First, there may not be much to explain here. When the electorate goes from 49-49 (Bush-Gore) to 51-48 (Bush-Kerry), that is a very minor change. Except on the micro level at which political pros work, its not clear that theres anything much to explain here. And when a change in the vote is so small, almost any factor can be said to explain it. For example, how many points did Kerry lose because of the endless Swift Boat attacks? We dont know how to answer that question, but we havent seen the Swift Boat matter come up very often in the instant explanations. Instead, Stampeding Pundits have rushed toward a few standard explanations of the minor change in voter behavior. Sorry—there will rarely be a way to explain such a change, although many aspects of Campaign 04 are, of course, well worth discussing.
But we are all human, and we humans reason very poorly unless we work hard to stay on track. Such hard work is foreign to our press corps. How does the press corps approach an election? First, pundits waste their time (and ours) for weeks trying to predict the elections outcome. And lets face it, these efforts tend to go very poorly.( In this election, John Zogby couldnt come close to predicting the outcome ten hours after the voting began!) But so what? Hours later, predictions in ruins, pundits begin explaining the outcome—the outcome which they couldnt predict. Of course, they cant explain it either—but in that case, there is no objective check on the high theories that they throw off.
Why did this race end up 51-48? Most pundits cant answer to that question, and dont even know how to approach it. We make this suggestion: Beware explanation. Many aspects of this election are worth discussing. But most of the pundits you see on TV wont even know what they are.
DRY YOUR EYES AND NAMES SOME NAMES: Eric Alterman got some fascinating e-mails in the wake of Tuesdays election. This one, from a North Carolina reader, especially caught our eye:
E-MAIL TO ALTERMAN (11/4/04): I read your articles with a lot of interest, and appreciate the insight you give me. So let me try to give you some.Why did this reader vote for Bush? He says the Democratic Party has belittled his beliefs, dismissing them out of hand, and has addressed him publicly as intellectually challenged for holding to the faith of my fathers. Oops, sorry—one clarification. The readers says the Democratic Party and/or those people who purport to speak for it has engaged in this behavior.
On many social issues I agreed with Kerry more than Bush. Certainly on the war in Iraq I agree with Kerry that it is a train wreck and we need a entirely new direction.
So why did I vote for Bush? I am a born-again Christian, my faith is critically important to me. As long as the Democratic Party, and/or those people who purport to speak for it, belittle my beliefs, dismissing them out of hand, and address me publicly as intellectually challenged for holding to the faith of my fathers, you will never get my vote. How can I trust your party to lead me when you so obviously (and vociferously) denigrate those values I hold most dear?
You may not agree with us. That's OK, this is America, pluralism is a wonderfully legacy we all share. But if you do not respect us you will find it very hard to ever have the opportunity to lead us.
Lets ignore that expansive escape clause and think of the Dem Party proper. We think its time for readers like this to name the names of actual Dems who have actually belittled them in this manner. Who exactly addressed him publicly as intellectually challenged for holding to the faith of his fathers? Was it Southern Baptist Bill Clinton, from Hot Springs, Arkansas? Was it Southern Baptist Al Gore, from Carthage, Tennessee? Was it Jimmy Carter? Was it Joe Lieberman? Was it John Edwards, from the readers own state? Or was it French-speaking John Kerry himself, the haughty man who dares to wind-surf? If so, when did this insult occur? When exactly has any Dem leader ever behaved in the manner described? When exactly did the Dem Party belittle the readers religious beliefs and address him publicly as intellectually challenged? When exactly did this occur? Or did it really occur in a dream? Or perhaps in a rant on talk radio?
Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! For ourselves, were tired of all the blubbering self-pity which emanates hourly from talk radio. We heard it yesterday, right here in this city, as a balanced panel of four talk-show conservatives cried about elitist Dems who went to Harvard. Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! Big wet tears splashed down their cheeks as these fakers and phonies tossed hay to the herd. For ourselves, were tired of being polite about all this self-pity and fakery. We think its time for Altermans reader to stand up on his feet like a man and name the names of the actual Dems who actually behaved in this manner.
Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! The e-mailer thinks Iraq is a train wreck and we need a entirely new direction. But so what? He went ahead and voted for George Bush anyway—because he says that someone has belittled his faith. For ourselves, were tired of seeing red-state belly-achers turn off their radios and get a free pass on claims of this kind. Who is it? With respect to Altermans reader, who has belittled his beliefs, dismissing them out of hand, and addressed him publicly as intellectually challenged? Its time for these people to name a few names—and its time for Dems, libs and centrists to make them.
So to Altermans reader, we pose these question: Who was it? Was it Clinton? Gore? Kerry? Who exactly belittled your beliefs? Try to stop crying for maybe five minutes and tell us which Dems deserve reproach. Or failing that, could you maybe (quoting Bill OReilly) just shut up?
NASCAR PUNDITS: Maybe Dems have belittled the readers beliefs about NASCAR! The story of the New York Times latest bogus quote reached an amusing conclusion Wednesday morning. Newsweek genius Howard Fineman was discussing the election with addled Don Imus. Having bungled his prediction—he said Kerry would win—Fineman proceeded to his explanations. Yes, this exchange really happened:
IMUS (11/3/04): Why did Senator Kerry lose?Perfect! Kerry didnt know anything about the red states of the country, Fineman said. And what was the proof of this ludicrous claim? For proof, Fineman recited that fake NASCAR quote—a statement Kerry never uttered. (Links to prior reports below.) For the record, Fineman jacked the fake quote up aq bit, as seems to be de rigeur in these matters. You know the Hard Pundit Law: Take a fake song and make it faker! Fineman became the first pundit weve seen to change the invented word among to the more pleasing, more foppish amongst.
