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BUYING THE BOATS! Boehlert re-tells a crackpot tale. But why weren’t the voters suspicious? // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JULY 27, 2006

THE BULL THAT WOULD NOT DIE: Media Matters scored nicely with this one, in which the Washington Post created a bit of a false impression about job growth under Bush. For ourselves, we were more struck by this hapless headline on the front page of the Post Business section:
WASHINGTON POST HEADLINE (7/26/06):
Tax Cuts May Come At a Price, Study Says
Believe it or not, here’s what the “may” in that headline means: The federal government may have to reduce future spending or raise future taxes to make up for the revenue that will be lost if Bush’s tax cuts get extended. May have to do that, you say? That’s right! According to that headline, the government may have to reduce future spending—unless the tax cuts generate so much new revenue that they actually “pay for themselves!” In truth, that ill-advised headline doesn’t reflect what reporter Nell Henderson wrote in her piece. Here’s the start of her report. Note her fourth word—“will:”
HENDERSON (7/26/06): The federal government will need to either cut spending or raise taxes down the road to pay for extending President Bush's recent tax cuts, the Treasury Department said in a report released yesterday, dismissing the idea popular with many Republicans that such sacrifices can be avoided.

The Treasury report did not openly address the much-debated contention of many conservative analysts that the tax cuts will boost economic growth so much over time that the resulting increase in taxes paid will offset much or all of the initial loss in government revenue—that tax cuts can essentially pay for themselves.

The report acknowledged the debate delicately, saying "the issue of how, or even if, these policies need to be financed remains a source of discussion among economists."

But the Treasury's view reflects "a recognition the federal government has to finance the tax relief" to avoid a rise in government debt, Robert Carroll, deputy assistant secretary for tax analysis, said in an interview.

According to Henderson’s opening paragraph, the government will have to cut future spending or raise future taxes to pay for the proposed extension. But uh-oh! Henderson mentioned the pleasing idea that big tax cuts end up “paying for themselves.” Result? Some editor got all weak in the knees, and presto—we got that weird headline.

By the way, is it really true? Is it true that “many conservative analysts” contend that “the tax cuts will boost economic growth so much over time that the...tax cuts can essentially pay for themselves?” We don’t know the answer to that, but we’d be surprised to learn that a lot of analysts have been making that contention. In our experience, this is the kind of claim that talk show conservatives throw at the rubes, without much backing from serious analysts. For example, when the Dole campaign announced its tax cut proposals in 1996, they specifically noted the fact that the tax cuts wouldn’t “pay for themselves.” Instead, they offered an estimate of how much of the revenue loss (as predicted by “static analysis”) the tax cuts would likely regain. (Deep in her piece, Henderson reports a liberal analyst’s reading of this new Treasury report: “[T]he Treasury's estimates suggest that, under the best long-run scenario, the tax cuts' boost to tax payments would offset less than 10 percent of their initial cost.”)

Ten percent? A hundred percent? It’s close enough for a front-page Post headline! As we’ve long noted, we now live in a world where there’s nothing so absurd that it doesn’t end up in our biggest newspapers. For example, did you know that Candidate Al Gore, in 1996, “collected campaign cash at the Buddhist Temple?” You’re right, that statement is factually false—but ten years later, it still makes the Post! Tell us—when you were an impressionable youth, did you ever dream that big professionals in our modern world conducted their business this way?

“Tax cuts may come at a price!” That’s right! It’s entirely possible, this absurd headline says, that Bush’s big tax cuts won’t “pay for themselves!” Can’t anybody here play this game? Our analysts frequently wonder.

Special report: How we let Big Dems get done!

PART 3—BUYING THE BOATS: At some point, could our mainstream press corps decide to show even a tiny bit of respect? Just how ridiculous is it—when our big newspapers keep peddling their scripts about that Foolish Old Gore? In our view, it’s deeply ridiculous. In the current New York Review of Books, for example, one of the world’s foremost climate scientists reviews Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, and its best-selling companion book. All the way back in 1989, James Hansen testified about global warming before Gore’s high-profile Senate hearings. Subsequently, they had a falling-out over policy matters—but here’s what Hansen says, in his review, about Gore’s work on warming:

HANSEN (7/13/06): I did not hear from Gore for more than a decade, until January of this year, when he asked me to critically assess his slide show. When we met, he said that he “wanted to apologize,” but, without letting him explain what he was apologizing for, I said, "Your insight was better than mine."

Indeed, Gore was prescient. For decades he has maintained that the Earth was teetering in the balance, even when doing so subjected him to ridicule from other politicians and cost him votes. By telling the story of climate change with striking clarity in both his book and movie, Al Gore may have done for global warming what Silent Spring did for pesticides. He will be attacked, but the public will have the information needed to distinguish our long-term well-being from short-term special interests.

