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ARE DEMOCRATS TOO DUMB TO COMPETE? Are Dems too dumb to compete with the RNC? A spin about Plame says yes: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JULY 27, 2005

ASKED AND ANSWERED: Yesterday, we incomparably asked:
“Have we reached the point where we’re all six years old?” We didn’t have to wait for an answer. You know what to do: Click here, scroll to “Late update”—then click on the Pat Roberts “epithet thread.” Readers, you too can return to the sandbox in this on-line fantasy camp. By the way, one more question: Has anyone said “doody-head” yet? Has “doody-head” been taken?

DRUMMING ROBERTS: What does Pat Roberts plan to do with those upcoming Senate hearings? We have very little idea; at THE HOWLER, we lack major mind-reading skills, and Roberts has said next to nothing about what the hearings will encompass. But the liberal web has rocked with premonitions of perfidy, and omigod! Now they’ve even got Drum! Our fellow PAC-10 sports enthusiast is normally known as Mr. Medium Cool. But yesterday, he too jumped to puzzling conclusions about what’s behind those bad hearings.

Drum started with a perfectly accurate point; many conservatives have backpedaled hard about the seriousness of the Plame leak. Drum: “[T]he proposition that it wasn't a big deal even if the White House did out Plame, has become a routine talking point.” As we have noted, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may have determined that the public identification of Plame severely damaged U.S. security interests. But so what? Conservative spinners keep suggesting otherwise, in ways that Drum describes.

All that is perfectly clear—but Drum then goes one step further. Roberts is part of this moral bankruptcy, he declares. In fact, Roberts has made things even worse! After all, just consider those hearings!

DRUM (7/26/05): The moral bankruptcy at the core of this argument is truly stunning, but this weekend it got even worse. Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, announced that he "intends to preside over hearings on the intelligence community's use of covert protections for CIA agents and others involved in secret activities."

Let that sink in. Does it sound like Roberts is concerned about CIA agents being exposed in the press? Of course not. Instead, Roberts is preemptively defending Rove by implying that perhaps the real problem is that the CIA overuses clandestine cover for its agents. The gall is almost beyond belief, especially coming from the party that keeps telling us they're the ones who are serious about national security.

Seeming to quote a vague statement by Roberts, Drum explained what it “sounds like” Roberts is “implying,” and decried the Kansan’s “moral bankruptcy.” “Welcome to the modern Republican Party,” Kevin ironically said as he closed.

Yes, moral bankruptcy is easily found—if we allow ourselves to judge what it “sounds like” our opponents are “implying.” Without question, many Republicans have tried to spin down the notion that Rove may have committed a crime; Roberts himself did so on Late Edition (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/26/05). But how is “the modern Republican Party” reacting to the Plame leak matter? Alas! Kevin linked to only one source—a Boston Globe report by Dan Morgan, from which that (apparent) quote by Roberts was drawn. And when we clicked there, we were somewhat surprised. We were primed for perfect perfidy. But here’s how that report started out:

MORGAN (7/25/05): Congress will conduct a series of hearings on national security and espionage issues raised by the CIA-leak controversy surrounding senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, officials said on Monday.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence plans hearings on potential national security threats posed by leaks, including leaks to the media, and will aim to toughen legislation barring the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

“It's time there's a comprehensive law that will make it easier for the government to prosecute wrongdoers and increase the penalties that hopefully will act as a deterrent," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the panel's Republican chairman.

Say what? When we linked to Kevin’s lone source, we learned that, in the House at least, the modern Republican Party plans to hold hearings designed to toughen legislation barring leaks. In short, Hoekstra wants to make it easier to prosecute leakers like Rove. This has nothing to do with Rove’s specific conduct, of course—and it has nothing to do with Roberts. But this is the source to which Drum linked, and it hardly fits his sweeping claim about the modern Republican Party.

This Globe report—the one Kevin linked to—is mainly about Hoekstra’s plan to toughen existing legislation. (Presumably, this would remedy a problem many have noted; it’s hard to charge leakers under terms of the 1982 Intelligence Identifies Protection Act.) Only at the end of the piece does Morgan mention Roberts’ proposed hearings. And here’s his full report on that—the full report from which Kevin discerned Roberts’ “moral bankruptcy:”

MORGAN: Meanwhile, Hoekstra's counterpart in the Senate, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, intends to preside over hearings on the intelligence community's use of covert protections for CIA agents and others involved in secret activities.

The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence could hold hearings on the use of espionage cover soon after the U.S. Congress returns from its August recess, said Roberts spokeswoman Sarah Little.

Little said the Senate committee would also review the probe of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has been investigating the Plame case for nearly two years.

From reading that, do you know what Roberts intends to do with those hearings? We don’t have the slightest idea—but then, we lack the mind-reading skills now on display on the liberal web. At any rate, it’s from those three paragraphs that Kevin could tell that Roberts’ plan for these hearings involves a “moral bankruptcy” that is “truly stunning.” Indeed: “Does it sound like Roberts is concerned about CIA agents being exposed in the press?” Kevin asks. “Of course not,” he confidently says.

Of course, Roberts said on Late Edition, again and again, that he was concerned about CIA outings. And Morgan, who wrote the Globe report, hadn’t even spoken to Roberts! With that in mind, could we suggest a different approach? Before we start listing sandbox epithets (has anyone used the term “coocoo bird” yet?), might it not be a better idea to ask Pat Roberts, a public employee, to explain what these hearings will be about? A web-site could actually do that! (The site might not get a response.) Even better: Couldn’t Dem-friendly sites use their standing to ask Dem members of Roberts’ committee what these hearings will encompass? After all, Roberts doesn’t hold hearings by himself; major Dems will be involved too. What do they think these hearings are about? Granted, it’s good solid fun to make epithet lists. But might it not be a good idea to seek out some real info too?

