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GEE, THANKS FOR THE HINT! Derision of obvious logic and fact helps show why the center-left loses: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2005

TOMORROW: Hedrick Smith Productions has replied to our post on their PBS program, Making Schools Work. Tomorrow, we’ll post their statement in full. On Monday or Tuesday, we expect to start a longer report on this recent, two-hour program. For the program’s web site, just click here. And here is the program’s full transcript.

DIGBY DOES IT AGAIN: Once again, Digby shows how easy it is to state the world’s most obvious facts. He did so yesterday, in a post which discussed Karl Rove’s dirty-trick history:

DIGBY (10/26/05): This was all known in 2000. Wayne Slater wrote about it in the Dallas Morning News. But the national press corpse was so enamored of their darling narrative that had the simple but virtuous Bush paired against the lying, freakish metrosexual Gore that they couldn't be bothered. And, as we've seen so perfectly demonstrated lately, they have been infected by the toxic political culture that says character assassination and dishonest smears are not only perfectly natural, they are admirable actions by virtuous people.
Huh! According to Digby, “the national press corps was enamored of a narrative” in Campaign 2000—a narrative “that had the simple but virtuous Bush paired against the lying, freakish metrosexual Gore.” This is roughly the most obvious fact on the face of the earth—but it’s one “career liberals” refuse to discuss! It was their publications and their social friends who created and broadcast this punishing narrative, over and over and over again, over the course of twenty long months, from March 99 through November 2000. Their pimping of this idiot narrative eventually sent George Bush to the White House—but even today, career liberals refuse to tell readers about this remarkable, history-changing press event.

American citizens deserve to be told about their own recent history. More specifically, they deserve to hear about the events which sent the woeful Bush to the White House. Once again, Digby shows how easy it is to state the most obvious facts on earth. But scan around your “liberal web,” and see how many of its perfumed careerists ever say a single word about this remarkable part of your history. Today, they loudly ululate about Bush—but refuse to discuss how he got into power. They put their own interests ahead of yours. Can’t you just hear them? Hey, rubes!

Joe Scarborough told the truth about this: If this had been done to a Republican candidate, we’d never hear the end of it—justifiably (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/21/05). But American citizens never hear about that twenty-month War Against Gore. We hope your darlings’ paychecks spend good; we hope they enjoy their future careers. Because, as we scan the “liberal” web, only Digby seems inclined to mention this history-changing, press corps campaign. Only Digby is willing to state the world’s most obvious facts.

PERHAPS IT WAS JUST FORCE OF HABIT: On Monday, Kevin Drum asked an interesting question: Why did the White House go after Joe Wilson on a personal, ad hominem basis? “After all, as Bob Somerby is fond of pointing out,” Kevin wrote, “Joe Wilson's famous July 2003 op-ed in the New York Times didn't actually contradict anything the White House had said.” (Fond of pointing out! We love it when pundits chide a source for stating an obvious fact.) “So why the desperate smear campaign against Wilson?” Kevin wondered. “Even Karl Rove must have known that leaking his wife's name was fantastically reckless and over the top. Why not just point out the lack of contradiction and leave it at that?”

At this point, we wouldn’t say that the White House staged a “smear campaign” against Wilson. And we wouldn’t necessarily assume that Rove and Libby knew Plame was under cover. (Nor would we assume the opposite.) But Kevin asks a very good question—why did they take the personal route? In our view, the famous “16 words” could have been defended on the merits quite easily, especially then. Here’s what the White House could have said in response to Wilson’s column:

WHAT THEY COULD HAVE SAID (7/6/03): But the president only said that Iraq sought uranium in Africa. Joe Wilson’s column—which is informative on several points—didn’t contradict or rebut that claim. And the Brits stand by their intelligence on this matter; they stand by their claim that Iraq sought uranium. Because the claim comes from foreign intelligence, we probably shouldn’t have included it in the president’s speech. But the British finding is very disturbing. We think the president was right to consider it in judging Iraq.
Whether the British claim was right or wrong, the 16 words were fairly easy to defend on the merits. This doesn’t speak to the sincerity of anyone’s conduct. But to people engaged in the rational world, it’s hard to see why a semi-pointless suggestion of trivial nepotism would be more effective than this presentation. “So why the desperate smear campaign?” Kevin asked. “Why not just point out the lack of contradiction and leave it at that?”

Why the smear campaign against Wilson? Before we try to answer that question, we’ll note that we don’t understand Kevin’s answer. He says the State Department already knew, before Bush’s address, that the famous forged documents were, in fact, forged. “And that's what scared them [the White House],” he says—“the possibility that someone was about to expose the story behind the forged documents. That would have blown the pre-war stories about ‘mushroom clouds’ and nuclear programs sky high, and that's what caused them to wildly overreact to Wilson's otherwise innocuous criticisms.” But we don’t understand that argument. The Brits keep saying—rightly or wrongly, in good faith or bad—that their claim isn’t based on the famous forged documents. If everyone had already known that those documents were a bad joke, we don’t see how that would have stopped Bush from citing the British intelligence.

Why then did they get personal with Wilson, instead of simply addressing the merits? First, key answer: We don’t know. After that, we offer two possibilities.

One possibility is the theory Joe Wilson presented. The White House did this to send a warning: We will trash all future dissenters. Indeed, this is what we do to the people we like! (To CIA agents.) This theory assumes that the White House knew and believed that Plame was fully under cover—that her career would be damaged by their conduct. On this theory, the harm of her outing was precisely the point. The White House was telling future dissenters that they would get mashed big-time too.

