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Daily Howler: Hurrah! Hooray! A million kudos! Howard Dean says that Democrats have to start telling the truth!!!
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DEAN GETS IT! Hurrah! Hooray! A million kudos! Howard Dean says that Democrats have to start telling the truth!!! // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, AUGUST 15, 2005

TOUGH V. DISHONEST: Do Democrats and liberals need to learn to play tough? As a general matter, we would say yes. But one important conceptual strain lingers in Dana Milbank’s important Post story—the conflation of toughness and dishonesty. “Playing tough” doesn’t mean “being dishonest.” In our view, the best way for libs to play tough would be to try something they’ve often recoiled from. The best way for libs to play tough would be for them to tell the truth—to tell the truth about the gong-show character of our modern American politics. If Dems and liberals decide to play tough, they will start to tell the truth about the crackpot discourse of the past fifteen years, the discourse that has transformed modern politics. In the past dozen years, that discourse has typically come from Republican and pseudo-conservative sources, and has been lovingly channeled by the mainstream press—as, for example, in the War Against Gore which put George Bush in the White House.

But Democrats and liberal elites have made a different decision. With few exceptions, they have decided to keep quiet about recent history, leaving voters unprepared when the latest wave of dissembling hits. For example, when the Swift Boat ads began in 2004, how many voters said to themselves: “Omigod, there they go again? There they go again, with the same kind of bullsh*t they peddled for twenty straight months against Gore?” We’d guess that very few mainstream voters were inclined to such thoughts, because Democrats and liberal elites had made no effort to describe the earlier mainstream press wars against Clinton and Gore. For the most part, Democrats and liberal elites have maintained silence on these matters. Hence, when new waves of attacks begin—when the Swift Boat stories started, for example—voters simply aren’t equipped with the requisite skepticism. They’ve heard “liberal bias” all their born days. They’ve never heard anyone tell the truth.

And no one played a larger role in all of this than the hapless Bob Shrum, the man who seems to lament the fact that Dems won’t lie like Republicans. To judge from the quotes in the Milbank piece, Shrum thinks “playing tough” means “being dishonest.” But how sad! Maybe if Shrum had ever tried telling the truth, Dems and libs wouldn’t have to lie to win their political battles. If Dems and libs would try telling the truth, they might find that they can abandon sad dreams about slick, skillful lying.

But “Shrummy” want to play kiss-kiss with Chris. As a Hardball regular, he can’t be truthful about the past dozen years. He isn’t allowed to tell the public about the way their lives were transformed. That would mean discussing Chris—and Shrummy (kiss-kiss) just won’t go there.

HOWARD DEAN GETS IT: Hurrah! Hooray! A million kudos! We’ve just watched Howard Dean on Face the Nation, and omigod—Howard Dean seems to get it! The Post’s John Harris asked the boss what Democrat activists want:

HARRIS: What are the activists in your party expecting from senators on the Roberts nomination? As I said, as long as I've been listening to you speak, your message has been consistent: The party's got to start fighting, stop getting along to go along, show some backbone.

DEAN: I think what activists are expecting is for them to be tough but fair. I mean, the hallmark of the Republicans is, Say anything. If you keep saying it people will believe it even if it's not true.

HARRIS: Does that work for them?

DEAN: I think it has worked for them because we haven't stood up and said, “This is absolutely not true and therefore, you ought to be embarrassed to be saying so.” And we need to say that every single day. So we want to be tough but we want to be fair. I think the damage the Republicans have done to this country not just in the largest deficits in the history and this bumbling stuff that they've done in Iraq. The real damage they've done is they've undermined people's belief that democracy can work and the way to fight this is to be tough but fair.

Hurrah for Dean! We don’t know what he meant by that last part—by the claim that Republicans have “undermined people's belief that democracy can work.” And Bob Schieffer quickly moved ahead to a different topic. But to our ear, Dean came close to saying what Dems and libs need to say: Our democracy has been turned to a joke by the crackpot discourse of the past fifteen years. It has come from Rush; it has come from Sean; it has come from Coulter and the RNC—and a lot has come from the mainstream press. But Dems and libs have refused to discuss this, just as Dean seemed to say to Harris. We need to discuss it “every single day?” Hurrah! We couldn’t agree with Dean more! In fact, we’ve been at it for the past seven years—while the poodles of your “liberal elites” have refused to discuss your reality.