Here at THE HOWLER, we read Morgan’s article—and we also read Robert’s vague statement about the hearings on Late Edition. From those sources, we don’t have the slightest idea what these hearings will be about. But increasingly, the liberal web has begun to engage in the clowning conduct of the talk-show right. For two decades, Rush and Sean have made a joke of your lives with their ludicrous, reason-free, dumb-as-rocks discourse. Yesterday, though, for a moment, we thought: Omigod! Now they’ve even got Drum!

By the way: You wouldn’t know it from reading Drum’s piece, but the quotation he uses isn’t from Roberts—in fact, it’s a quotation from Morgan, who is never mentioned in Kevin’s piece. It seems to be Morgan’s paraphrase of Roberts’ vague statement on Late Edition. From this, we determine Roberts’ moral bankruptcy. The talk-show right has played these games for decades. Have liberals decided that they’re too lazy and dumb to oppose this idiot culture? Have liberals made a fateful decision? Have they decided it’s fun to play too?

ARE DEMOCRATS TOO DUMB TO COMPETE? But then, maybe modern Dems are too dumb to compete with the RNC message machine. A factual matter from the Plame case brings this possibility to mind.

Let’s return to Isikoff’s piece from the current Newsweek. Here is a revealing passage, one we quoted yesterday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/26/05):

ISIKOFF (8/1/05): Fitzgerald has been said to be investigating whether any aides violated the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act —which makes it a felony to disclose the identity of a covert CIA employee: it requires showing the violator knew the agent's undercover status...But the CIA's initial “crimes report” to the Justice Department requesting the leak probe never mentioned that law, says a former government official who requested anonymity because of the confidential material involved. Fitzgerald may be looking at other laws barring the disclosure of classified info or the possibility that current or former White House aides made false statements or obstructed justice.
According to Isikoff, the original CIA complaint didn’t mention the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Indeed, Fitzgerald may be working with a different statute altogether. But we’ve heard about that 1982 statute for the past two years. Today’s question: Why is that?

Here’s a likely answer: As is quite clear, RNC types have persistently cited the 1982 statute because of its narrow construction. It’s hard to charge leakers under that statute because of its several tight restrictions. RNC types have used that fact to present a Rove-friendly spin: Karl Rove couldn’t have committed a crime. (Plame doesn’t meet the five-year rule! Rove didn’t know that she was covert! He didn’t know the CIA was affirmatively keeping her secret!) Everyone who has watched this discussion has heard these things said many times.

Yes, the RNC is effective at framing its messages, although these messages are often misleading. And then, there’s the standard, hapless Dem/liberal reaction—a toothless tiger which failed in this matter, as it has in so many debates.

How did Dems and liberals fail in this matter? How often have you heard it said that Fitzgerald “may be looking at other laws barring the disclosure of classified info?” As it turns out, that possibility has been clear from the start; the Washington Post mentioned it two years ago, just five days after the CIA filed its initial complaint. But this fact quickly fell from sight; Dem/liberal spokesmen have rarely said this in response to the Rove-friendly spinning. RNC types have kept giving their spin—and Dem types, as usual, have stared into air. Do you ever get tired of their hapless performance? We’ve had it way up to here!

In other words, the Dem/lib message machine failed again, as it has so many times in the past. Duh! People who are close to this case should have understood, right from the start, that the 1982 statute wasn’t the only route for a criminal prosecution. And they should have let the public know that—partly to inform them of basic facts, and partly to counter the RNC spinning. But, as usual, this just didn’t happen. RNC types all knew they should say how narrow the 1982 statute is. And DNC types? They didn’t know their keisters from corn-dogs—as has become the reliable norm over the past dozen years. (Hey! Maybe Josh can create an epithet list for these inept, hapless losers!!)

It’s almost impossible to overstate the ineptitude of the modern Dem message machine. For us, the party’s handling of the recent SS debate really brought this problem into sharp focus. Party spokesmen kept understating the “transition costs” of Bush’s private accounts; incredibly, they routinely set the price tag lower than the price Dick Cheney had copped to! Meanwhile, major spokesmen kept vouching for the gloomy projections of the SS trustees—a gloomy forecast that tended to favor Bush’s claim of impending disaster. At one point, Chris Dodd even said that “every single actuary” vouches for that gloomy forecast. Dodd’s statement was blatantly false—and it favors the RNC side! Meanwhile, how foolish can the party’s leaders get? One was out there telling Gore jokes at a college graduation! Good grief! How Karl Rove must have laughed!

But so too with this two-year discussion. That 1917 law was discussed in the Post five days after the initial complaint. But then, that statute dropped from sight; RNC types always mentioned the fact that the 1982 law is hard to apply, and Dems and libs were too dead-dog dumb to offer this simple rebuttal. But this has been standard in recent debates—observed again and again and again. Current solution on the liberal web? Name-call! Mind-read! And act like Rush Limbaugh! It’s “hard work” to develop real facts, and—as Rush has shown for the past two decades—its easy and fun to be harlequins.

Unfortunately, Rush typically has strong spin-points in place when he engages in his clowning. For Dems and libs, that has proven to be too tough a task. Now, they seem to be giving up altogether. Are modern Dems too dumb to compete? The one-sided debate about that 1982 law again suggests a sad answer.