Daily Howler logo
CAN’T COMPLAIN! No matter how badly our hopefuls get played, we liberals refuse to complain: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, AUGUST 28, 2007

UNSTOPPABLE HOAXING: At the August 5 GOP debate (hosted by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos), former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee explained the newest source of salvation. Omigod, the ex-governor said. If only we go with the Fair Tax!
HUCKABEE (8/5/07): I absolutely support the Fair Tax, and part of the reason is, the current system is one that penalizes productivity. A recent poll showed more Americans fear an audit of the IRS than they do getting mugged. And the reason is getting mugged isn't as painless [sic] as an audit from the IRS.

[Applause.]

And the reality is, if we could have the Fair Tax, you take $10 trillion parked offshore, bring it home. You'd rebuild the made-in-America brand. You free up people to earn money, to work. You don't penalize them for taking a second job. You don't penalize them for investing; you don't penalize them for savings.

Today our tax system doesn't need a tap of the hammer, a twist of the screwdriver. It needs a complete overhaul. And what the Fair Tax does, it ends the underground economy. No more illegals—

STEPHANOPOLOUS: Governor Romney—

HUCKABEE: Let me if I may—no more illegals, no more gamblers, prostitutes, pimps and dope dealers will be able to escape the tax code. It's the single greatest thing that will help this country.
According to the press corps’ newest fair-haired pin-up boy, the Fair Tax is “the single greatest thing that will help this country.”

But wouldn’t you know it? This past Sunday, conservative economist Bruce Bartlett explained what a hoax the Fair Tax is. To read Bartlett’s piece, just click here. Or you can read Kevin Drum’s summary, “Crankery That Refuses To Die.”

How big a hoax is the Fair Tax? The plan is the latest successor to the so-called “flat tax,” the last piece of pseudo-conservative tax hoaxing which drove talk radio and fouled our debate. As we’ve explained before, no Republican pol—not even Steve Forbes—has ever proposed a real “flat tax,” if by that we mean a tax system in which every tax-payer pays the same percentage of income in taxes. Forbes well in the 1996 GOP primaries, riding what he called a “flat tax” proposal; but because of his plan’s large deductions, some tax-payers would have paid 17 percent, many would have paid no taxes at all. A few years earlier, Dick Armey had comically noted that the “flat tax is progressive” in his unintentionally humorous book of the same name. No, that didn’t really make sense. But none of this tax hoaxing ever does—except as a way to rile up the herd and confuse the public debate.

As silly as these “flat tax” plans were, the new Fair Tax is a much bigger hoax. But then, much of our ongoing public debate is a hoax, and has been for the past many years. Because big liberal pundits won’t tell you such things, we have to wait for people like Bartlett to do so from the conservative side.

How is our public discourse a hoax? Let us count (a few of) the ways:

Experts: As liberals have recently noted, we live in a world where press elites tell us who our “experts” are. This is true in the realm of foreign policy, but in many other areas as well (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/5/06). In what way does this constitute “hoaxing?” As we’ve seen in the case of Iraq, a person is designated an “expert” if he voices the standard views of insider DC press/political elites. For this reason, experts who were right on Iraq get dumped; experts who were wrong on Iraq are allowed to voice their views once again. (O’Hanlon keeps playing; Ritter is gone.) But then, the naming of “experts” is a vast hoax—and it has been for a long time.

Facts: As with our experts, so with our facts: The press corps agrees to dole out facts in accordance with preferred elite narratives. (This involves the press corps’ bizarre group dynamics.) Rudy Giuliani parades about denigrating European health care. In the mainstream press, only Paul Krugman—no one else—ever dreams of stating elementary facts about the health care systems being trashed. Most people have simply never heard the simplest facts about US health care versus other world systems. Even in discussing Sicko, it was the law! Basic facts could not be reported.

Campaign narratives: When control of the White House is at stake, your “press corps” offers you childish narratives, forcing discussion into tight, narrow channels. In ways that would make a schoolchild blush, these narratives are blatantly shaped by elite opinion about the candidates. In March 2000, Post ombudsman E. R. Shipp described this process in brilliant detail (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/00). She might as well have published her piece on the moon. The pundit corps continues to build its campaign narratives around childish, hoaxed views of the candidates.

Pseudo-conservative hoaxing: In the past thirty years, pseudo-conservative hoaxing has played a persistent role in this unholy stew. Denial machines mislead the public about climate change, for example—and GOP “think tanks” keep promoting an array of weird claims about taxes. As this happens, mainstream news orgs dither about, refusing to describe or challenge the hoaxing. Example: When Newsweek astonished the world with its recent report about climate hoaxing, the “denial machine” it finally debunked had been running for the past twenty years!

Much of our discourse is a hoax; the Fair Tax is just the latest example. But why do we have to wait for Bartlett, a conservative, to debunk such pseudo-conservative nonsense? Because over the course of the past twenty years, our biggest “liberal” spokesmen have simply refused to do so. Potemkin liberals like E. J. Dionne make liberals believe that they’re represented at the highest levels of media. But they stand around and fail to notice when Democratic candidates are gored and swift-booted. As a general matter, these pundits would jump off a very high bridge before they’d ever tell the public that their discourse is a large, rolling hoax. They stood around while the Clintons and Gore were endlessly hoaxed in the 1990s. Like O’Hanlon, these pundits are still in the game. And they’re prepared to be stupid again.

