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THE SCIENCE OF DISTRACTION! This must stop, Obama said, describing the past twenty years: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2008

THE ART OF NOVELIZATION: We were surprised by Jonathan Weisman’s short novel in this morning’s Washington Post. Here’s how he started his top-of-the-front-page news report in the Post’s early edition:

WEISMAN (8/29/08): Sen. Barack Obama arrived at Invesco Field on Thursday night to accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, praising the black leaders who paved his way and asking the American people to seize “a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil and the American promise has been threatened once more, and embrace his vision of change.

We were surprised by that highlighted passage. We’d just spent four nights discussing the ways Obama has dealt with issues of race in this campaign. In the wake of those discussions, we were surprised to read that he arrived at Invesco “praising the black leaders who paved his way.” And sure enough! When we read Weisman’s full report, it looked like he’d pretty much made that part up! There was such no quotation from Obama. In fact, there was no real explanation of what that passage meant.

It’s the science of novelization! Presumably, it sounded good to Weisman (or to some editor)–as it sounds good at cocktail parties attended by a certain class. So Weisman (or an editor) threw it in. No, it doesn’t seem to have occurred. But readers, we ask you: So what?

Last night, we enjoyed, for the second night, the chance to discuss such matters with (young) Loyola College assistant professor Eric Durham. (A 30-year-old Texas Aggie.) Our take: Sounds to us like this energetic guy is puzzling out the frontiers of race in America. And, of course, it sounds to us like Weisman made something up.

Technically accurate: Here’s the sub-headline on Weisman’s piece, running across the top of page one: “Historic Moment Is Called a Testament to Martin Luther King’s Vision/As Democrats Close Convention With a Sense of Unity and Celebration.” That headline, which runs across page one, has the advantage of being technically accurate–though we’d say it’s grossly misleading. (Principal headline: “80,000 Pack Stadium to Hear Obama Accept Nomination.”) In our view, by the way, Dr. King was the great moral giant of the last century.

In its own early edition, the New York Times did a better job of sticking to things which actually happened, and presenting those things in an accurate perspective. Their headline, across the top of page one: “Scorning Bush Years, Obama Takes Aim at McCain.” Each report worked from the pre-released text of Obama’s speech.

THE SCIENCE OF DISTRACTION: We haven’t yet seen Obama’s speech; finishing our four-night stint at Morgan State’s WEAA-FM, we only heard the speech last night. And among the things we learned this week, we’d include this: Listening to a speech can be quite different from actually getting to see it. That said, we awoke this morning to hear Pat Buchanan praising it as the greatest convention speech ever given. (We exaggerate a bit, but only slightly.) But then, despite a few stumbles, Buchanan has been a fair, savvy pundit throughout this White House campaign.

Let’s start with something we didn’t like, then consider Obama’s challenge to the science of distraction.

Listening to Obama, we didn’t like this. To be honest, this just isn’t accurate:

OBAMA (8/28/08): Now, I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans; I just think he doesn't know.

(LAUGHTER)

Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under $5 million a year?

Please. In fact, McCain didn’t “define middle-class as someone making under $5 million a year.” In the past decade, we’ve seen many people misinform average voters; we don’t think Big Dems should follow that lead. A few other parts of Obama’s critique of McCain were less than wonderfully accurate. Our view: At this point, if we have to massage the facts to make our case, there’s something bad wrong about us.

So that would be what we didn’t like. But then, we heard Obama say this, as part of a much longer passage in which he threw down the gauntlet to McCain, saying, in effect, Bring it on:

OBAMA: These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

But what I will not do is suggest that the senator takes his positions for political purposes, because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and each other's patriotism.

(APPLAUSE)

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan play-book. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain.

The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and independents, but they have fought together, and bled together, and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a red America or a blue America; they have served the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

So I've got news for you, John McCain: We all put our country first.

Returning to the “United States” framework which drove his speech at the 2004 convention, Obama rejected the science of distraction. This science has driven assaults on Big Dems for the past twenty years.

It has made a joke of our discourse.

Obama spoke of patriotism, because that’s the form the assault has been taking as it gets marshaled against him. But this science has taken various forms in those past twenty years. For the most part, Democratic Party officials and “career liberal” “leaders” have responded by looking away.

