog problems. For most of his governorship, Bush left unchanged the law that allowed about 1,000 utility plants and other industrial plants built before the federal 1971 Clean Air Act to meet lower emission standards than newer plants.

In 1999, as federal regulators were threatening to cut off highway funds to the state unless its major cities met clean air requirements, Bush pushed two air pollution control bills in the Legislature. One bill mandated a reduction in emissions from utility plants, which amounted to about a fifth of the polluting plants. Bush touted that measure in the debate Wednesday.

He did not mention the other bill that covered the larger number of polluting refineries, petrochemical installations and industrial plants. It allowed compliance with the tougher standards on a voluntary basis.
It did assess higher fees for companies that continued to pollute.

In short, Bush had pushed a sweeping bill which made compliance with emission standards voluntary. But he only mentioned a much smaller bill which did have mandatory standards. (“The decon—electric decontrol bill that I fought for and signed in Texas has mandatory emission standards, Mr. Vice President,” Bush indignantly said, thereby “correcting” Gore’s troubling statement.) According to the Boston Globe, the Gore campaign challenged Bush’s statement, even as the debate was proceeding. “Overall, Bush appeared to misspeak with more frequency than the vice president,” the Globe’s fact-check team said.