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5 September 1998

Minor mishaps, Volume II: Lynch mobs ain’t real big on proof

Synopsis: Michael Kelly has a whole bunch of real big complaints. He just doesn’t want to waste his time proving them.

The End of the Clinton Show
Michael Kelly, The Washington Post, 9/2/98


As our celebrity lynch mob races through town, we’ll admit one thing about Michael Kelly. Unlike some others in this front-running crew, he’s been runnin’ around, yellin’ and actin’ crazy for years. (For example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/xx/98.) We always turn to a Kelly piece with an expectation of eye-rolling fun--and he doesn’t disappoint with this puzzling pastiche of Bad Things The Clinton People Have Done To Us.

Evoking “The Truman Show” andFrancis Fukuyama, Kelly paints a Really Big Picture. According to Mike, the “Clinton Show” has come to an end, brought down by Two Real Bad Ideas (we’ll spare you). Here’s the problem: Kelly cites three examples of how bad things are, with Clinton bumbling all over the globe. But in every one of his three examples, he doesn’t try to show us there was something correctibly wrong with the policy the Clinton folk gave us.

Example One:

KELLY: Confronted with the reality of North Korea’s nuclear program, the Clinton administration delivers the appearance of peace in our time. In exchange for our generous financial assistance, North Korea, it is declared, has agreed to abandon its naughty nuclear dreams. Four years later, the news is that North Korea seems to be building a massive nuclear weapons underground plant.

That’s the entire passage. In short: we tried to negotiate with a crackpot regime, and the regime has gone back on its word. But Kelly shows us no evidence--none at all--that this was some sort of hare-brained effort; does Kelly suggest we take military action against allthe rogue regimes of the world? Kelly provides no evidence that the approach to Pyongyang was anything but a reasoned gamble, taken with the understanding that it might not work in the end. Maybe this wasa silly effort; but Kelly doesn’t bother to argue the point. In Kelly’s world, the fact that international initiatives don’t work every time is simple evidence that Daddy’s Real Stupid.

Example Two:

KELLY: Confronted with the reality of Iraq’s refusal to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, the administration declares its support for the U.N. Special Commission inspectors in Iraq. Then, on Aug. 26, comes the resignation of William S. Ritter, the longest-serving weapons inspector in Iraq. The highly respected Ritter says that the administration has supported a secret Security Council decision to abandon serious inspections in “a surrender to Iraqi leadership.” On ABC-TV’s ‘This Week,’ Ritter asserts that...”

Etc. etc. And the “highly respected” Madeleine Albright asserts that Ritter doesn’t have the first clue. Is Ritter’s judgment sound? Or is Albright right? Again, Kelly doesn’t bother to argue the matter. Hey! With a celebrity lynch mob runnin’ through town, how much evidence does an angry-man need? Scott Ritter’s been sayin’ Bill Clinton’s A Dope? By the rules of the game, He Speaks Truly!

Example Three:

KELLY: Confronted with the reality of a Russia that is a kleptocracy and that for years has been running increasingly out of the control of a president who is only technically not dead, the administration has chosen to see progress in what is something closer to a free fall toward anarchy.

We’re not funnin’ you--that’s the example! That’s every word Kelly wrote on this topic! The fact that Clinton hasn’t said “Russia sucks” is the third example of Michael Kelly’s Complaint.

To state the obvious, all of these may be examples of bad judgment, but Kelly never bothers to arguehis case. He nowheremarshals anyevidence that his examples are examples of bad policy. He nowhere makes the slightest effort to say what the White House should do instead. Runnin’ through town with this celebrity press corps, he seems to believe that a list of things-that-aren’t-great-in-the-world represents evidence that Bill Clinton’s Full Of Doody.

Conceivably, Kelly could have written a helpful column on any one of his three case studies. Perhaps if he’d actually made an effort, he could have shown that something was correctibly wrongin the actions he cites. But, when you’re running through town with the rope on your arm, you’re no longer driven to argue your view. You can yell and shout, and list things that aren’t great, and pass it in to your editor.

Is Iraq an example of flawed public policy? Maybe it is, but one thing’s for sure--it isn’t flawed policy just because Scott Ritter says so. Guess what, folks? College freshmen are expected to argue theirpoints. Why can’t this celebrity press corps?