Once again, it has fallen to Bartlett to describe the depth of pseudo-conservative tax hoaxing. But readers! Quite plainly, Huckabee has become the press corps’ latest Republican darling, despite his devotion to this latest nonsense. (So Funny! So friendly! He has his own band!) As the press corps starts to pimp Darling Huckabee, he joins Giuliani (long pimped as “America’s Mayor”) and McCain (the world’s most honest human)—and he stands in opposition to Edwards (whose haircut and house are both troubling) and Clinton (so vile for so long).

This brings us back to George Stephanopoulos. Our advice: Read Bartlett and Drum on the Fair Tax hoaxing. Then, gaze on the way this multimillionaire “journalist” described the Fair Tax at that recent debate. Before Huckabee had to say a word, Stephanopoulos drew applause from the Republican audience with his description of this noble proposal. This is the way multimillionaire “journalists” mislead an unknowing public:
STEPHANOPOLOUS (8/5/07): I need to move on now. The issue is taxes, always important in these caucuses and primaries. And the Iowa Republican Party has said the most important economic reform Congress can act—can enact to win the fight against poverty is the Fair Tax.

For our viewers, I want to explain what the Fair Tax is. It would eliminate the income tax, the state tax, the payroll tax and capital gains tax. It would eliminate all those, and replace it with a 23 percent sales tax, That's the Fair Tax. And Mr. Yepsen has the question.

[Applause.]

DAVID YEPSEN: Governor [Huckabee], this issue of tax policy, I see it as a real fault line inside your party—Fair Tax, national sales tax, a flat tax or big adjustments to the existing tax system. Where do you come down on this question?
“For our viewers, I want to explain what the Fair Tax is,” Stephanopoulos said. “It would eliminate all those [existing taxes], and replace it with a 23 percent sales tax.” Stephanopoulos was grossly misinforming those voters, as you can see from Bartlett’s report. But his recitation drew applause from the GOP crowd. Poor fools! They’d been hoaxed once again.

In a wide array of ways, our discourse is an ongoing hoax. But high-profile liberals have never quite managed to notice this fact. Meanwhile, the trashing of our candidates is starting again—and we liberals seem completely unable to come to terms with this bit of presspolitics (more below). From this, we draw a troubling conclusion: Despite what you hear about a “Democratic year,” libs and Dems should prepare themselves for defeat next year—and for subsequent war. If we can’t learn to play this game, we’ll be unstoppably defeated.

Special report: Only Dems!


READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: It’s perfectly clear: By Hard Pundit Law, only Dems can have character problems! For previous installment in this series, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/27/07.

PART 5—CAN’T COMPLAIN: Saturday’s statement by Chris Cillizza was so remarkable, so instructive, that we suggest you review it again. When you do, remember how hard the press corps worked to say that Candidate Gore kept “reinventing himself”—and remember how hard they worked to trash Candidate Kerry as a flip-flopper. But by now, it’s a tenet of Hard Pundit Law: Only Dems can have character problems! Candidate Romney has reinvented his soul—has reinvented himself more completely and thoroughly than any candidate in our history. But so what? From the heart of the mainstream press corps, a rising star now praises him for it. It’s “to his credit” that Romney did this—Cillizza said so two times:
CILLIZZA (8/25/07): [Romney] is nowhere near as conservative as he is painting himself to be. I mean, the reality is, is Mitt Romney said he had stood up against, you know, attempts to restrict abortion, stood up against attempts to broaden gay rights. You know, you can see a way in which he can color that, and he's using, as Chuck [Todd] mentioned, this immigration issue that he had—he has stood up for it. Well, again, it really went to being a he said/he said. Giuliani's campaign pushes back and says, “Well, no, not really, if you look at the record here.”

Mitt Romney understood very early on, to his credit, that the only way to win the race, from his perspective, was he needed to become the conservative candidate in this race come heck or high water, frankly, is that he knew he was going to have to answer for some of these things, like the fact that he said he would be better on gay rights than Ted Kennedy. Thank you, YouTube, for reminding us of that one. But I think he recognized early on, even when we thought John McCain was the front-runner, he recognized this was his path to the nomination. And he has, to his credit, I think, insulated himself somewhat from that.

The problem is, and Chuck points this out, is both Thompson and Romney are, I believe, somewhat flawed messengers as the socially conservative candidate. Neither of them have a squeaky clean, pure white record on this. And so do people believe them over believing Rudy Giuliani, who said, “Yes, look, I do—I do support a woman's right to choose. I'm unapologetic about that?”
Gore was trashed for alleged “reinventions;” indeed, pundits made total fools of themselves as they struggled to find his troubling “make-overs.” But when Romney actually does reinvent—when he baldly pretends to be a conservative—it’s “to his credit,” Cillizza says. He isn’t said to be guilty of reinvention; no, he’s just a “somewhat flawed messenger!” Suddenly, pundits are looking for ways in which a hopeful “can color” his record. The rules which were used to club Kerry and Gore have suddenly, quite plainly changed.

