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POST PATTERN! Raspberry wonders where Dems lost their voice. He can’t see the shape of the problem:


RIP VAN RASPBERRY: There’s no “liberal” quite like a Washington Post “liberal.” On Monday, William Raspberry—reporting in from the Gingrich era—actually said this in his column:

RASPBERRY: Nor do [Republicans] ever seem embarrassed by the gap between their rhetoric and reality. Columnist Arianna Huffington, herself an outspoken conservative, offers a possible explanation:
Our blueberry bagel fell to the floor. In fact, Arianna had ceased to be “an outspoken conservative” by the time Bob Dole staged his run for the White House. By Election 2000, she was anything but. Everyone else in the universe knows this. Raspberry, though, has been Rip Van snoring—sound asleep in a snug, secure log. We’ve described this problem at the Post before. To all appearances, the Post’s “liberal” pundits rouse from deep slumber to type up their twice-weekly columns.

The Huffington howler is easy to spot. (So too Raspberry’s oddball claim that Bush supporters think he’s a lightweight.) But the rest of this column is deeply instructive. It helps show the problems Democrats face in the world of the modern press—a world with an energetic conservative cohort and a gaggle of sleep-walking “liberals.”

Raspberry’s thesis? Those maddening Dems have been strangely “struck dumb.” They keep refusing to challenge the Reps. But Raspberry can’t—or won’t—see the fact that the modern press plays a role in that process.

For example, let’s watch as Raspberry pens Standard Cant about Campaign 2000:

RASPBERRY: Conservative Republicans continue to set the national agenda…Part of it is the Democrats’ own fault, of course. They lost an election that should have been theirs on a gimme, requiring, for instance, only that their standard-bearer carry his home state—or that the Supreme Court stay out of the matter.
This, of course, is the Standard Press Line, in which the press corps pretends to be deeply puzzled over How Gore Could Have Lost Such A Sure-Thing Election (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/19/02). In the Official Approved Standard Press Corps Account, Gore had overwhelming advantages—incumbency during peace and prosperity. Never mentioned is the Clinton impeachment—and the howling press mobs that chased after Clinton, then transferred their enmity to Gore. Good-guy “liberals” like William Raspberry simply never discuss this matter. Of course, he also failed to discuss this press corps assault in the twenty months it was aimed straight at Gore.

In part, today’s Dems proceed with caution because of the press. But Raspberry misses this matter completely. At one point, he offers a key observation, but totally fails to connect the key dots. “On issue after issue, the Republicans have proposed—and the Democrats have compromised,” he complains. Iraq is the scribe’s prime example:

RASPBERRY: Democrats who thought the war in Iraq was at best premature couldn’t find their voice to say so…Few besides West Virginia’s Sen. Robert C. Byrd have stood up to decry the president’s extraordinary policy of preemption, or to point out how dangerous a precedent it sets, for us and the world.

And this is significant: Nobody’s paying much attention to the 85-year-old Byrd, the Senate’s senior member. I don’t mean only that his impassioned cry…is not generating a response among the electorate. I mean also that it is ignored in the mass media. It’s as though Byrd is the one out of order, not the president who makes needless war…

Byrd is ignored in the media, he says. Even worse, the press makes Byrd seem out of order. But Raspberry magically fails to see that this helps explain why some Dems are “struck dumb.” Why exactly would Dems want to fight if the press rules such work out of order?

Let’s close with Raspberry’s stance during Florida. In his column, he says that Dems didn’t fight that Supreme Court decision. But let’s recall what he wrote during Florida. With “liberals” like this in the mainstream press, do you wonder why Dems may be cautious?

RASPBERRY (11/20/00): Just so you’ll know, I voted for Al Gore.

And yet I find myself hoping he loses Florida and the presidency—but that he loses fair and square.

To put it plainly: I hope the combination of the certified, absentee and recounted votes will put George W. Bush ahead in the Florida tally.

