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FRANKLY BOGUS! Rich began in a typical way—with an absurd misstatement: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2008

Downward spiral: The downward spiral has been astounding in the past few days—as it has been in the past sixteen years. In the past few days, the downward spiral has involved the insinuations and statements found in an ad like this:

MCCAIN AD (10/10/08): Obama’s blind ambition. When convenient, he worked with terrorist Bill Ayers. When discovered, he lied. Obama: Blind ambition, bad judgment.

He worked with a terrorist—then lied when discovered! On Friday, we saw the result of this sort of conduct when McCain took the mike from a pitiable 75-year-old woman who had just called Obama an “Arab.” She had heard a lot of junk about Obama—and didn’t know she was being misled.

But many voters are like that woman, whose name is Gayle Quinnell. They can’t sort through these emotional claims, through which they are heartlessly used. On Friday, the Associated Press described that ad as “McCain’s toughest commercial yet using Ayers.” The ad was released last Friday—the very day that McCain was telling Quinnell that Obama was “a decent family man with whom I have some disagreements.”

Obama’s a decent man, McCain said. As he said this, he debuted an ad telling people like Quinnell that Obama worked with a terrorist, then lied about his work with the terrorist when it was discovered.

In all candor, no presidential campaign in recent memory has behaved in such an astounding way. And yet, this was Kevin Drum’s reaction to McCain’s chat with that pitiable woman:

DRUM (10/10/08): OK, credit where it's due. After watching his campaign events turn into increasingly ugly free-for-alls, John McCain has apparently decided that enough's enough.

Kevin went on to cut-and-paste Ana Marie Cox, who had engaged in some typically careless work, misquoting Quinnell at that rally (details below). Kevin closed with more praise for McCain’s change of heart: “Good for him. Now I wonder if he can get the same message out to Sarah Palin?”

Truly, that’s astoundingly foolish. But on TV, bigger pundits engaged in standard efforts at finding moral equivalence. In this post, Hilzoy captured Cokie Roberts on This Week, engaged in “stupid fake equivalency.” Meanwhile, on Late Edition, Gloria Borger was blathering this:

BORGER (10/12/08): Well, I think, look—they [the McCain campaign] have run some negative ads, Obama has run some negative ads. Sarah Palin has been out there saying that Barack Obama pals around with terrorists. This is the kind of thing you're going to get to stir up the base.

Borger, of course, has been gruesome for years. To her compliant, risk-averse mind, the claim that Obama “pals around with terrorists”—the claim that he worked with a terrorist, then lied when discoveredseems to constitute run-of-the-mill stuff, “the kind of thing you're going to get to stir up the base.”

Actually, no—no candidate in recent memory has ever campaigned on claims like these. And this remarkable conduct raises a remarkable question: Who within the American discourse has the moral and intellectual authority to discuss this remarkable state of affairs? Below, we’ll start explaining why Frank Rich doesn’t really fit that bill. But this has been a remarkable time—a time which keeps shedding light on the moral and intellectual squalor that has characterized our political discourse over the past sixteen years.

No candidate has ever campaigned on such claims—but similar squalor has been widespread. Paul Krugman reminded us of that fact last Friday, on his New York Times blog. The utter lunacy of these claims isn’t exactly new, Krugman noted:

KRUGMAN (10/10/08): The [financial] crisis isn’t the only scary thing going on. Something very ugly is taking shape on the political scene: as McCain’s chances fade, the crowds at his rallies are, by all accounts, increasingly gripped by insane rage. It’s not just a mob phenomenon—it’s visible in the right-wing media, and to some extent in the speeches of McCain and Palin.

We’ve seen this before. One thing that has been sort of written out of the mainstream history of politics is the sheer insanity of the attacks on the Clintons—they were drug smugglers, they murdered Vince Foster (and lots of other people), they were in league with foreign powers. And this stuff didn’t just show up in fringe publications—it was discussed in Congress, given props by the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, and so on.

This lunacy then spread to the two-year war against Candidate Gore—the war career liberals still rarely discuss. To borrow from Krugman, that war “didn’t just show up in fringe publications” either. It was principally driven by the New York Times, by the Washington Post and by networks like NBC.

As noted, that twenty-month war has also “been sort of written out of the mainstream history of politics.” Indeed, if you want to see someone work that way, please check the work of our favorite perfesser, in this remarkable post. Simply put, that post traffics in deep delusion—a delusion you may not be able to see. But let’s be clear: A movement whose “professors” write nonsense like that is a movement that’s destined to fail.

The meltdown of the financial system was preceded by the meltdown of the discourse. But as Krugman implies, many people still refuse to discus the history of that meltdown. And very few people have the moral authority to critique our continuing downward spiral. There’s much more to come on that remarkable topic, which defines the shape of our world.

It’s time for Josh to go: Then there’s Josh, continuing downward in his own astonishing spiral. This post is simply astounding. It represents an astounding moral/intellectual breakdown. It’s time for this guy to go.

Please note: That 75-year-old woman called Obama an “Arab,” not an “Arab terrorist.” (Not that it hugely matters.) The latter claim began with the endlessly hapless Ana Marie Cox, who engaged in some typically lazy “quotation” (click here), then disappeared for the weekend. (She finally corrected her error this morning, some three days later.) As Wonkette, Cox endlessly played the “dirty girl;” today, she masquerades as a “journalist.” But Josh has become a black helicopter-level nut, as he displays in that ludicrous post. How does Josh do business these days? Even when the tape made it clear that Quinnell hadn’t actually said the word “terrorist,” Josh kept pretending that she might have done so, suggesting that the microphone might have magically turned itself off—no doubt when the black choppers swooped by the event. And he linked you to a tape/transcript of later interviews with Quinnell, saying that she called Obama a “terrorist” there. Except that simply isn’t true either (a point which Cox also fudges today, as her own misstatements continue). For some unknown reason, Josh was determined to peddle this utterly pointless “lie.” He was willing to play the consummate fool to keep this in circulation. (Since “lie” has become Josh’s favorite word, he won’t mind our using it there.)