Is that what happened? We have no idea. But we’ll offer another possibility: Force of habit. In whispering that Wilson got his job due to Plame, the White House skipped the chance to argue the merits; instead, they offered the dumbest possible objection to Wilson’s report. But then, this is precisely how our discourse has worked over the course of the past dozen years. Our discourse has worked on idiot narratives—on the dim-witted stories the “press corps” enjoys. Al Gore is wearing polo shirts on the campaign trail! Incredibly, Brian Williams discussed this inanity over and over during the fall of 1999 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/11/02). Humans simply can’t get dumber. But Williams now sits in Brokaw’s chair. Today’s press world rewards stupid narratives.

Why would anyone actually care if Plame played some role in Wilson’s trip? Who would actually care about that, if Wilson’s report really killed Bush’s claim? Simple—the geniuses of your “press corps” would! For Republican spinners, presenting the Dumbest Possible Tale had been the norm for years and years. Why did they take this idiot route? Perhaps Joe Wilson’s theory is right. Or perhaps it was just force of habit.

GEE, THANKS FOR THE HINT: In fact, we’re puzzled when pundits chide a source for stating an obvious, accurate fact. That’s why our analysts gnashed their teeth when they read this ridiculous post by a very smart person, Josh Marshall.

MARSHALL (10/26/05): As I hinted at...earlier this evening, in his 2003 State of the Union address President did not say "Iraq purchased uranium from Niger" or even that "the British say that Iraq purchased uranium from Niger." He said something much more specific and couched, using language the significance of which would only become clear months later.

"The British government," said the president in the famous sixteen words, "has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

As we learned later that summer and fall, those carefully chosen words had a very precise rationale behind them. The White House tried and failed to get the uranium claim into the October 7th, 2002, Cincinnati speech. The same battle was refought in late January of 2003 as the same parties struggled back and forth over whether the claim would be inserted in the State of the Union address. The CIA refused to countenance the use of the claim. So a compromise of sorts was struck. The president wouldn't be a fact witness to the allegation. He'd hang it on the Brits.

So the president wasn't saying Saddam had bought uranium. He wasn't even saying he'd tried. He said the Brits had "learned" that he tried.

Some White House defenders still hang their hat on this point, arguing that nothing the president said was in fact false. Anybody who got the wrong impression just didn't read the fine print.

That argument (let's call it 'the con-man defense') speaks for itself, I think.

Gee, thanks for the hint! According to Josh, he had earlier “hinted” at something that had been clear for two years: Bush only said that Iraq “sought” uranium in Africa, not that an actual purchase occurred. But then Josh went on to batter those who have drawn attention to this obvious fact. Somehow, they’re presenting a “con-man defense”—a defense that somehow turns on “fine print.” And there’s something very bogus about this “con-man defense;” in fact, this “con-man defense” is so bogus that Josh doesn’t get around to explaining just what’s supposed to be bogus about it! “It speaks for itself,” he slickly explains. It’s sad beyond words when our liberal “best and brightest” thus deride simple fact and simple logic.

What exactly is the “fine print?” In his speech, Bush said Iraq sought uranium. Wilson’s column didn’t contradict that. But back in July 2003, liberals were eager for a simple narrative—and we were too dumb and too hapless to create a strong story. So we pretended we didn’t notice the logical problems with Wilson’s colorful narrative. And today, more than two years later, Josh still pretends that folk are being “con men” when they mention the world’s simplest facts.

Of course, Josh never mentions another fact—the obvious fact Digby mentioned on Wednesday. Just what is it about simple facts that makes career liberals go wobbly?

THE JOYS OF THE TOWN MOUSE: Our overworked analysts chuckled last Friday when Dana Milbank took a shot at our liberal web. The asp-tongued scribe was answering questions in an on-line forum:

QUESTION (10/21/05): Best conspiracy theory you've heard this year?

MILBANK: ...My favorite was that Judy Miller was the Typhoid Mary of the Plame-Wilson affair: That she was the one that got the information about Plame's role at the CIA and then spread it to people at the White House.

It would seem that theory is inoperative.

Inoperative, yes—but fun while it lasted! For a blast from the recent, thigh-rubbing past, you can see this “theory” getting pimped at the Speculation Post—where liberal “news” now consists in dreaming up tales, then pretending that these tales might be accurate. Please please please please please, we now say. Oh please let these stories be right!

Readers, children address the world in this manner. In the past few months, in fact, we have often recalled an old Town Mouse/Country Mouse tale. In it, the Town Mouse fails to lay in stores for the winter. Then he wails and complains when the cold storms begin.

Relevance? At present, the center-left badly needs to develop a winning politics. But what have we done for the past few months? We’ve sat around, inventing dumb tales, tales we find extremely pleasing. Trust us: The adults on the other side are still working hard in their message shops. (The other said runs a capable message machine.) In the future, they’ll eat our clowning for lunch. Once again, we’ll flounder badly, just as the Town Mouse once did.

Trust us: A movement which functions like this is a movement doomed to long-term failure. It can only hope that, every 35 years, a Republican White House will blunder so badly that they’ll get themselves arrested. But our side won’t have the toughness or smarts to defeat these twits in battle. We will have to stand aside, complaining—and waiting for our more industrious opponents to get themselves thrown in prison again. This will produce a few minor gains—after which we’ll be mangled again. (Reagan came soon after Nixon.) So it will be as we silly Town Mice sit around and conduct a long party.

But oh, what fun, to invent pleasing tales! To pretend that the indictment of Rove will change the politics we can’t seem to handle. But the silly stories keep getting churned—take a look at this ludicrous tale, for example. As we seem to recall Nietzsche saying: We’re dreaming—and we don’t want it to stop!