“The point is that because the Republicans believe they’ve already won fairly, however narrowly, any procedure that threatens that outcome—including recounting or revoting—will be seen by them as an attempt to steal the presidency,” Raspberry wrote. Therefore, “the best I can hope for is that Bush’s narrow vote lead will withstand both the overseas ballots and whatever additional votes Gore picks up in the recount.”

Raspberry’s piece made a type of sense. But if that is the voice of our key press corps “liberals,” do we really have to ask ourselves why today’s Dem will sometimes show caution?

ANOTHER OUTSPOKEN LIBERAL: And then, of course, there’s Richard Cohen, another of the Post’s fiery “liberals.” Last Thursday, he offered more of the puzzling work that has become his great trademark. Throughout his column, Cohen implied that Donald Rumsfeld gilded the lily about WMDs. But at the end, he drew this weird conclusion:

COHEN: Now elements of the Bush administration, particularly within the Pentagon, are rattling their sabers in the direction of Iran, making some of the same arguments they made about Iraq: links to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, etc. Given what has happened in Iraq, should they be believed?

The answer is yes. But asking whether the Bush administration should be believed about Iran is different from asking whether it will be believed. The question, after all, is not whether the U.S. intelligence agencies are competent but to what uses the intelligence has been put. If, as it seems, information goes into the Pentagon at one end and comes out the other with a political spin, then we are right to wonder about ulterior motives.

“The answer is yes,” Cohen says. “[T]he Bush administration should be believed about Iran.” But in the very same paragraph, he says the administration’s findings will almost surely be dripping with spin. Many readers wrote to complain about the absurdity of this column. But Richard Cohen is a Post “liberal.” There’s no one quite like them on earth.

TOMORROW: Was Carroll right about that abortion report? As things stand, you really can’t tell.

The Daily update

CHAIT CHAT (PART 2): We began our review with that Culture of Lying—the culture that now surrounds Bush (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/03). But Jonathan Chait had a different idea; in his TNR cover piece, he started with Reagan’s tax cuts. As the talk-show right has come to rule our deeply troubled public discourse, a Culture of Foolishness has taken hold; absurd accounts of Reagan’s work now play a key role in that discourse. Turn on talk radio and you will hear them—iconic accounts of his budget achievements. Reagan cut taxes and revenues soared—this well-spun tale is bruited daily. But this silly account has gone unchallenged by “good guy” pundits who snore inside logs. Many conservatives believe these stories, and indeed, why wouldn’t they do so? After all, Sean and Rush keep reciting the tales—and Big Mainstream Pundits just sit on the side, too effete to engage the real discourse.

That’s why we were mightily pleased to see Chait’s useful opening. It’s a very rare day when American citizens are asked to consider these facts:

CHAIT (from pgh 1): [I]n truth, Reagan reacted to the consequences of his 1981 tax cuts in a way that would have put him far out of step with Bush’s Republican Party. When the scope of the budget deficit [caused by his tax cut] became apparent, Reagan acceded to a series of tax increases in 1982 (in the midst of a severe recession, no less), 1983, and 1984. In 1986, reacting to complaints that his 1981 tax cuts opened too many loopholes for the rich, Reagan enacted a sweeping tax reform that liberals, including this magazine, hailed for making the tax code more progressive. Reagan’s record on taxes, in short, consisted of one year of unvarnished conservative ideological warfare followed by seven years of retreat and consolidation.
Those are facts which talk-show listeners never hear. For that reason, those are facts which you must learn—and recite, applying as needed.

Reagan cut taxes—and revenues soared. This silly tale is spun many ways. Fantasists like to ignore basic facts—that federal revenues almost always go up because of population growth and inflation. And they like to look at all federal revenues—adding in those payroll taxes, which Reagan actually raised. (Duh! We wonder why those “revenues soared.”) Meanwhile, snoring “liberals” don’t dirty their hands engaging in this crucial discourse. Sean and Rush keep pounding the piffle. Richard and William sleep in their logs. At THE HOWLER, we’re sick of this inane, corrupt culture. We were pleased to see Chait’s basic facts.

TOMORROW: Dudes! What really happens when we cut federal taxes?