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STUBBORN FACTS! We parse Dean Broder’s slick take on the facts. And Tailgunner Chris takes down Wellstone:


PARSING BRODER: Phew! What a mess we authored yesterday, bungling the facts on incumbent Dem govs (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/7/02). There’s no excuse, though there are explanations, some of which we’ll roll out next week as we likely adjust our DAILY schedule. But we do stand by the basic point that we managed to mangle. Have you ever seen such sweeping conclusions drawn from such election events? This past Tuesday, the Dems lost five seats in Congress, House and Senate combined. And two of those losses were plane wreck-related; Mondale lost a five-day campaign, and Jean Carnahan—her late husband’s replacement—almost won despite the fact that she was running her first campaign. Has such an election ever been described as a “rout” or “debacle?” The loss of the Senate has major consequences, to be sure. But President Bush stumped far and wide. The Reps outspent the Dems by a mile. September 11 has changed our world. Despite all that, Carnahan—an amateur—almost won, and Tim Johnson retained his seat, running in a Republican state which Bush stumped through five times. Nonetheless, your pundits rush to make this a “rout.” This tells us more about our script-reading scribes than it does about what really happened.

Yesterday, pundits rushed to say What Really Occurred. More thoughtful appraisals are already being made. We advise you to thumb through them carefully.

Meanwhile, let’s nail down those stubborn facts. Once again, here is the passage from Broder to which we reacted:

BRODER: The election demonstrated more than Bush’s personal support. A striking feature was the success of Republican incumbents at all levels. Not a single Republican governor running for reelection lost. The only incumbent Republican senator defeated was Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas.
The Dean was being slick. In fact, Republicans did lose an incumbent governor—Scott McCallum of Wisconsin. But McCallum wasn’t “running for reelection;” he moved up from lieutenant governor when Tommy Thompson went to Washington. Broder’s wordplay helped him tell you the story he liked. Here then are the actual facts. Three incumbent govs went down—one Republican, two Democrats. Three incumbent senators lost—again, one Rep, two Dems. Those are the facts from which Broder produced his “striking” story. And by the way, here’s a question to American pundits: Did you know that your heralded dean could be so, well, so “Clintonesque?”

(Note: Like McCallum, Jean Carnahan was an incumbent, but she wasn’t “running for reelection.”)

HIM TOO: We also think we were a bit unfair to E. J. Dionne in yesterday’s column. (Never critique a piece on the day that it’s written. Never critique a piece on the day that it’s written. Never…) We do think that Dionne, like most “good guy” pundits, has failed to fight the good fight in the past few years. But Dionne does make good points in his column. Here was his closing passage, from which we took an excerpt:

DIONNE: Republicans stand for things and have passion. They have built a powerful network of fundraisers, lobbyists, think tanks, consultants, talk-show hosts and grass-roots activists. They now have control of the federal government. Democrats have to learn how to oppose, how to organize and how to inspire. In this election, they failed at all three.
Most of that is perfectly accurate. But what Dionne has often failed to discuss is the dissembling and spinning of those “think tanks, consultants and talk-show hosts” who know exert so much control on our discourse. For the record, we don’t ask Dionne to fight the fight because Dems should win and Reps should lose. We ask him to fight because a gonzo form of political correctness is spreading through our public discourse, and Dionne—like most of our “good guy” pundits—persistently fails to correct the dissembling which now drives our political life.

All through Campaign 2000, gonzo spin-points made a joke of our discourse. They were driven by those talk-show hosts. Dionne made little effort to reply.

What kind of gonzo work do we mean? Consider Chris Caldwell’s regrettable piece in the current Weekly Standard.

SPEAKING OF SINISTER EULOGIES: Does Christopher Caldwell have any idea what went on at the Wellstone service? Toward the end of his nasty piece in the Weekly Standard, he makes this inaccurate statement:

CALDWELL: The service blew a gigantic raspberry at [Wellstone’s] worldview. The late senator was treated as little more than one broken egg in a great get-out-the-vote omelet. The pilots and aides who died with him were barely treated at all. This Machiavellian glibness in the face of death was what left viewers most uneasy.
Was Caldwell actually one of those viewers? In fact, three full speeches were made about all the aides who died in the plane crash with Wellstone. None of those speeches were “political.” Two more speeches followed them, concerning Wellstone’s wife and daughter. In fact, the Rick Kahn speech which drove viewers wild was the sixth separate speech of the evening. Caldwell doesn’t seem to know this. But then, Caldwell makes other simple misstatements, which seem designed to stampede the herd:

CALDWELL: Most of those who watched this spectacle felt a disgust bordering on shame. Lott and Ventura walked out of the service, and Ventura announced he had changed his mind about appointing a Democrat to hold Wellstone’s seat for the next two months.

