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Daily Howler: In an age of slime and hoaxing, John Harris types a new set of words
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NEW WORDS FROM JOHN HARRIS! In an age of slime and hoaxing, John Harris types a new set of words: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 1, 2005

DEAN MAKES A MESSAGE: Howard Dean made the occasional misstep on Wednesday night’s Hardball. For example, it takes a clumsy spokesman to say the following:
DEAN (6/29/05): There are terrible foreign terrorists over there. They have been drawn to Iraq, where they were not there before because we put our troops there. So, you could debate the wisdom of that.

The other people that are creating the mayhem on the streets of Baghdad are people who are fighting for their country. There are local people who disagree with their occupation.

Aarrgh. No one’s perfect, but only Dean would describe those bomb-throwing Baathists as “people who are fighting for their country.” Whatever the gentleman’s strengths may be, one thing is clear—he’s not slick.

On balance, though, we thought Dean did a good job on Hardball. His host had mocked him in Nashville one night earlier (and on his Sunday show two weeks before), but now was on his best behavior. And at times, we thought Dean began to articulate a winning anti-Bush message—the type of anti-Bush message Dems haven’t voiced often enough:

DEAN (6/29/05): Chris, I think the Downing Street memos and other pieces of evidence, including the 9/11 Commission, have indicated that the administration was not truthful with the American people about how we got to Iraq. I think that`s a fact. The administration would like it not to be a fact, but it is a fact. It has been confirmed by many mainstream organizations, including a commission lead by a Republican and a Democrat, a well-respected Republican and Democrat.


DEAN: So, the answer is, do I believe the president is doing the right thing? No, I don`t. Do I believe that he has made gross errors in judgment? Yes, I do. Do I believe he is doing a good job defending the United States of America? No, I don`t. Not because he doesn’t want to defend the United States, but because we simply don`t have the vision or the judgment in this administration to adequately defend the United States, because there`s no thought given to what the consequences of our actions are.

Colin Powell, who happens to be somebody I have an enormous amount of respect for, who was not listened to when we went into Iraq, always used to say, if you`re going to go into a place, you have to use massive force and you have to have an exit strategy. There was no thought given to what was going to happen once we got 150,000 troops on the ground.

In this passage, Dean starts by saying that Bush misled the nation on the march to war. But in our view, the more interesting message came moments later, when he said that Bush would like to defend the U.S., but lacks the judgment to do so. Most Americans now believe that there was deception on the road to Iraq. But many Americans still like Bush, and we think that Dems would be well-advised to play the card that Dean played here: George Bush surely means well, but he just isn’t up to the job. Later, Dean returned to this general theme:
DEAN: The problem is not that the Bush administration lacks resolve. The problem is, they don`t think about what it is they`re doing and what the consequences of what they`re doing are. And they have trouble differentiating between those things that are dangerous to the United States and those things that are not dangers, but would be nice to get rid of.

The president has invested 150,000 American lives and billions of dollars, created the largest deficit in the history of the United States of America through his reckless fiscal policies and picked the wrong enemies half the time. That is why we can`t afford to have the president and certainly ought not to be affording the taxpayer-funded Karl Rove, who`s being paid for by taxpayers` money.

The president lacks vision and judgment. Many Americans don’t want to think that their president is a crook—but they’d be willing to entertain this larger notion. Later, Dean went there again as Matthews kept trying to goad him into food-fights with Rove and Cheney:
DEAN: You know, I generally try to avoid getting into telling who the Republicans should run their party. And if the vice president wants to give us advice, we`re very happy to put it where we take most advice from this administration.

This administration has failed America. They can`t manage the budget. They can`t manage the defense. If you can`t manage the budget and you can`t manage defense, then you probably shouldn`t be president. And these guys have not been able to do the job that`s required of them to be president of the United States and to be in the administration of the United States.

Read the whole transcript. Dean kept side-stepping Matthews’ attempts to instigate food-fights—and he kept returning to a message that we don’t hear often enough. The boats of many liberals float when they hear Bush denounced as a liar. But Dean kept saying something different: Bush just isn’t up to the job. We’d guess that many centrist voters are prepared to revisit this view.

