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MOTIVE MOUTHS! Al Gore made a naughty claim. Your pundits dissected his motives:


MOTIVE MOUTHS: Would a War on Saddam harm the War on Terror? That was the central claim made in Gore’s San Francisco speech. But is Gore’s critique of the matter valid? We were disappointed to find this review early on the work of The Note:

THE NOTE: Gore gives what was on some levels a serious, substantive speech in San Francisco yesterday and gets chastised by the White House and the Republican National Committee for playing politics, a storyline followed to some extent by the TV and newspaper coverage.

Since Gore made the front pages of several papers, stand-alone soundbites on the Big Three evening newscasts, and longish segments at the top of the network morning shows, he clearly was the main political player of this news cycle.

The questions that arise are: 1) did he serve himself well? And 2) did he serve the Democratic party well?

Did The Note simply mean to present the questions that mainstream pundits were going to ask? Let’s hope so. As presented, The Note’s list skips the obvious question: Is Gore’s critique right on the merits?

But early punditry avoided substance. On MSNBC, National Review’s Joel Mowbray turned in an instant and woeful appearance, in which he 1) speculated about Gore’s motives for making the speech and 2) speculated about the political fallout for Gore. He forgot to say if Gore was right on the merits. Mike Barnicle turned up within the hour; he too avoided judging substance, sticking to the worthless topics the pundit corps loves so well.

“Motive journalism” is easy and dumb. That seems to be why your pundits love it. After all, you can’t be proven wrong when you mind-read a pol’s naughty motives. But there’s an obvious downside to motive journalism. As long as you stick to mind-reading motives, you can’t help the public decide the life-and-death issues with which we are currently faced.

MASTER OF MOTIVES AND ALL INNER STATES: “Motive journalism” brings out the worst in our scribes. Here was Andrew Sullivan playing Carnac on Tuesday morning, for example:

NOW WE KNOW: I wonder what Al Gore’s champions in the 2000 race who belong to the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic party must think now. Gore unveiled himself in the 2000 campaign as a left-liberal on domestic matters—favoring race-baiting, corporation-bashing and pseudo-populism. But his neo-liberal supporters still supported him. They argued that he was still a foreign policy hawk, that he favored strong American action in the Balkans, that he backed the first Gulf War, that he was pro-Israel to the core. Now we know he was faking that as well. His comments on the war do not surprise me. They don’t make Gore an isolationist, or a reluctant warrior on terror, or any other kind of ideologue. They just show that he is a pure opportunist, with no consistency in his political views on foreign or domestic policy. He’ll say whatever he thinks will get him power or attention or votes. How else to explain his sudden U-turn on Iraq? Two years ago, he was demanding that Saddam must go. Seven months ago, he was calling for a “final reckoning” with Iraq, a state that was a “virulent threat in a class by itself.” Now, with Saddam far closer to weapons of mass destruction, Gore is happy to see Saddam stay in place.
“How to explain [Gore’s] sudden U-turn on Saddam?” Sullivan’s hyperbolic characterization to the side, how about explaining Gore’s position the way that Gore explained it? Gore said that the War on Terror would be damaged by a unilateral War on Saddam (essential allies would be alienated). Americans need to judge that claim. But when pundits mind-read, they tend to get stupid. Sullivan is extra-good at the game, but stupidity is inevitably part of the deal when you let pundits run to pols’ motives.

Sullivan wanted to bash Gore’s motives, so he imagined a puzzling mystery. This side-stepped the question that matters: Is Gore’s claim right on the merits?

AS BILL ENGVALL SAID, HE SHOULD WEAR A SIGN: When pundits play the motive game, they tend to get dumb real fast. For example, consider Sully’s account of what Gore said:

SULLIVAN: Seven months ago, he was calling for a “final reckoning” with Iraq, a state that was a “virulent threat in a class by itself.” Now, with Saddam far closer to weapons of mass destruction, Gore is happy to see Saddam stay in place.
And here’s what Gore actually said this week, early on in his substantive comments:
GORE: I believe that we are perfectly capable of staying the course in our war against Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, while simultaneously taking those steps necessary to build an international coalition to join us in taking on Saddam Hussein in a timely fashion.
Is Gore “happy to see Saddam stay in place?” He said that we should “build an international coalition to join us in taking on Saddam Hussein in a timely fashion.” But remember—when “journalists” rush to recite a pol’s motives, they’re playing the Peggy Noonan game. “It is not hard to imagine what probably happened,” the hapless Noonan has memorably said. So too with Sullivan. He began imagining Gore’s mental states, and quickly was dishing out hoohah.

