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RULE BY THE WRONG! Feingold provides a rule of the road. Helpfully, we cite another: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2006

SCRIPT BY THE FATUOUS/RULE BY THE WRONG: On last night’s Countdown, Senator Feingold touched on a key part of our dysfunctional public culture. You might call it “rule by the wrong:”
FEINGOLD (12/6/06): The fact is this [Baker-Hamilton] commission was composed apparently entirely of people who did not have the judgment to oppose this Iraq war in the first place, and did not have the judgment to realize it was not a wise move in the fight against terrorism. So that's who is doing this report.

Then I looked at the list of who testified before them. There is virtually no one who opposed the war in the first place. Virtually no one who has been really calling for a different strategy that goes for a global approach to the war on terrorism. So this is really a Washington inside job and it shows, not in the description of what's happened—that's fairly accurate—but it shows in the recommendations.
We’ll let others debate Feingold’s view of the Baker-Hamilton recommendations. For ourselves, we were struck by Feingold’s statement about the make-up of the commission itself. In short, to be considered for the commission, you pretty much had to be wrong from the start. But then, it’s often true in our modern public culture: No one who’s right need apply. We first discussed this weird part of our culture in the case of the sad disappearance of Scott Ritter. Before the war, he was right about WMD in Iraq—and therefore was banned from the discourse (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/4/04).

But if we’re often ruled by the wrong, we get our script from the fatuous. For example, try to believe what Cynthia Tucker said on Sunday’s Chris Matthews Show. Guest host Andrea Mitchell raised the tired old question about Hillary Clinton’s vote to authorize Bush to wage war (described by Mitchell as her “vote for the war”). “Is she vulnerable to a candidate from the left like Barack Obama, who was against the war—even though he didn't have to vote, he wasn't elected then, at that time—or Al Gore?” Mitchell asked. First, Elisabeth Bumiller took a go. Then, Tucker weirdly said this:
TUCKER (12/3/06): She gives a better answer [about her vote] than John Kerry, who said something like “I voted against it before I voted for it.”

MITCHELL: There is no worse answer than John Kerry's.

JOE KLEIN: Right.

TUCKER: Absolutely. I also think that the peacenik wing of the Democratic Party may have learned a lesson from their failures in Connecticut, where Ned Lamont lost in the general election to Joe Lieberman. The simple fact of the matter is, every serious Democrat who was in the Senate at the time voted for the war—or voted to authorize the president—and Al Gore was one of the few Senate Democrats who voted in 1991 for the first Gulf War.
Let’s start with the pundit corps’ persistent failure to observe even the simplest distinctions, or to maintain even modest respect for the facts. Pundits have never tired of mocking Kerry for the statement which Tucker cited. But Kerry wasn’t talking about his vote on the war resolution (his “vote for the war”) when he made the statement Tucker cited; he was talking about his vote, a year later, on a funding measure. But as we’ve long noticed, the people who run our public discourse are in love with novelized tales, not with facts. Once they’ve come up with a pleasing narration, they’ll recite it in every way possible. Once again, we see it here, as three pundits agree on a pleasing tale. “Right,” says Klein. “Absolutely,” says Tucker—each of them bungling simple facts.

But it was the highlighted part of Tucker’s statement which deserved special attention. After scorning “the peacenik wing of the Democratic Party”—the part of the party which turned out to be right—Tucker made an astonishing statement. According to Tucker, “The simple fact of the matter is, every serious Democrat who was in the Senate at the time...voted to authorize the president.” In saying this, she reinvents the history. No people who were right need apply? Instead, to hear Cynthia Tucker tell it, people who were right didn’t even exist! Thanks to Tucker, they’ve been disappeared. No serious Dem opposed the resolution? Tucker doesn’t say how many Dems voted no. But in her telling, these folk were just clowns.

The reality? In the Senate vote of October 11, 2002, twenty-one Democratic senators voted against the war resolution. Feingold was one of those senators—and yes, he’s a serious person. But then, a long string of serious Dems voted “no” in the Senate. Senator Wellstone voted no; so did Senator Reed, from Rhode Island. Senators Durbin/Leahy/Conrad/Boxer/Levin all voted no; so did Senator Kennedy. But to Tucker, none of these are “serious” people. Neither are Sarbanes and Mikulski, our own state’s senators. Like harlequins, they voted no too.