A progressive world with “leadership” like this will not assist an Obama presidency—or the nation, or the world. It’s clearly time for Josh to go—to go live with his mentor, Sean Hannity.

Special report: Why Riches can’t help!

PART 1—FRANKLY BOGUS: Unfortunately, Frank Rich is quite correct in the basic premise of yesterday’s column. Fairly plainly, John McCain is trying to make voters think of Obama as some sort of terrorist—as a pal to terrorists, as a supporter of terrorists, as someone who lies about ties to terrorists. Obama’s middle name is in wide use. So is a lot of slippery language in McCain’s most recent commercials.

Others have been working this vein, of course. When a pitiable woman told McCain that Obama was an “Arab,” she was reflecting insinuations Rush Limbaugh has been happily pimping (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/24/08). But Rich is right: “The rhetorical conflation of Obama with terrorism is complete” within this campaign. Someone needs to tell American voters about the ways they’re endlessly played on this score. Preferably, the message must be delivered by someone the voters might trust.

Unfortunately, Rich can’t play that role. To understand why, just consider the opening paragraph of yesterday’s truth-challenged column. This opening graf is utterly bogus. Quite literally, Frank Rich can barely open his mouth without lying right in your faces:

RICH (10/10/08): If you think way back to the start of this marathon campaign, back when it seemed preposterous that any black man could be a serious presidential contender, then you remember the biggest fear about Barack Obama: a crazy person might take a shot at him.

Most likely, that blather sounded very good—to a certain group of people who already plan to vote for Obama. But in fact, that’s consummate bull-roar—a fairly obvious lie. As Rich himself surely understands, there was no time in recent history when “it seemed preposterous that any black man could be a serious presidential contender.” That is a story the hacks have cooked to heighten the drama surrounding Obama. But it’s plainly untrue—almost surely a lie. It helps explain why people like Rich can’t help you at moments like this.

Was there a time, at the start of this campaign, “when it seemed preposterous that any black man could be a serious presidential contender?” That claim is just laughably bogus. Just consider Rich’s first column about Obama, which appeared two years ago this month, in October 2006. Rich mocked the overstated “Obamamania” then sweeping through glossy magazine profiles. But after mocking the work of the glossies, the gentleman turned to his major point: Obama should of course run for president:

RICH (10/22/06): This is a lot to put on the shoulders of anyone, even someone as impressive as Mr. Obama. Though he remains a modest and self-effacing guy from all appearances, he is encouraging the speculation about seeking higher office—and not as a coy Colin Powell-style maneuver to sell his new book, ''The Audacity of Hope.'' Mr. Obama hasn't been turning up in Iowa for the corn dogs. He consistently concedes he's entertaining the prospect of a presidential run.

There's no reason to rush that decision now, but it's a no-brainer. Of course he should run, assuming his family is on the same page. He's 45, not 30, and his slender resume in public office (which also includes seven years as a state senator) should be no more of an impediment to him than it was to the White House's current occupant. As his Illinois colleague Dick Durbin told The Chicago Tribune last week, ''I said to him, 'Do you really think sticking around the Senate for four more years and casting a thousand more votes will make you more qualified for president?' '' Instead, such added experience is more likely to transform an unusually eloquent writer, speaker and public servant into another windbag like Joe Biden.

“The more important issue is not whether Mr. Obama will seek the presidency, but what kind of candidate he would be,” Rich continued. He said nothing about the idea he now conjures—the idea that it seemed “preposterous” to think that Barack Obama “could be a serious presidential contender.” And indeed: As soon as Obama announced his candidacy in early 2007, panels of pundits began predicting that he would overtake Hillary Clinton in Dem Party polls by Memorial Day (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/14/08). No one said—no one seemed to think—that his attempt was “preposterous.”

In the real world, none of these pundits called Obama’s attempt preposterous, and Rich said nothing like that either. But then, no one had expressed such a view in 1995, when much of the pundit world begged Colin Powell to run for the White House. Rich wrote several columns about this prospect in the fall of 1995—and once again, he never said how “preposterous” this prospect was. After Powell announced that he wouldn’t be running, Rich recalled the way the corps had created a Powell bandwagon:

RICH (11/11/95): The press coverage will surely, with hindsight, make for hilarious reading. As the public, politicians and journalists alike jumped on the bandwagon, the will to believe in General Powell as a savior ballooned so rapidly that his candidacy soon became a miracle elixir—an instant balm for every ailment in American civic life.

[...]

No wonder everyone was depressed when General Powell took himself out of the race he never entered. For that one brief, shining moment that was known as Powellmania, all the country's worries, with the possible exception of CBS's prime-time schedule, were over.

In 1995, did it “seem preposterous that any black man could be a serious presidential contender?” Rich said no such thing at the time. Neither did anyone else.

In other words: Rich was lying, right in your faces, in the very first sentence of yesterday’s column. But this is a very old habit with Rich—and it helps explain why people like Rich can’t be of much help to the nation. Could McCain’s ugly attacks on Obama start to turn centrist voters? It’s still a possibility. But if those attacks do start to gain traction, hacks like Rich won’t be able to help. Nor will he be able to help if Obama reaches the White House.

TOMORROW—PART 2: The wages of embellishment.