“Gore was prescient,” Hansen writes. “[His] insight was better than mine.” That in mind, you’d almost think that, at some point, the Washington press corps would stop repeating its dumb, bogus tales about Laughable Gore. But guess again! This Sunday, we got to read, for the ten millionth time, that Gore “collected campaign cash at the Buddhist Temple” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/26/06). And we got to chuckle, for the ten millionth time, about the way he was told to parade about in those laughable earth tones. In fact, there was no cash at the Buddhist temple—and we’ve never seen any actual evidence that Naomi Wolf told Al Gore to wear earth tones. (Nor have we seen an explanation of why we’re all supposed to care.) But the stories never end—not even now. But then, we tolerated these tales in real time—and we’ve paid a steep price for them later.

Yep! For twenty straight months, the liberal/Dem world allowed the press to recite its dumb, bogus tales about Candidate Gore. We paid the price in November 2000—and then again four years later. This Sunday, we read that new Post take on the Buddhist temple as we were rereading Eric Boehlert’s important chapter, in Lapdogs, about the Swift Boat claims of Campaign 04. And we thought we ought to lay out the way these two Nonsense Tales come together.

For the record, we don’t completely agree with Eric’s take on the Swift Boat matter. In Lapdogs, Eric argues that documentary evidence shot the Swift Boat Veterans out of the water at every turn. (Page 176: “At every turn, military records proved the Swift Boat veterans to be untruthful.”) But in our view, it wasn’t that simple. Yes, military records often contradicted the claims being made by the Vets—but that doesn’t mean that the records were accurate. (The Swift Boat Veterans said they were not.) For example, was John Kerry’s boat under enemy fire when he pulled Jim Rassmann out of the drink? Medal citations said it was—but the Swift Boat Vets now said it was not. Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t think a modern-day scribe can definitively establish the truth of this matter. There was no videotape of these ancient events. And uh-oh! All of a sudden, in Campaign 04, here was a bunch of people—many of them eye-witnesses—disputing how these events happened.

We think the press dealt poorly with this—but we don’t think the matter was simple. That said, Boehlert’s chapter lays out tons of crucial information about this crucial, disturbing affair. For us, it helped to highlight a critical question: Why were so many people so prepared to swallow the Swift Boat Veterans’ charges?

After all, as Eric notes, the Swift Boat Vets were extremely shaky, in a number of obvious ways. In Lapdogs, he quotes us noting an obvious fact: Their blockbuster book, Unfit for Command, was a laughable, kooky embarrassment. (“The book self-contradicts on page after page, and its gonzo chapter on Kerry-the-commie was straight from a mid-50s fever swamp.”) And many of these men were an utter embarrassment in the way their public statements kept shifting. On pages 178-186, Eric recalls the disgraceful ways these embarrassing men kept self-contradicting and changing their stories. Why then did some in the public believe them? More significantly, why did they take so little fire from the press corps as their claims kept shifting? Eric raises these questions quite skillfully (see page 187, for example). We’ll only suggest that the answer to these questions runs straight back through Clinton and Gore.

Why did the press corps fall down for these stories? Why wasn’t the public more skeptical about them? Simply put: Why should the public doubt such tales when we ourselves, we liberal/Dem leaders, have accepted so many such tales in the past? In 1999 and 2000, voters heard an endless string of comical stories about feckless and foolish and laughable Gore. (To this day, they keep hearing these tales, as we saw again in Sunday’s Post.) And guess what? They heard almost no one dispute this Gore Lore; nor had they heard it done in the years leading up to Campaign 04. Similarly, when Gene Lyons wrote Fools for Scandal (during the Clinton years), the liberal/Dem world let his work slip beneath the waves without comment. For many years now, voters have heard long strings of embellished, invented, fake tales about those feckless and foolish Big Dems. When even our “liberal journals” won’t challenge these tales, why shouldn’t the voters assume that they’re true? In the summer of 2004, why should the latest string of such tales have raised their sense of suspicion?

Man alive, we liberals and Dems are good losers! In fact, you can make out very nicely today “finishing second” in American politics. Even if your party keeps coming in second, you yourself can makes lots of money and see yourself yakking on cable TV. (And you yourself will make out well on each of Bush’s big tax cuts.) We live at a time when our lib/Dem elites seem to be very happy just finishing second. Sadly, it now takes a former Republican—yes, John Dean—to challenge this world we’ve accepted.

Why is our public discourse infested with so many gong-show tales about Dems? (Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Oh sorry—as Grunwald told us in Sunday’s Post, that history-changing tale is inoperative.) Tales which don’t even have to make sense? Tales which don’t even have to be accurate? Tales which don’t have to be consistent? Why is our world so clogged with these tales—tales which keep deciding elections? In his new book, Dean starts to suggest an approach to that question. And let’s face it: We would all have been dead and gone before our “liberal journals” had gone there.

TOMORROW—PART 4: At last! A former Republican starts to suggest the shape of an overdue narrative.