ON WHAT PLANET: For once in his life, E. J. Dionne is showing some pique about electoral politics. For once in his life, a pols distortions seem to be making the mild-mannered liberal get mad.
The distortions belong to Sarah Palin, though Dionne knows that they really came from the McCain campaign. McCain might pay a price, Dionne says. And we say this: On what planet?
DIONNE (9/5/08): But these [distortions], of course, were not really Palin's. They were words prepared by the campaign of John McCain, the unifier turned divider.
McCain will certainly try to remind us of the man he once was, to draw on his past as the maverick statesmen-politician willing to join his Democratic colleagues in grappling with some of the countrys most difficult issues.
It will be a hard sell because McCain has capitulated to the very Washington he condemned last night and is employing the very tactics that were used ruthlessly and unfairly against him when he first ran for president eight years ago.
It will be a hard sell on what planet? That maverick narrative is deeply entrenchedand this planet is driven by narrative. (If we might borrow a bit from Lord Russell: Its novels, all the way down.) Dionnes colleagues have repeated the maverick narrative endlessly. Apparently, E. J. doesnt like to say such things. But they define the shape of the world.
How long has the straight-talking maverick story been told? How persuasive has it been? What follows is slightly off-topic. But we thought Josh Marshalls recent statement needed to be memorialized:
MARSHALL (9/2/08): A lot of Washington reporters have spent a decade loving John McCain. Just a few days ago a friend of mine who was once among the courted explained to me just how different and successful McCain was in the courtship. Off the cuff, frank, entirely accessible. Because of all that, a lot of these people got heavily invested in the maverick and straight-talker image. I'll be honest: back in 2000 and probably until 2002 I was pretty invested in it. Why a lot of people have held on through the last half dozen years of contrary evidence is another question. But the Palin pick is that paradigm-breaking piece of evidence that takes you from 'maverick' to 'reckless' or worse. And claiming that Palin has 'military command' experience as head of the Alaska National Guard gets you from "straight talker' to 'bullshit artist'.
Were not sure what to make of that statement, but we thought it did deserve capture this week. A bit of background:
In 1999 and 2000, Josh was a straight liberal journalista very smart and detailed journalist, as we have previously noted. But as Washington editor of The American Prospect, he largely missed the key story of Campaign 2000the mainstream press corps relentless, two-year War against Candidate Gore. (Gore was a big liar, just like Bill Clinton.) Of course, even as the corps made a demon of Gore, they made a sun-god out of McCain. Their work was routinely clownish; to sustain this nonsense, they had to ignore all sorts of conduct by McCain, including the lies he routinely told about Gore. Now, Josh says he was heavily invested in the imagery, and remained that way until 2002.
Please note: Were not saying that McCain was an evil person during Campaign 2000. (In Joshs new argot, a bullsh*t artist.) Were saying that the sun-god portrait was utterly foolishas was the portrait of vile demon Gore. Of course, while the portrait of McCain was only clownish, the portrait of Gore was deeply evil; it led to evil results in the world, evil results which are still unfolding. If Josh couldnt see how absurd the one portrait was, its really no great wonder that he failed to see the absurdity and evil lodged in the other. Indeed: As late as the summer of 2002, Josh was still pretending, in Slate and Salon, that Gore had every advantage during Campaign 2000. Since its fairly clear that Josh knew better, that conduct was a bit evil-ish too. After all: Because voters were never told what happened to Gore, it was easier to demonize Kerry, the utterly feckless flip-flopper.
Josh Marshall is very smartor used to be, before he decided to become a bit hackish. If even he purchased the Saint McCain scripts, then dont worry: Many, many other scribes will sustain this great tale through this fall.
McCain will try to remind us of the man he once was, E. J. Says, but it will be a hard sell. When we read that this morning, we heard a small voice: On what planet? it wittily said.
Note on method: We are quoting Dionnes column in our hard-copy Post, not the amended version which is now found on-line.
