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KEEP IT SIMPLE! The Post is puzzled by Senator Kerry. Therein lies an ancestral tale:

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2002

KEEP IT VERY SIMPLE: We’ve puzzled over the press corps for years. But in some ways, this morning’s lead editorial in the Washington Post is one of the most surprising texts we have ever examined.

On Iraq, the Post is peeved with the president’s critics. “Critics have emphasized risks that the administration has skated over and have urged an effort to build alliances,” the Post writes. “What the critics have not always done is offer a cogent alternative policy. One could make a case that the risks of disarming Saddam Hussein outweigh the costs of living with his regime,” the paper continues. “We would not be persuaded, but the argument is respectable.”

The Post then lights into Bush’s critics, who have not made respectable or cogent presentations. It was the Post’s reaction to Senator Kerry that made us think very deep thoughts:

THE WASHINGTON POST: For the most part, though, the critics have not taken this tack. They have, rather, like Mr. Kennedy, acknowledged that Saddam Hussein is an unacceptable danger but then objected that Mr. Bush is responding too quickly or too aggressively. Or they have tried to have things more than one way, as in this statement from Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.): “Let there be no doubt or confusion as to where I stand: I will support a multilateral effort to disarm Iraq by force, if we have exhausted all other options. But I cannot—and will not—support a unilateral, U.S. war against Iraq unless the threat is imminent and no multilateral effort is possible.” But if Saddam Hussein is dangerous now, he will grow only more so as he rearms without the restraint of international inspectors or meaningful trade sanctions. And if the threat is so great as to justify a war, can it really be safe not to act just because U.S. allies won’t go along?
We regard this as one of the most striking texts we have reviewed in our years at THE HOWLER.

Let’s note first: The Post’s account of Kennedy’s stance is extremely low wattage. There is nothing strange about the view the paper attributes to the solon—the view that Saddam is an unacceptable danger but Bush is responding too quickly. Kennedy may be right or he may be wrong in these views, but there is nothing contradictory or irrational about them. But for some reason, this is the paper’s first example of those troubling critics of Bush—the critics who haven’t made a “respectable case” or offered a “cogent policy.”

But regarding Kerry, the paper’s stance is startling. For those who are able to process English, this is what Kerry has said:

  1. He would first seek a multilateral, non-military effort to disarm Iraq (presumably, some sort of voluntary inspections).
  2. If that fails, he would support a multilateral military effort to disarm Iraq.
  3. He would support a unilateral military approach if the threat from Saddam became imminent.
This is about as confusing as 2 plus 5. Indeed, this resembles the sequence the Bush administration now seems to be pursuing. But to all appearances, the Washington Post is profoundly perplexed by the senator’s puzzling proposal. For unknown reasons, the editorial says that Kerry is “tr[ying] to have things more than one way”—as he lays out the very sequence which the Bush admin seems to be following. And surely, the Post’s final sentence here is a keeper. “[I]f the threat is so great as to justify a war,” the paper asks, “can it really be safe not to act just because U.S. allies don’t go along?” The answer is clear in Kerry’s statement: No. In his statement, Kerry clearly says that he would be willing to go to war even if U.S. allies won’t go along.

It’s rare that our press corps’ intellectual limits are put on display quite so baldly. As described, Kennedy’s “tack” is perfectly cogent, whether you agree with it or not. And Kerry lays out a simple sequence—a sequence which children could follow. Indeed, this is the stance which Kerry described last week when he met with young cadets at the Citadel (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/3/02). On that evening, teen-aged students debated the senator with perfect understanding. At The Post, though, confusion is all.

We often marvel at the low-voltage work turned out by the celebrity press corps. In most cases, one can’t tell if the scribes are as weak of mind as they may appear, or if they are simply dissembling. But here, The Post lays it right on the line; a startling inability to reason is manifest. These passages from The Post should be startling. But on the basis of this kind of work, our council of war is being conducted at the top of our celebrity press corps.

Socrates warned us long ago—the human mind is very weak. Our manifest human limitations would make democracy a very tough go. This morning’s editorial should be deeply sobering, and it surely brings us face to face with a well-known, ancestral conundrum.

DOING THE PUNDITS’ JOB FOR THEM: It’s sad that it fell to Senator Byrd to lay out the obvious question. Indeed, why is the Congress handing its powers over to the president this week? Almost everyone seems to agree: In time, a decision will probably have to be made concerning military action in Iraq. So why is the Congress handing over its authority today, instead of waiting for the day when final judgments will be on the table?

This question is very basic. We’ve seen it raised by Senator Boxer; today, Byrd lays it out clearly. But when you read the work of the Washington Post—and when you read yesterday’s nonsense from David Broder (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/9/02)—is it any wonder that the simplest questions have to come from aging pols, rather than from the self-pleased persons who comprise our celebrity “press corps?”