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JOE KLEIN’S RUBIFICATION PROGRAM! Bush won’t mention his veto threat. Joe Klein doesn’t mention it either:
FRIDAY, JULY 16, 2004

JOE KLEIN’S RUBIFICATION PROGRAM: What a superlative answer by Kerry! Both Dem hopefuls—Kerry and Edwards—phoned in for Thursday’s Imus show. Employing his familiar “but-I-scanned-the-headlines-last-Tuesday” approach, Imus asked Kerry a tired old question about that tired $87 billion:
IMUS: I do find myself in the position of talking to people like Zell Miller and an unfortunate conversation I had with Orrin Hatch yesterday in which...they bring up these uncomfortable issues like, for example, both of you supporting the war in Iraq and then the president yesterday making fun of you, Senator Kerry, for your having said that you first voted for the $87 billion and then against it, and I feel foolish—
At this point, Kerry broke in—but yes, his host had every right to feel foolish. There he was, mouthing tired old cant, in this case about the tired old vote on that tired old $87 billion. But what a superlative answer by Kerry! Imus was right—Bush had been out on the trail, churning Big Laughs at Kerry’s expense while fooling the rubes on a wide range of issues (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/15/04). To Imus, of course, this all made perfect sense. But Kerry cut him off—and took umbrage:
KERRY: You know, Don, it’s so simple for the president to joke about very serious issues when young kids are dying because he didn’t make a plan to win the peace in Iraq. And I take that very personally as somebody who fought in a war which he chose not to...
Ouch! As Kerry continued, he explained some of the tired old facts about that tired old “issue.” Here’s where he ended up:
KERRY: When say I voted for it, I was willing to vote for the $87 billion providing we paid for it! Providing we asked Americans to sacrifice, all of us together. So Joe Biden and I...brought an amendment to say, Hey America—rather than have a $690 billion tax cut for everybody over the next ten years who are earning over $200,000, why don’t we take just $600 billion, and that way we pay for the war right up front and not add it to the deficit. Guess what? George Bush said no. The Republicans said no. And what they’re doing is trying once again to mislead America as they do so effectively, make a joke out of something that’s serious.
Kerry was right about Bush, of course. Bush had been out there enjoying good laughs as he misled the rubes about the $87 billion. After all, he, George Bush, had said he would veto the $87 billion if it passed in the form he opposed! But now—having threatened the veto the money himself—Bush was telling the rubes they should be disturbed because Kerry opposed one form of the bill, just exactly the way Bush had! Did Kerry “vote against the troops?” If so, Bush had said he would do the same thing! Readers, how big an H do you have in your file, to put at the start of “Big Hypocrite?”

Meanwhile, say hello to Paula Zahn and Joe Klein, helping rubify the American people on last night’s Paula Zahn Now. Zahn devoted a lengthy segment to Kerry’s troubling vote on the $87 billion. And Klein, of course, her only guest, was disturbed by the solon’s vile vote. “Senator Kerry is now viewed as someone who voted for the war but against funding the troops,” Zahn said. And Klein had seen, out on the trail, that this tired old topic was the “emotional heart” of Bush’s sweet pitch to the rubes:

KLEIN: What I saw was that this was the emotional heart of his pitch at each stop. And he would say very firmly, jab his finger and he'd say, “The president of the United States must speak clearly and mean what he says.” And this is something that I think that the Bush administration believes or the Bush campaign believes is a real trump card in their race against John Kerry. It is front and center of their flip-flop argument, and it’s difficult for Kerry to counter because in order to do it, you have to do what you just very, very clearly did, which is walk your way through that $87 billion vote. Kerry had a rationale for it, but it’s a difficult rationale to sell.
But is it really that hard to sell? Bottom line: You can’t discuss Bush’s clowning attacks without including one seminal fact: George Bush said that he would veto the form of this bill he opposed! George Bush said that he would veto this very same $87 billion! Readers, how troubling could Kerry’s vote really be, if Bush had been willing to veto the very same spending? But neither Klein nor the hapless Zahn ever mentioned this primal fact. Somehow, Democratic congressman Adam Smith had managed to mention Bush’s veto promise when he showed up in Scarborough Country two nights earlier (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/14/04). But Zahn and Klein never managed to work this basic point in their rap. Instead, Klein kept wringing his hands about how hard it would be for Kerry to explain his vile conduct.