DIONNE, STILL ON THE DEFENSIVE: Meanwhile, E. J. Dionne got halfway there in his column this Tuesday. Slamming Karl Rove for “the new McCarthyism” of last week’s speech, the pundit explained how McCarthyite slanders work:

DIONNE (6/28/05): That's how guilt by association works. Make a charge and then—once your attack is out there—pretend that your words have been misinterpreted. Split your opponents. Put them on the defensive. Force them to say things like: "No, we're not soft on terrorism," or, "I'm not that kind of liberal." Once this happens, the attacker has already won.
And that’s right. If you’re forced to say when you stopped beating your wife, you’re already defeated.

But Dionne left out one part of the puzzle; he failed to say what Dems should do when they’re met by such hoaxes and slanders. He failed to say that Dems should fight back—that Dems should respond to fake, phony claims by making a truthful rebuttal:

DIONNE, REVISED AND EXTENDED: That's how guilt by association works. Make a charge and then—once your attack is out there—pretend that your words have been misinterpreted. Split your opponents. Put them on the defensive. Force them to say things like: "No, we're not soft on terrorism," or, "I'm not that kind of liberal." Once this happens, the attacker has already won.

But Dems should refuse to go down this road. It’s time that Dems fought back against these slanders, finally telling the public the truth about the world we now live in. “There they go again,” Dems should say. “They’ve been hoaxing you for years.” It’s time for Dems to explain to the public the way this hoax machine has been working. And since every major Democrat supported the war on Osama bin Laden, Rove’s slanders this time were especially phony. This was a superlative chance for Dems to tell the truth to the voters. “There they go again, dear people. Karl Rove is deceiving you again. Karl Rove is trying to play you for fools. It’s the one thing they do really well.”

To all appearances, it doesn’t occur to liberals like Dionne to prescribe a tough Dem counter-attack. At THE HOWLER, we’ve been prescribing this back-talk for years. But high-minded liberals are still tone-deaf. They can only picture defensive remarks, in which “the attacker has won.”

Why have New McCarthyites done so well in the hoaxing wars of the past several decades? In part, because they have a global message, and hapless Democrats still do not. The Pseudo-Conservative Noise Machine is driven by familiar complaints—against “the liberals” and their famed “liberal bias.” Democrats need a global message from which they can frame a truthful rebuttal. We’d suggest a counter-attack which has the advantage of being true: They just keep trying to play you for fools—as powerful interests have always done, all through human history.

It still doesn’t seem to occur to Dionne to prescribe an aggressive Dem counter-attack. It’s true: McCarthyites will win the day when the victim goes “on the defensive.” But alas! It still doesn’t occur to the lib/Dem elites to take a more lusty approach to this problem. Dems need to frame a concise winning message, then punch hoaxers right in the nose.

By the way—did you hear that Bush would have beaten Clinton if Ross Perot hadn’t been in the race? What’s it like for libs to be “on the defensive?” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/29/05. See one of Rush’s favorite scripts—recited at a big liberal site.

NEW WORDS FROM JOHN HARRIS: We’ve been reading The Survivor, John Harris’ fascinating capsule history of the Clinton years. We’ll discuss the book at length in the future, but as we head to a holiday weekend, we thought you might want to read Harris’ account of the Clintons’ marriage. King Slimeball, Ed Klein, has been out there all month, sliming his way toward fame and fortune. There they’ve gone again, dear readers. But Harris offers a different view. “What was the glue” in the Clintons’ marriage? he asks. According to Harris, “Even the cynics in the Clinton fold arrived in the end at the same noncynical answer: She loved him and felt loved by him in return:”

HARRIS (page 379-380): Her Senate campaign provided a project upon which they could rebuild their marriage and remind themselves anew what it was that drew them to each other. They had been happiest together when they had separate endeavors, and unhappiest, as on overseas trips, when ceremony or public expectations forced her to play a secondary role to him. Now, they were like a couple that had separated. She was on the road in New York most nights; they might get an evening a week together. Yet the affection between them was more evident than it had been in years. She lit up when her called her while she was on the road. Her draft speech texts would fly back and forth between New York and Washington...

The relationship by some reckonings rested on mutual astonishment. He truly believed that she was a better and smarter person than anyone else he had ever known—more committed, more passionate, more idealistic. She truly believed that he was the most impressive leader of his generation—a handsome and energetic man with a gift at human connection that to her mind was beyond comprehension. Paul Begala told friends he had figured out the secret of their relationship. Hillary and Bill both looked at each other and could not believe that the other person had married someone so undeserving.

“He truly believed.” And: “She truly believed.” And “better and smarter.” And “more idealistic.” Yes, there are problems with Harris’ book. But in an age of slime and hoaxing, Harris types words that have rarely emerged from sneering press corps mouths.