By the way, Howard Dean wants “tough but fair.” Nothing else will work for libs and Dems. Maybe we should try telling the truth before we build dreams of dissembling.

THE LOGIC OF LYING: We hate it when that happens! Sunday, we lingered over our bagel, musing the ways the Swift Boat tales differed from that NARAL ad. But when we got home, we fired the Dell—and Kevin Drum had beaten us to it! Here was the central part of his post:

DRUM (8/12/05): [T]he NARAL ad and the Swift Boat ads mostly demonstrate that conservatives are just better at this stuff than we are. The Swift Boat folks were able to manufacture uncertainty by focusing on an event that was genuinely hard to gather facts about. It was something that happened over 30 years ago, they methodically gathered up eyewitnesses willing to fabricate stories about it, and it took weeks for the media to do the research to figure out they were lying. By then it didn't matter.

The NARAL ad, conversely, focused on an event in which the facts were well established and every news organization in the country was able to figure out within hours that the charges against Roberts were dubious at best. Sure, partisans could have stuck with NARAL, but the court of public opinion matters, and the NARAL ad was so easy to fact check that there was never any chance of winning in that court. That's dumb politics.

Drum is (mostly) right about that. It was hard to show that the claims in the Swift Boat ads were wrong; as we noted in real time, their claims concerned murky events on a river in Vietnam almost forty years in the past. How was someone supposed to prove that their claims were factually wrong—prove that Kerry didn’t “flee” during the Bronze Star event, for example? Essentially, it was their word against Kerry’s—with no way to go to the tape. To this day, it’s hard to say, with any real certainty, that particular claims in their ads were wrong. By contrast, it was easy to see the absurdity of the claims in the NARAL ad. (Although Kevin seemed to defend the ad’s central claim in this earlier post—the claim that Roberts’ “ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans.”)

So yes, Kevin was basically right—it was hard to show that the Swift Boat claims were wrong, and easy to do so with the NARAL ad. But we think Kevin says or implies several things that are wrong or misleading about those devastating Swift Boat ads.

For starters, Kevin says this of the Swift Boat ads: “[I]t took weeks for the media to do the research to figure out they were lying.” But when did the mainstream media ever do such research? In our view, the mainstream press made almost no real effort to confront or challenge the Swift Boat claims. First, the press refused to read the O’Neill/Corsi book, Unfit for Command, where the utter kookiness of these men came through loud and clear. The book was full of ludicrous claims—but try to find the mainstream scribe who bothered to step up and say so. (For the press, reading books is “hard work.”) Second, when pro-Kerry eyewitnesses contradicted the ads, the mainstream press corps kept ignoring them; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/30/04 for a rundown of this remarkable conduct. And third, when major broadcasters tried to challenge O’Neill, it was abundantly clear that they hadn’t done even minimal research; Chris Matthews, Ted Koppel and Lawrence O’Donnell went down in flames, betrayed by their lazy lack of preparation. Yes, it’s just like Kevin to pretend that the mainstream press corps did its job, taking a few weeks to do its hard research. After all, they’re The Greatest Press Corps in American History—and all good “liberal elite” publications know they mustn’t bite the hands that will feed eventually feed them. But in our view, the mainstream press corps utterly failed to tackle this admittedly tricky story. Week after week, we discussed these failures, in detail, even as they occurred.

In fact, the mainstream press made little attempt to confront or challenge the Kerry accusers. But one can almost feel sorry for the press; the massive failure in this episode was that of the Kerry campaign itself, another failure which Kevin omits. Surely, anyone would have known that the Swift Boat attacks were coming; indeed, O’Neill and company announced their plans in an April 2004 press conference. But when the fateful attack ads finally hit, the Kerry campaign seemed completely unprepared. This was surely one of modern history’s greatest political failures. Bob Shrum—the fellow who now suggests that Dem should lie more—was unprepared to present the truth when these attack ads savaged his candidate.