Do you care to remember this science? Let’s go there:

In 1988, the attack against Dukakis involved issues of patriotism–and even alleged mental illness. Good grief! In September 1988, Charles Krauthammer wrote this in the Post: “George Bush's Pledge of Allegiance shtick, designed to impugn Michael Dukakis' patriotism, is a model of campaign cynicism.” Yes, that was written by Krauthammer! (In August 1988, President Reagan jokingly helped drive the rumor that Dukakis had a mental health problem.)

From 1992 on, the attacks against the Clintons would be endless, inexcusable, ugly–and widely ignored by our cowering “leaders.” Good God! By August 1999, two major cable programs would actually bring Gennifer Flowers on the air to discuss–first for a half-hour, then for an hour–the long list of troubling murders in which both Clintons had played a part. We complained about that–and no one else did. To this day, we have never found evidence that any mainstream journalist said a single word about this astounding misconduct–astounding misconduct on the part of Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity.

By that thing, the law was clear: You could say any g*ddamn thing you pleased–as long as you aimed it at Dems.

In 1999, they started on Gore, reinventing him as the world’s biggest liar. They lied in the public’s face for two years–and Bush ended up in the White House. As all this happened, the cowering children at your “liberal journals” piddled in their pants; averted their gaze; and let the endless deceptions roll on. Again this week, Jonathan Alter told us that Gore never said he invented the Internet. He forgot to tell us why he said different in real time, back when it actually mattered.

In 2004, they came for Kerry. After the Swift boat attacks began, Michael Kinsley managed to write one column on the topic–and that piece was whimsical, tongue-in-cheek. (Headline: “The Stiff Drink Vets break their silence.” August 29. 2004. Darlings! So amusing!) We’ll discuss this column in more detail when we continue our current series next week. For the first two parts of the series, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/26/08.

This has been a quick history of a science, a science which has been endlessly tolerated by the pseudo-liberal world. As we all know (but still won’t say), we’re in Iraq because “liberal leaders” agreed to avoid confronting this science. Last night, in his own remarks, Gore discussed this sordid history, in which our side agreed to pretend that it didn’t much matter who won the White House. Last night, at Invesco:

GORE (8/28/08): Eight years ago, some said there was not much difference between the nominees of the two major parties and it didn't really matter who became president...But here we all are in 2008, and I doubt anyone would argue now that election didn't matter. Take it from me. If it had ended differently, we would not be bogged down in Iraq.

That’s what happens when the career liberal world agrees to ignore this grim science.

So last night, Obama threw down the gauntlet. Before the fall campaign began, he offered the public a framework for viewing the campaign’s contents. Some distractions concerning Obama have involved issues that smack of patriotism; last night, he said “the times are too serious” to allow such distractions to prosper. And trust us: Obama had to do this himself. If we had all waited a thousand years, the career liberal world and the Dem Party “leadership” would never have managed to do this. They would never have offered the public this helpful framework Powerful players will try to distract you from things that actually matter.

Essentially, that’s what Obama said. And he said it has to stop.

It doesn’t have to stop, of course, just because we’ve been handed this framework. But now that Obama himself has said this, fiery fellows at your “liberal journals” may decide to repeat what he said. You see, these are the types of fiery players who wait until it’s safe before speaking. They like repeating what others have said–preferably, somebody famous.

What Hawthorne said: When we think of the harm that’s been done by this science, we think of Rappaccini’s Daughter. Mr. Price made us read it in high school. Here’s the way it ends:

HAWTHORNE (1844): Just at that moment, Professor Pietro Baglioni looked forth from the window, and called loudly, in a tone of triumph mixed with horror, to the thunder-stricken man of science: "Rappaccini! Rappaccini! And is this the upshot of your experiment?"

Through the years, that ending has stuck in our heads. Last night, Gore described the upshot of another experiment, in another vile science.

The fruit of poisonous plants: Where was Wikipedia when we needed it? From the site’s very helpful “plot summary:”

WIKIPEDIA: Set in Padua "very long ago," this is the story of a "mad scientist" working in isolation on a completely unethical...experiment involving poisonous plants. A young student of medicine observes from his quarters the scientist's beautiful daughter who is confined to the lush and locked gardens in which the experiment is taking place. Having fallen in love with the lovely Beatrice, Giovanni ignores the warning of his mentor, Professor Baglioni, that Rappaccini is up to no good and he and his work should be shunned...

An unethical experiment? With poisonous plants? Ignoring the call that the work must be shunned? Readers, when have you seen a more accurate portrait of the politics of the past twenty years?