By the way, here’s what Gore actually said back in Feb.:

GORE: Even if we give first priority to the destruction of terrorist networks, and even if we succeed, there are still governments that could bring us great harm. And there is a clear case that one of these governments in particular represents a virulent threat in a class by itself: Iraq. As far as I am concerned, a final reckoning with that government should be on the table.
Even then, Gore said that the War on Terror was “first priority.” Did he “call for a final reckoning with Iraq?” He said it should be “on the table.” He also stressed, in the February speech, that Bush was too inclined to go it alone. (“The coalition so skillfully assembled by the president is one that may dissipate as rapidly as it coalesced, unless we make an investment in its permanence, beginning with a more evident respect on our part for the views and interests of its members.”) There was no contradiction from Feb to September. But Sully wanted a sweet tale on motive. So he “imagined” Gore hanging a U.

The only thing that matters is whether Gore’s right. But motives are more fun by far.

DUMBEST YET: Michael Kelly never fails us. Today’s column stamps the furious pundit as the dumbest Motive Maven yet. Early on, Kelly shows that his subject will be Gore’s motives for his speech—and Gore’s character:

KELLY: This speech, an attack on the Bush policy on Iraq, was Gore’s big effort to distinguish himself from the Democratic pack in advance of another possible presidential run. It served: It distinguished Gore, now and forever, as someone who cannot be considered a responsible aspirant to power. Politics are allowed in politics, but there are limits, and there is a pale, and Gore has now shown himself to be ignorant of those limits, and he has now placed himself beyond that pale.

Gore’s speech was one no decent politician could have delivered. It was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts—bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible.

Kelly knows Why Gore Has Given The Speech. And he knows What It Shows About Gore’s Troubling Character. But how inane is Kelly’s critique of Gore’s actual claims? At one point—no, we’re not making this up—the fist-shaking pundit says this:
KELLY: Gore uttered his first big lie in the second paragraph of the speech when he informed the audience that his main concern was with “those who attacked us on Sept. 11, and who have thus far gotten away with it.”…

[P]erhaps Gore was talking loosely. No. He made clear in the next sentence this was a considered indictment: “The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the coldblooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized.” If there is a more reprehensible piece of bloody-shirt-waving in American political history than this attempt by a man on the sidelines to position himself as the hero of 3,000 unavenged dead, I am not aware of it.

And, again, this sentence is a lie. The men who “implemented” the “coldblooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans” are not at large. They are dead; they died in the act of murder, on Sept. 11. Gore can look this up.

Maybe it’s technically possible to get dumber than that, but we wouldn’t swear to the proposition. According to Kelly, Gore’s statement about Al Qaeda is “a lie” (stated twice) because the nineteen men who hijacked the planes died when the hijacked planes crashed.

Kelly has long been one of our stupidest (and least temperate) writers. His continued tenure at the Post is an enduring puzzle; he should have been fired in March 1999 when he published “Farmer Al,” one of the most dishonest pieces of Campaign 2000. His continued presence at the Post is a sign of the paper’s low moral standards. And his column today is a brilliant example of how stupid our discourse can get.

Oh, by the way—what did Kelly end up saying about the central claim of Gore’s speech? How did Kelly rebut the charge that a War on Saddam will harm the War on Al Qaeda? Readers, do you have to ask? Kelly never mentions Gore’s claim, let alone attempts to rebut it. Today’s pundit loves the realm of motive, where he can “imagine what probably happened.” But Motive Mavens make a joke of our discourse. Even now, in the face of war, the Michael Kellys won’t stop their buffooning. Socrates was right, so long ago—the weakness of the human heart and mind makes democracy a touch-and-go effort.