Let’s make sure you know these key players. Zahn is the “will-do-and-say-anything” cable host who spent the summer of 2001 inviting psychics onto the air at Fox to guess where Chandra Levy’s body might be. It’s impossible to be a bigger fraud, but she’s very good-looking—and will do and say anything—and, since cable producers approve of both traits, she was rewarded with the big dough over at CNN. Klein, of course, is the wealthy, no longer gives-a-sh*t fellow who wrote a mocking novel about Clinton, then happily lied in the nation’s face when people figured out he had done so. What can make such people so empty? We’ll spare you tired old theories, although we have some. But Klein’s tired old take on that tired old vote is just tired old, fake-phony Bush campaign cant. George Bush said he would veto the money! Now, he pretends to be outraged that Kerry voted no. You simply can’t discuss this topic without including this key, basic fact. But Zahn and Klein, in a lengthy segment, omitted Bush’s veto threat. Hey! Maybe Zahn could get her psychics to let us know where Klein’s vanished soul really went!

YOU HAVE TO INCLUDE IT: Let’s review the key, basic point: You can’t discuss Bush’s attacks on Kerry’s vote without mentioning his own veto threat. On Wednesday, for example, how stupid would Bush’s pitch have seemed if he had included that one basic fact? For the record, here’s the “pitch” he actually threw—to voters he treated like rubes:

BUSH (7/14/04): Now, when Senator Kerry tried to explain his vote, here’s what he said. He said, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion—before I voted against it.” (Laughter.) End quote. It sure doesn’t clear it up, does it? (Laughter.) Now he’s offering a different explanation. Earlier this week, he said he is proud he and his running mate voted against the funding for our troops.


BUSH: No, he’s entitled to his view, but here’s mine: Members of Congress should not vote to send troops into battle and then vote against funding them. (Applause.) As the Commander-in-Chief of this great military, I will see to it they have what is needed to complete their mission. (Applause.)

Stirring stuff! How the audience laughed and cheered! But how stupid would Bush’s pitch have seemed if he’d only included that one basic fact?
BUSH (amended version): Now, when Senator Kerry tried to explain his vote, here’s what he said. He said, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion—before I voted against it.” (Laughter.) End quote. It sure doesn’t clear it up, does it? (Laughter.) Now he’s offering a different explanation. Earlier this week, he said he is proud he and his running mate voted against the funding for our troops.


BUSH: No, he’s entitled to his view, but here’s mine: Members of Congress should not vote to send troops into battle and then vote against funding them. (Applause.) Of course, as the Commander-in-Chief of this great military, I said I would VETO the $87 billion, if it passed in a form I didn’t like.

Bush won’t tell the rubes that last fact. But then, you can hardly get mad at our Jokester-in-Chief. Joe Klein and Paula Zahn are quite well-trained. They won’t mention that basic fact either.

NOVICE ESCAPES: On Imus, Edwards made a rookie mistake—he answered a dumb, stupid question. Helpless Imus sadly dragged out the dumbest old play in the book:

IMUS: Senator Edwards, yesterday on the Today said you think that Vice President Cheney might, among other things, have lost touch with the American people. And my wife said, Do you think Vice President Cheney knows what a gallon of milk costs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, or a six-pack of Budweiser? And you were just in Albuquerque. Do you know?
Yep, that’s right! The first thing you do when you visit a city is find out what a gallon of milk costs! But the history of this stupid old question winds back through five election cycles (see below). By now, we’d think that every White House hopeful would know that you simply don’t answer such questions, unless you have perfect knowledge to offer. But omigod! Edwards began to answer Don’s query. And he didn’t quite seem to be right:
EDWARDS (continuing directly): [Laughing] I know about what it costs.

IMUS: What do you think a gallon of milk costs in Albuquerque?

EDWARDS: A gallon—I think a half a gallon costs about $2.30, $2.40? Is that right?

IMUS: No. A gallon costs $2.99 in Albuquerque. Actually, it costs $4.19—four—What do you think a six-pack of beer costs in Albuquerque?

Edwards declined to guess about that. But we knew that a half-gallon of milk costs $1.87 in our own supermarket. Based on that—and based on Imus’ quote of $2.99—we saw potential trouble looming. Given the inanity of our Pundit Chorale, candidates have been eaten alive for errors of that size (more below). What would they do now to John?

Luckily, the Pundit Gods seem to have given Edwards a pass. According to the AP, “[a] half gallon of non-name brand whole milk sells for $2.29 at the Safeway grocery store in Edwards’ upscale Georgetown neighborhood in Washington.” And to Beltway Pundit Gods, of course, if you know what’s going on in Georgetown, you know what’s going on period. Pundits have gone after hopefuls for lesser mistakes. But Edwards—despite unwisely responding—is getting a Big Pundit Pass.

For the record, $4.19 was the cost of soy milk in some New Mexico store, as Imus later explained. Is Imus the dumbest of the dumb? We’re willing to let you decide.