WITTGENSTEINS CHALLENGE: In an important moment on Tuesdays OReilly Factor, Frank Luntz showed us why the truth actually matters. Last Fridayand again Wednesday nightSarah Palin introduced herself to the nations voters. Our question: Why did she invent a bogus claimher claim about the Bridge to Nowhere? Why did she concoct a tale that is so flatly bogus? Some folk still dont understand. So herelet Luntz explain it:
LUNTZ (9/2/08): I've had the opportunity to have several conversations with groups of Independents here in Minneapolis. And it is fascinating to watch them react as they learn more and more about her. The first step is her background.
O'REILLY: Now, do you show them tape?
LUNTZ: We show them tape. We even show them the ad that Senator Obama ran against her right when she was selected. And they discuss it.
And the first aspect of that discussion is her background. And that's where she seems to fall a little bit short. Voters look at that she was mayor. And they see that she was governor. And they don't think that that holds a candle to Joe Biden. And as the discussion goes on, they start to turn negativeuntil they hear about her stopping a bridge to nowhere. They hear about her challenging a sitting governor, defeating him. Having an 80 percent job approval rating because she takes on the power. What they're looking for in a vice president is that same kind of maverick zeal that John McCain has.
O'REILLY: These are the Independents.
LUNTZ: These are the Independents, but these are the undecided voters...They're the ones who are going to make up the decision. They're going to make up who wins this election.
According to Luntz, the undecided voters werent that high on Palin. And then, up jumped that Bridge to Nowhere! Luntz didnt say, but presumably he showed them the tape of Palins stump speech, in which she claims, quite falsely, that she heroically told the Congress to take their bridge and shove it.
In the real world, Palin did no such thing; this hero tale has been invented. But so what? She is saying that she didand her claim is swinging some voters. And oh yes: Dems and libs and mainstream journalists are too weak and too dumb to correct her. On Monday, well show you the transcript of what was said on todays Morning Joe (for a paraphrase, see below). For now, just consider the way Plains bogus claim was critiqued at Slate.
Why is it easy (for Republicans) to tell voters lies? Consider what happened when Derek Thompson presented The Sarah Palin FAQ/Everything you ever wanted to know about the Republican vice presidential nominee.
Good God, we mortals are hapless!
Poor Thompson! Getting off to a very fast start, he offers this overview of Palinan overview in which, by chance, he even quotes part of her presentation about that ballyhooed bridge:
THOMPSON (9/4/08): She flies while giving birth! She can field-dress a moose! She said "Thanks but no thanks" to the "Bridge to Nowhere!" Or did she? As she debuts on the national stage, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has inspired a heap of questions, but she remains a mystery to both the press and the public. To help speed along the getting-to-know-you process, Slate has compiled dozens of questionsand taken our best shot at the answersabout the woman who could be our vice president.
Sad. As if by instinct, Thompson deletes the part of Palins statement thats baldly bogusthe part of her statement which makes her a hero. In short, before he fact-checks what Palin has said, he deletes the thing she has said which is wrong! Here is Palins actual presentationthe script she has recited in each of her three public appearances as VP nominee:
PALIN (8/29/08): I've championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. In fact, I told Congress thanks, but no thanks on that Bridge to Nowhere. If our state wanted a bridge, I said, we'd build it ourselves.
PALIN (8/30/08): I've championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. And I did tell Congress thanks, but no thanks, for that bridge to nowhere. If our state wanted to build a bridge, we were going to build it ourselves.
PALIN (9/3/08): We suspended the state fuel tax and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. I told the Congress thanks, but no thanks on that Bridge to Nowhere. If our state wanted to build a bridge, we were going to build it ourselves.
Duh. In each case, Palin presents herself as a heronot because she opposed a bridge, but because she stood up to the Congress. Indeed: For those who understand political speech, thats the basic part of the pitch! I told Congress to stuff it, Palin says. It isnt an accident that thats in the pitch. Thats the whole point of her statement.