But there’s a third framework to consider here, one we mentioned above. The failure to prepare for the Swift Boat attacks goes all the way back to the War Against Gore which started in March 1999—indeed, all the way back to the liberal elite’s refusal to discuss Fools for Scandal, Gene Lyons’ 1996 book about the press corps’ hoaxed-up Whitewater “scandal.” To this day, Democrats and liberal elites have elected not to discuss that history. Result? Voters hear complaints about “liberal bias” every day—and never hear about the real press conduct that transformed our political history. This theme is absent from Kevin’s post—as the theme is always absent from the work of your liberal elites. Over and over, your liberal heroes have kept voters clueless—and susceptible to the next wave of attacks. As Dean said, these attacks have worked “because we haven't stood up and said, ‘This is absolutely not true and therefore, you ought to be embarrassed to be saying so.’” Liberal elites have avoided this history like the plague, and Drum is avoiding it still.

Dems and libs have to tell the truth about the forces that transformed our politics. But your liberal elites would eat live worms before they’d discuss the press corps’ recent history. For what it’s worth, John Harris’ new book, The Survivor, provides an excellent framework for discussing the press corps’ conduct toward President Clinton (and later toward the Gore campaign). We’ll discuss that theme all next week. As Howard Dean says, we need to stand up, every day, and discuss what has actually happened to our politics. We need to try a brand-new approach. It’s going to hurt. It will take some time. But we need to try telling the truth.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Kevin shines up the press corps, as always. But how about a bit of reality? For an account of David Broder’s snoring conduct regarding the Swift Boat ads, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/27/04. You’ll get a taste of the actual press corps’ actual refusal to act.

JUST TO MAKE EVERYONE MAD: A sex-drenched op-ed in this morning’s Post makes an intriguing point—it’s very hard to slander someone by making statements which are factually accurate. By extension, it’s also hard to “smear” someone by making such statements—or to engage in “character assassination.” Yes, this brings us back to the Wilson-Plame case, and to liberal claims that Plame was “smeared” by Bob Novak’s original column. But, aside from the separate question of “outing,” was Plame really “smeared,” or “assassinated?” In essence, Novak reported something previously unknown—the fact that Plame worked in the office that sent Joe Wilson to Niger. The things he wrote were previously unknown—and were essentially accurate. It’s fun to complain about assassination and smears—but it’s hard to “smear” someone by making true statements. And Novak’s info was basically accurate.

It isn’t good when liberals begin to wallow in boo-hooing self-pity. It’s very easy to state the obvious: Wilson was fully qualified for his Niger mission, and there was nothing wrong with the way he was sent, or with his wife’s minor role in the matter. But over the course of the past dozen years, liberals have self-castrated to the point where they can’t even imagine winning public arguments. They can’t imagine simply saying: Omigod! There they go again, with their endless misdirection and bullsh*t! Instead, liberals begin to weep and cry: “Oh please, won’t someone arrest these bad men—these bad men we’re too hapless to deal with?”

TOMORROW: David Broder on urban schools—and the analysts make three trips to the local art cinema! Readers, Wayne Cotter even gets mentioned!! You know what to do—just click here.

ALL NEXT WEEK: “The president did indeed generate a surprising degree of casual disdain from the rotating group of perhaps fifty writers, television correspondents, and producers assigned to the White House beat.” So writes Harris (page 146) about the press corps’ early reaction to President Clinton. Indeed, Harris describes the press corps’ attitude toward the new president even before he was sworn into office; they had “a suspicion bordering on contempt,” he writes early on (page 7). We all know where this attitude led, although your worthless “liberal elites” have politely agreed to avoid such discussions. Harris’ book provides a good framework for examining the least-discussed story of our age—the way the press corps’ “disdain” and “contempt” eventually put Bush in the White House.

Of course, you’ll only read about it here! In the perfumed halls of your liberal elites, you will get a different story. You’ll read that this is The Greatest Press Corps We Lucky Duckies Ever Had. And you’ll read that they shot down the vile Swift Boat ads—although it took a few weeks of research.