For the record, one big pundit did complain. Tim Russert said a half-gallon costs three bucks on Nantucket. How can Edwards be so out of touch? [joke]

HOWLER HISTORY—THE MILK-AND-EGGS ISSUE: Lamar Alexander was the last major hopeful damaged by this stupid question. In February 1996, USA Today’s Joe Urschel described his downfall in the New Hampshire primary:

URSCHEL (2/16/96): In politics, there are hundreds of ways to end up with egg on your face. And today, Lamar Alexander knows the price of a dozen of them.

Alexander was stumped by one of the simplest questions in the history of press conference politics. Asked if he knew the price of milk and eggs, his lack of an answer cost him plenty.

The paper’s headline: “Milking the egg issue.” The day before, the paper’s Judy Keen also pun-and-funned at Alexander’s expense in a front-page story:
KEEN (2/15/96): Alexander campaigns as coming from the “real world,” but when asked the price of a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs the former Tennessee governor scrambled. .
Headline: “Alexander lays an egg.” At the time, Alexander had been closing hard in a tight, four-way race in New Hampshire. But the final week of the campaign was eaten up by this stupid distraction, and he slid to a close-but-damaging third. Conceivably, this episode may have decided the GOP nomination. For the record, we can tell you from conversations with a high campaign worker that Alexander was the guy the Clinton/Gore camp had most feared.

Where did this type of clowning begin? According to Urschel’s page-one report, “Political columnist David Broder first directed a version of the question to George Bush in the fall of 1987. Even as Alexander engaged in damage control Thursday, Broder defended the tactic.” It figures.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED: What decided the ’96 New Hampshire GOP primary? With only a few weeks to go, Forbes seemed to be headed to a big surprise win. But then, Candidate Dole ran a set of TV ads aimed at Forbes’ “flat tax” proposal. These may have been the most dishonest TV ads in American political history (link below). But so what? Everybody played along—after all, Bob Dole had character—and Forbes plummeted in Granite State polls, eventually finishing fourth.

Yes, these ads by Dole were baldly dishonest. And even after everyone knew, the Kansan kept them on the air. But so what? Every pundit knew the year’s theme— Dole had character, but Bill Clinton didn’t. To read a clowning piece by (who else?) Joe Klein—written at the very time Dole’s ads were airingsee THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/10/00. Klein has been peddling this cheap cant for years. But then, as we learned from her parade of psychics, Paula Zahn really knows how to pick ’em. Try to believe—just try to believe—that this is America’s “press corps.”

PUN-AND-FUN OFFENCE: In 1996, there was no DAILY HOWLER. But we were sending out a weekly sheet, The Election Town Crier, whimsically described in the Washington Times as “the newest, hottest Power Town tip-sheet since the Weekly Standard and George.” When the press corps clowned about milk-and-eggs, we devoted a story to their pun-and-fun dumbness. Here it is, with complete heads. “Come on along” was Alexander’s theme song. Forbes collects Faberge eggs:

“Come on along” to the market, Urschel and Keen say—
cream Lamar Alexander on the price-of-milk issue

How “dairy” try to pose as outsider, pair say—
witty scribes put the “pun” back in pundit

DERRY, N.H.—What’s the price of milk, and a dozen large eggs? And shouldn’t “outsider” hopefuls be able to tell you?

To USA Today’s Judy Keen and Joe Urschel, it was news when Lamar Alexander couldn’t answer. And they filed page-one reports from New Hampshire this week that had candidates scrambling for cover.

Reporters love the old-fashioned “price-of-milk-and-eggs” story because it involves information so simple even they can explain it. And it gives talented word-smiths like Keen and Urschel a chance to showcase their grocery-based punning.

On Wednesday, Keen milked the story for all it was worth, leaving the hapless ex-governor with egg on his face. When the hard-boiled Urschel followed up the next day, why—Alexander must have felt drawn and quart-ered!

The next hapless hopeful to be knocked “over easy” was the bumbling ex-front runner, publishing magnate Steve Forbes. And Forbes would be rendered a real Grade A foil by his collection of priceless Faberge egg-ware.

Straight-faced reporters asked the whipping-boy Forbes what he thought a dozen large eggs might be running. He priced the twelve “eggs” around six million dollars. His high-priced campaign was now toast.

Others would handle the question better, made aware of the mayhem out on the trail. Pat Buchanan received short-wave reports from the nation’s storm cellars describing the cost of survivalist rations. And Morry Taylor punished scribes with long-winded raps on the cost a of a good set of tires.

But the press had again worked its time-honored magic, forcing recalcitrant hopefuls to get back on the issues. For this wasn’t some silly straw poll, after all. This was New Hampshire—the cream of the crop!

Oh yes. Buchanan rolled to a big upset win over Dole. Winning margarine? What else—one percent!