Yep! Thats the whole point of Palins claimand, of course, its laughably bogus. In common parlance, Palin is lying to undecideds, and winning their votes in the process. But good God! When brilliant Slate tries to fact-check her claim, their analyst starts by omitting the part of the claim which is wrong! Indeed, when we get to the meat of Thompsons report, heres how he poses his question:
THOMPSON: Did she oppose the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere?
Pathetic. But with children like Thompson performing such fact-checkswith editors like Jake Weisberg checking each commaits easy for a (Republican) pol to lie in the face of those voters.
No. Sarah Palin didnt tell Congress to take their f*cking bridge and shove it. Her statement is blatantly, laughably wrong. And its now winning votes
In fairness, Weisbergs man is hardly alone in his groaning incompetence. On todays Morning Joe, the gang fact-checked this matter with Bill Adair, who is rapidly becoming one of the press corps highest-profile fact-checkers. (Thanks to his PolitiFact site at the St. Petersburg Times.) But uh-oh! Scarborough ended up presenting this matter in the way we warned about yesterday; there was no dissent from anyone, including Adair. Well paraphrase, and show you the transcript later: Palin favored the project while running for governor. But then, when she got into office, she actually did the right thing.
That misses the point of her bogus hero talethe hero tale in which she boldly stands up to the Congress. It misses the point of Palins claima claim which is so laughably false that weve even called it a lie.
Yesterday, Adair formally fact-checked Palins claimand omigod! Unlike Weisbergs overmatched worker, he started by quoting the actual thing Palin had actually said! In particular, Adair quoted her statement from Wednesdays convention speech:
PALIN, AS QUOTED BY ADAIR: I told the Congress thanks, but no thanks, on that Bridge to Nowhere.
That 13-word statement was blatantly wrong. The lady said no such thing to the Congressand the claim that she defied the Congress forms the basic point of her tale. But go ahead! See how far you must go in Adairs discussion before you read a word about that! Indeed, Adair rates the statement half true, apparently because Palin did oppose the bridge project in September 2007two years after Congress had removed itself from the matter. To us, Palins statement is just flat false. So why doesnt Adair think that?
In part, the answer is found in his hapless paraphrase of what Palin said. Heres the way Adair begins his piece. Two choices: 1) Adair doesnt understand political speech. Or 2) He doesnt want to rock the boat by calling a spade a spade here:
ADAIR: In a speech to the Republican National Convention on Sept. 3, 2008, Gov. Sarah Palin portrayed herself as a reformer who had cut waste in government.
But that misses the basic point of Palins self-glorying statement. From Adairs paraphrase, you might think that Palin said something like this: Because I oppose waste in government, I killed an expensive bridge project. But Sarah Palin didnt say that, for reasons which are perfectly obvious. (That statement would have been quite dull. Undecided voters would have yawned.) Instead, Palin juiced her narrative up, pretending she boldly stood up to Congress. Indeed, that was the whole point of her hero tale: I stood up to the (hated) Congress! In reality, of course, she didnt do thator anything dimly resembling it. The claim that she did is comically wrong. In normal parlance, the claim is a lie.
But so what? This morning, on Morning Joe, the bespectacled Adair sat there smiling as Palin got heroed up again. Why is it so easy (for Republicans) to lie to the public? Todays Morning Joe showed us againwith the help of a rising fact-checker.
Remember: This conduct takes place in a world where the mainstream press corps has spent many years inventing lies, then pretending that Major Democrats said them. The world you inhabit is ruled by narrativeand Democrats lie in those narratives. By way of contrast, Republicans are plain-spokenor theyre straight-talkers. And presto! This week, Palin became a plain-spoken straight-talker who boldly stood up to the Congress.
Frank Luntz explained it Tuesday night. Undecideds warm to Palin when they hear her hero tale. I stood up to Congress, the lady says. I told them to take their bridge and shove it. When she says that, shes basically telling a liebut something is keeping your worlds fact-checkers from making this obvious statement.
About that headline: Youre right. We didnt get around to explaining our headline. Its probably better that way.