Tucker’s statement was par for the course, but astounding—and no panelist raised his hand to correct it. Nor did anyone note the fact that the “peacenik wing” of the Democratic Party was the wing which turned out to be right. Of course, we can always make excuses for Tucker, imagining what she meant to say. But Feingold’s statement plays nicely with Tucker’s; together, they show us the shape of our discourse. Because our modern elites are so constantly wrong, they must constantly disappear those who were right. Result? Inside a Washington hearing room, ten well-known people who were wrong from the start tell the nation what to do next. And on our TVs, just three days before, a gang of utterly fatuous scribes hand the simple fact of the matter: No serious person was right on Iraq, our script-runners primly proclaim.

ROLL CALL: Here are the Dems who voted no on the war resolution. (They were joined by one Republican—Chafee, R.I.—and one independent—Jeffords, Vt.) Of course, in the mind of a fatuous tribune, none of these people is actually “serious.” For that reason, if you watch The Chris Matthews Show, these people will be disappeared:
Akaka, Hawaii
Bingaman, N.M.
Boxer, Calif.
Byrd, W.Va.
Conrad, N.D.
Corzine, N.J.
Dayton, Minn.
Durbin, Ill.
Feingold, Wis.
Graham, Fla.
Inouye, Hawaii
Kennedy, Mass.
Leahy, Vt.
Levin, Mich.
Mikulski, Md.
Murray, Wash.
Reed, R.I.
Sarbanes, Md.
Stabenow, Mich.
Wellstone, Minn.
Wyden, Ore.
Not a serious person among them! It’s no wonder this country’s a mess.

SCRIPTINGS OF THE RICH AND FATUOUS: If you’re right, you will be marginalized—and fatuous tribunes will handle the script-work. Tucker noted that Gore was right on Iraq in the fall of 2002. Indeed, it became clear this year that Gore had been right on Iraq in 2002—and that he’d been right about warming all along. These facts, of course, only made him a target. In 2002, then again this year, one pundit worked especially hard to discredit Gore’s troubling judgments. Frankly, we thought his scriptings were Rich—but many of our readers adore him! We think those readers have purchased bad bait. To recall the Rich way your world really works, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/9/06.

WE MAY EVEN BUY IT: Uh-oh! “The thoughts become darker as the centuries fly by. The armed nation state arises, concentrating power in the hands of small elites...” That’s William Grimes, in today’s New York Times, reviewing Roger Osborne’s new book, Civilization. We couldn’t help thinking of Feingold and Tucker when we read the excerpt we’ve quoted here—Osborne’s statement about all that power in the hands of those “small elites.”

At one point, Grimes quotes Osborne on the Renaissance: “not so much a period of history as the repository of the myths we have created about western civilization.” For our money, the leading such “myth” would have to be this one, lodged in our hearts from the dawn of the west: Man is the rational animal. Of course, we humans aren’t especially rational, as any rational animal could see. But the pleasing notion is lodged in our brains; we can’t quite bring ourselves to see past it. Result? We liberals still refuse to discuss the shape of our recent political history. We refuse to discuss what happened to Clinton-then-Gore. Very, very vaguely, we see it. But we’ve even disappeared Lyons and Conason! We still can’t really see.

Nor will our tribunes ever tell us. For example, our liberal version of Mr. O is paid large sums by MSNBC. But uh-oh! They’re partnered with the Post and Newsweek—and it was the Post which went after Clinton-then-Gore! Our liberal version is paid not to notice. We libs fail to notice his failure.

At THE HOWLER, we find the whole story exceedingly Rich. For ourselves, as the poet wrote, we woke from our dreams—and our idols were clay. Readers, though, sometimes cling to false lovers. For the poet’s great work, just click here—though we prefer line 6 when it says, “I will banish this weeping, drive troubles away.”

TOMORROW: “Let’s talk Tough,” part 4. Jonathan Chait talks Tough.

ALSO: Readers’ hearts have sometimes been broken by all that pro-SEC bias.