But then, in the past fifteen years, the law has become very clear: Only Dems can have character problems! Could this rule be more apparent? When President Clinton spends “sexy time,” the pundits scream till the end of time—but not so with Sexy-Time Rudy. The pundits pretend that Gore tell Big Lies—but ignore it when Saint Rudy actually does so! John Edwards’ house is deep cause for concern; Romney’s house is twice as expensive, but it somehow never gets mentioned. No, only Dems can have character flaws. How do we plan to address this?

How do we liberals plan to address this? Right now, we do so amazingly poorly. How poorly do we deal with all this? Just consider what has happened in recent days:

Trashing our own: All over the netroots, commenters trash Candidate Clinton, currently the Democratic front-runner. Often, they cite the tortured old character themes which came to us straight from the RNC. But then, why should commenters show better long-term judgment when our leaders behave the same way? Last week, John Edwards played smarmy games with the Lincoln Bedroom—and then he said that he didn’t mean Clinton! This is what Bradley did to Gore. It’s a fast track to defeat.

Staying on defense: Michelle Obama makes a slightly ambiguous statement—and, as usual, by Hard Pundit Law, pundits start talking about Bill Clinton’s penis. (No one imagines that she meant Giuliani, whose sexcapades were so public and bizarre.) On cable ,our brightest spokespeople face a dilemma—how do we fight back about this? For our money, our spokespeople stayed on defense last week. But we all have to figure out how to deal with these problems. We liberals have stayed on defense for so long that playing defense is now second nature. (Yes, we’ll discuss this point further.)

Refusing to speak: And over and over, for the past fifteen years, we simply refuse to state our complaints. We hate to single out Steve Benen, who does so much superlative work, at TPM (on weekends) and Salon (on weekdays). But good grief! Last Saturday, Steve correctly noted the way the Times keeps recording Giuliani’s serial misstatements. But this was his closing formulation:
BENEN (8/25/07): Reporters labeled Al Gore a “serial exaggerator” in 2000 on a whole lot less than this.
Good grief! Let’s say it again; Steve Benen does a ton of good work. But if that’s the best way we can state our case about the way our campaigns get scripted, then we can get ready for President Rudy. The next war we hate will be his.

Reporters labeled Al Gore a “serial exaggerator” in 2000 on a whole lot less than this? In fact, reporters labeled Gore a “serial exaggerator” in March 1999, on the basis of three absurd charades. The press corps invented those three silly claims—then trashed Gore with them for the next twenty months. But eight years later, we still can’t say it! We still can’t bring ourselves to describe our nation’s recent presspolitics.

What actually happened during Campaign 2000? Ezra Klein described it once in The Prospect, then pretty much never did so again (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/24/06). In this passage, Klein is discussing a speech Gore made in the fall of 2005:
KLEIN (4/06): The address was the keynote for the We Media conference, held at the Associated Press headquarters in New York last October and attended by an audience that included both old media luminaries and new media innovators. In attendance were Tom Curley, president of the AP, Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, all leading lights of a media establishment that, five years earlier, had deputized itself judge, jury, and executioner for Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, spinning each day’s events to portray the stolid, capable vice president as a wild exaggerator, ideological chameleon, and total, unforgivable bore.
According to Klein, the “media establishment”—he specifically named the AP and the Times—“deputized itself Gore’s executioner.” For twenty months, these news orgs were “spinning each day’s events to portray the stolid, capable vice president as a wild exaggerator.”

Do we believe that that actually happened? Ezra’s statement was plainly correct—but he pretty much never said it again! And here we see the remarkable way we choose to enable our own demise. Only Dems can have character problems! Clearly, this is now Hard Pundit Law. Our candidates are suffering from this edict again—and to this day, we can’t bring ourselves to tell the truth about what has happened. Trust us: If we can’t complain any harder than this, we’ll have much more to complain about. Put another way: If we won’t say what’s been going on, who in the world ever will?

Good God! Even as Romney is being praised for his laughable reinventions, we still can’t bring ourselves to say what actually happened to Candidate Gore! Instead, Edwards recites that old RNC line—bull-roar the Obama campaign has used twice. As with Bradley and Willie Horton, so with these two and the Lincoln Bedroom! It’s amazing, but RNC hoaxing so suffuses our world that we state their top hoaxes for them!

In fairness: So far, our candidates aren’t accusing each other of murders. But just give these losers a chance!

Will 2008 be a Democratic year? At this point, that seems very dubious. In the past week, we’ve begun to pick up the stink of defeat as we see the shaping of next year’s candidates. And by the way: Whose instincts were right back in March 1999? We began debunking the war against Gore the very week the problem began. Others still can’t utter the truth, even now, eight long years later. Has a gang like us ever lived on this earth? Something seems to make us long for the thrill of submissive defeat.

TOMORROW: How we defended Michelle.