FINEMAN: Well, Senator Kerry lost, as Chris [Matthews] was saying in the last hour, because he just did not sell well in red-state America...Other than his brief tour of duty in Vietnam, John Kerry doesnt know anything about red-state America. And every time he went there, he betrayed it. Whether he was talking about Lambert Field, where the, where the Packers play, or whether, or, you know, Who amongst us doesnt love NASCAR, whatever else he said, it indicated, it was clear he didnt know anything about the red states of the country.
But there you see, in all its brilliance, the stupidity—and phoniness—of your Big Press Corps. Back in March, Maureen Dowd had somehow come up with her latest fake quote, and it had spread through the New York Times firmament. Repeated by Stolberg (supposedly, the original reporter). Repeated by Tierney; repeated by Egan; even repeated by the great Rich himself! And then, the quote spread to the wider media. Repeated by Newsweek; repeated by Time; repeated in several syndicated columns—and always accompanied by belittling remarks about what a big fake (or big stiff) Kerry was! And of course, even when it became clear that this quote had been a mistake, the magisterial New York Times never got around to correcting. Result? The morning after your election was held, there was Fineman, reciting again. Perhaps he wanted an explanation as dumb as his bogus predictions.
No, the New York Times didnt correct, nor would Fineman likely have heard if they had. There is no apparent culture of correction in the press corps; pleasing errors, when corrected, dont seem to get discussed. And no, this phony quote didnt swing the election, as phony Campaign 2000 quotes did. But here again we see the way the press corps invents the stories it likes. The corps had decided: John Kerrys a stiff. So they somehow managed to gin up a quote which helped readers reach this conclusion.
Meanwhile, Dowds track record grows and grows. Yes, it was her crackpot columns which invented the Love Story nonsense. Yes, it was she who invented the phrase inner slut—the quote that got dumped on Naomi Wolf. The phrase was routinely used in 1999 when the press corps conducted its smutty trashing of Wolf. No, the phrase doesnt exist in Wolfs work. But so what? Dowd put the pleasing phrase into play, and thigh-rubbing pundits ranto repeat it. Just last March, a half-witted writer named Suzanne Moore was still pimping it in the New Statesman:
MOORE (3/1/04): Wolf continues, however, to come in for criticism. She had wanted a revolution; what she got was a Venezuelan, wrote one wit, referring to her childcare arrangements. The wonderful columnist Maureen Dowd dismissed her brand of politics as bimbo feminism. When Wolf got a job as image consultant to the disastrously wooden Al Gore, telling the then vice-president to present himself as an alpha male, she was roundly mocked. After all, this was the woman who had encouraged us in Promiscuities to get in touch with our inner slut.Oops. Promiscuities is a beautiful book—and no, the phrase inner slut doesnt appear in it. But so what? The phrase now appears inside quotation marks because of that wonderful columnist.
Dowd, of course, is a backlash hack, a simpering throwback to the old womens pages. But the press corps loves her hiss-meow type—Wonkette is Dowd with dirty words—and it seems to love her mistaken quotes best of all. The New York Times didnt bother correcting—and Fineman was there to recite once again. His fearless predictions had been wrong, all wrong, and he wanted explanations to match them.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Kerry never made the NASCAR quote. For background on Dowds latest bungled quote, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/2/04, with links to a prior report.
UNBEAT THE DRUM SLOWLY: Omigod! The Times corrected! On Tuesday morning, liberal pundit Kevin Drum had uncorked the papers latest wild pitch. Given three paragraphs on the Times op-ed page, he used the first to invent a new slander of Gore. (For those of you who dont understand the point of these matters, this is how a partys image is eroded and destroyed—by fake attacks on its honored past leaders.) Heres what the liberal Drum somehow wrote:
DRUM (11/2/04): Four years ago, Vice President Al Gore bungled his first presidential debate with George Bush. He sighed theatrically, he rolled his eyes heavenward and periodically crossed the stage to loom over Mr. Bush like an impatient schoolmarm. America was not amused, and four weeks later George Bush was elected president.That statement was bizarrely inaccurate, as we explained all over again (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/2/04). And omigod! The Times corrected! Well—in fact, they pseudo-corrected. Heres the best they were willing to do on Wednesdays op-ed page:
NEW YORK TIMES (11/3/04): An Op-Ed article yesterday about the presidential campaign included an incorrect reference to the 2000 debates. Al Gore crossed the stage and approached George W. Bush in the third debate, not the first.Half-hearted, isnt it? Drum hadnt said that Gore crossed the stage and approached George W. Bush. He had said that Gore engaged in this conduct repeatedly, looming over Mr. Bush like an impatient schoolmarm. And he said that America hated this conduct so much that it cost Gore the first debate. That all came from Drums imagination, along with much of that theatrical sighing. But so what? When the great, mighty Times deigned to correct, they didnt try to tell their readers how wrong were the things they had read.
Who knows? Maybe its better that the mighty Times didnt correct Dowds latest false quote. Who knows what Kerry might have ended up saying if theyd revisited their purring scribes latest error.
STILL COMING: Kinsley on PNAC; Teddy White v. Wilgoren; Fred Hiatts Election Day worry.