A good story, but the implication is false; Lott made it perfectly clear that he didn’t “walk out of the service.” He left to catch an airplane. But Caldwell’s tale is designed to stir, as when he pens this portrait:

CALDWELL: Millions of Americans…found a rally devoted to a politics that was twisted, pagan, childish, inhumane, and even totalitarian beyond their worst nightmares. The crowd of 20,000 booed a succession of people who had come to pay their respects to a dead colleague: Senate minority leader Trent Lott, Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, and former Minnesota senators Rod Grams and Rudy Boschwitz.
Ignore, for now, the scribe’s bizarre language. Did “the crowd of 20,000” boo? As we’ve noted, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported “a scattering of boos” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/31/02); we watched almost the entire event, and never heard a bit of booing. Again, Caldwell shows few signs of having watched the event. Instead, he writes to stir the masses. And such pandering shall always push Bubba:
CALDWELL: Former president Bill Clinton appeared on the Jumbo-Tron yuk-yukking and giving thumbs-up signs, looking happier than he had since. . . well, since Ron Brown’s funeral.
Of course, Lott also appeared on the big screen “yuk-yukking it up” with neighboring pols. This was a celebration, not a funeral; the remembrance speeches were filled with humor. But then, Caldwell may not know that either. He just types up the tale that will work.

Caldwell’s piece is persistently ugly. He makes the following charge about Wellstone, offering no support or explanation:

CALDWELL: Iowa senator Tom Harkin’s tribute to Wellstone as a man who “made a miner up on the Iron Range know that he was as important as the president of the United States” may have been true for some miners (and some presidents). Harkin may have been right to say that Wellstone fought “or those who mop our floors and clean our bathrooms, for those who take care of our elderly, take care of our sick, teach our kids, help our homeless.” But the poor were Wellstone’s topic, not his constituency. Wellstone’s constituency was academic leftists. We don’t doubt that his struggle helped rescue the poor on occasion. But the help they got was incidental to his larger struggle, which was to rescue the consciences of his fellow professors.
Huh! How does Caldwell know something like that? He doesn’t bother to tell us. Instead, he rattles off agit-prop that comes from an earlier era. As we’ve seen, participants at the Wellstone service were “twisted, pagan, and even totalitarian.” Kahn, who spoke about his friend, was guilty of “Maoist denunciations.” (Of whom? Caldwell doesn’t manage to say, but then, he doesn’t seem to have seen the event. He also weirdly accuses Kahn of “stag[ing] a confrontation…that was reminiscent of a Maoist reeducation camp.”) According to Caldwell, Kahn engaged in “a sinister incident, unexampled in recent American politics.” And Wellstone himself? He’s a phony and fraud. Here’s Caldwell’s principled eulogy:
CALDWELL: The tendencies Wellstone represented are a real and serious corner of our political landscape. We won’t pretend to like this politics: With its obsessive focus on sexuality and race issues, its embrace of the anti-Western side in all conflicts, its combination of class privilege and class envy, its political correctness and its authoritarian speech codes, the leftism espoused almost unanimously on university faculties (and elsewhere) most often strikes us as irresponsible.
Tailgunner Joe couldn’t talk the talk better. Wellstone was somehow connected with “authoritarian” codes and with embrace of the “anti-western.” But when exactly had Wellstone made that embrace? Caldwell, busy misstating facts, skips past such small elucidations.

Caldwell offers the type of work that increasingly fouls our discourse. And of course, he served it up just in time to stampede the steers to the polls—voters who likely had no idea that Caldwell was baldly misleading them. To these people, the crowd of 20,000 booed, and the evening was Maoist, totalitarian and sinister. This is the kind of gonzo work that our “good guy” pundits have looked past for years. This is the kind of work done by those “talk show hosts” to whom Dionne so blandly refers.

Indeed, Dionne himself cites the Wellstone event. Here is his full treatment:

DIONNE: The paradox is that Democrats looked partisan—witness the Wellstone memorial rally—even as they were being accommodationist. The Republicans shrouded their partisanship behind a “let’s work together” veil. Democratic political consultants should go through an agonizing reappraisal of what they do.
According to Dionne, Dems looked partisan in this election—and he cites the Wellstone event as his proof. But did Republicans ever “look partisan” this week—when legions wrote columns like Caldwell’s, for example? Trembling pundits like E. J. Dionne know they must never express such vile theories. Our public discourse is now being driven by those who yell “Maoist” for their own cheering mobs. Scribes like Dionne need to got off their keisters and notice, for the sake of democracy.

FREE MONEY? Some have challenged our use of the term “free money” to describe the Bush tax cuts and Social Security plan (see yesterday’s HOWLER). If you’ve listened to Rush in the past many years, you can recite the points that were offered. (“It’s our money,” etc., and so on. “It doesn’t belong to the government.”)

Dudes! There’s nothing wrong with proposing tax cuts, and there’s nothing wrong with proposing “personal accounts.” But there is something wrong with proposing such plans and deliberately hiding the tradeoffs. For example, John Kasich offered a “partial privatization” plan to Congress, back in the days when Repubs used that term. But Kasich explained the downside of his plan, explicitly saying that many people would do less well under his proposal. He explicitly said there was “sacrifice” involved. By contrast, Candidate Bush pretended that his Social Security plan had no downside whatsoever. In making that kind of fairy tale pitch, he offered the voters “free money.”

The links we offered in yesterday’s HOWLER spell out the background on both these topics. By the way, why haven’t our e-mailers heard such discussions before? Easy. Caldwell’s crowd has spun them for years, and Dionne’s crowd doesn’t quite dare to tell them.