Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Nicholas Kristof and the truth

In the 1996 Prez campaign, Bob Dole had a mantra: "Where's the outrage?" The answer was that it lived among a few out-of-touch Republicans in the House of Reps, and some nut-job conspiracy theorists who thought Clinton had killed Vince Foster. But they pushed ahead with impeachment, because they were convinced that "the outrage" would soon be shared.

They were wrong.

The result was that Clinton not only avoided being removed from office, but actually kept doing better in the polls. The more the Repubs whined about outrage, the better Clinton did.

Are the tables turned? Great article in the NYTimes today, by Nicholas Kristof. (I'll paste it below, so that when the NYT puts it into their paid archives it will still be available to both my committed readers)

Also, see Michael Tennant's piece....from the STRIKE THE ROOT website.

Dems better watch it. If other people don't share your outrage, it may be because you need to calm down. I am more and more convinced that Kerry can win this race. Even two months ago, I would have said that if the economy turns up Bush is unbeatable. Now, he might lose, unless the Dems beat themselves.

Kristof's Story From the Times

June 30, 2004
Calling Bush a Liar

Is President Bush a liar?

Plenty of Americans think so. Bookshops are filled with titles about Mr. Bush like "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them," "Big Lies," "Thieves in High Places" and "The Lies of George W. Bush."

A consensus is emerging on the left that Mr. Bush is fundamentally dishonest, perhaps even evil — a nut, yes, but mostly a liar and a schemer. That view is at the heart of Michael Moore's scathing new documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11."

In the 1990's, nothing made conservatives look more petty and simple-minded than their demonization of Bill and Hillary Clinton, who were even accused of spending their spare time killing Vince Foster and others. Mr. Clinton, in other words, left the right wing addled. Now Mr. Bush is doing the same to the left. For example, Mr. Moore hints that the real reason Mr. Bush invaded Afghanistan was to give his cronies a chance to profit by building an oil pipeline there.

"I'm just raising what I think is a legitimate question," Mr. Moore told me, a touch defensively, adding, "I'm just posing a question."

Right. And right-wing nuts were "just posing a question" about whether Mr. Clinton was a serial killer.

I'm against the "liar" label for two reasons. First, it further polarizes the political cesspool, and this polarization is making America increasingly difficult to govern. Second, insults and rage impede understanding.

Lefties have been asking me whether Mr. Bush has already captured Osama bin Laden, and whether Mr. Bush will plant W.M.D. in Iraq. Those are the questions of a conspiracy theorist, for even if officials wanted to pull such stunts, they would be daunted by the fear of leaks.

Bob Woodward's latest book underscores that Mr. Bush actually believed that Saddam did have W.M.D. After one briefing, Mr. Bush turned to George Tenet and protested, "I've been told all this intelligence about having W.M.D., and this is the best we've got?" The same book also reports that Mr. Bush told Mr. Tenet several times, "Make sure no one stretches to make our case."

In fact, of course, Mr. Bush did stretch the truth. The run-up to Iraq was all about exaggerations, but not flat-out lies. Indeed, there's some evidence that Mr. Bush carefully avoids the most blatant lies — witness his meticulous descriptions of the periods in which he did not use illegal drugs.

True, Mr. Bush boasted that he doesn't normally read newspaper articles, when his wife said he does. And Mr. Bush wrongly claimed that he was watching on television on the morning of 9/11 as the first airplane hit the World Trade Center. But considering the odd things the president often says ("I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family"), Mr. Bush always has available a prima facie defense of confusion.

Mr. Bush's central problem is not that he was lying about Iraq, but that he was overzealous and self-deluded. He surrounded himself with like-minded ideologues, and they all told one another that Saddam was a mortal threat to us. They deceived themselves along with the public — a more common problem in government than flat-out lying.

Some Democrats, like Mr. Clinton and Senator Joseph Lieberman, have pushed back against the impulse to demonize Mr. Bush. I salute them, for there are so many legitimate criticisms we can (and should) make about this president that we don't need to get into kindergarten epithets.

But the rush to sling mud is gaining momentum, and "Fahrenheit 9/11" marks the polarization of yet another form of media. One medium after another has found it profitable to turn from information to entertainment, from nuance to table-thumping.

Talk radio pioneered this strategy, then cable television. Political books have lately become as subtle as professional wrestling, and the Internet is adding to the polarization. Now, with the economic success of "Fahrenheit 9/11," look for more documentaries that shriek rather than explain.

It wasn't surprising when the right foamed at the mouth during the Clinton years, for conservatives have always been quick to detect evil empires. But liberals love subtlety and describe the world in a palette of grays — yet many have now dropped all nuance about this president.

Mr. Bush got us into a mess by overdosing on moral clarity and self-righteousness, and embracing conspiracy theories of like-minded zealots. How sad that many liberals now seem intent on making the same mistakes.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

Holy cow.

Rocky Horror Picture Show for liberals.

3:45 pm on a weekday. The theater was nearly full. A convention of tree-huggers and hand-wringers all in a self-congratulatory fervor. Shrieking, applause, pleasurable grunting from all quarters.

I bet they start wearing costumes with leather bustiers and fishnets, and throwing toast, within the week. "Meatloaf again?"

I tried really hard, but I couldn't figure out what specific point Moore was trying to make.

There are some I can reject. (I am using logic and evidence, though, so these rejections may be unfair to Moore, who rejects use of either of these).

1. Bush should have been more aggressive in pursuing domestic terrorists. But since (a) Bush was much more aggressive than Clinton-Gore, Moore's icons of goodness, and (b) Bush is criticized for being a fascist liberty-stealer when he does go after people in the US, that can't be right.

2. Bush should have used a lot more troops in Afghanistan, and at the same time he should have used fewer troops (zero) in Afganistan. Ditto for Iraq. So, both wars were unjust, and should have used many more troops and been fought much more aggressively. Bush intentionally let Osama bin Ladin escape in Afghanistan. Finding Osama bin Ladin would be a big electoral benefit to Bush. (No, this doesn't make sense. I'm just reporting).

3. The U.S. Supreme Court should have been nonpartisan, because it is majority conservative. The Florida Supreme Court was quite correct to be partisan, because it was majority liberal. The political process in the state of Florida should have been left alone to decide how its Electoral College votes would be cast, so long as both the elected Governor and the elected Legislature were prevented from having any say whatsoever. The unelected Florida Supreme Court should be the one that decides, because the Court is more democratic (i.e., more Democrats). The fact that the elected U.S. House of Representatives is majority Republican, and would have chosen Bush as President anyway, in a Constitutional process that would have played out if the Supreme Court had not acted, is of no consequence. The point seems to be that voters rule so long as they agree with Moore, and otherwise selected (but not all) unelected groups of Judges are the wisest. This selection also depends on whether the judges happen to agree with Moore. To have such wisdom...oh, if I could but be as wise as the fat man with the Arafat beard, and sensibilities.

4. The US Senate, being popularly elected, is most excellent. The US Senate, being Republican-controlled, is most evil. Democratic Senators are most excellent. Since all Democratic Senators refused to sign the petition of the House Democrats to have the results of the election appealed, all Democratic Senators are evil. Since no conceivable purpose could have been served by pursuing such an appeal, and since Al Gore himself was the presiding officer who (rightly) gavelled down the protests as out of order, Al Gore is evil, and not qualified to serve as President. Al Gore should be President.

All this said...F9/11 obviously is a very effective piece of fiction, however. Combine it with Clinton's work of fiction, MY LIFE, and it is quite a month for the left.

UPDATE: Look at the rather careful dissection of F9/11 by my colleague Brendan Nyhan.

Monday, June 28, 2004


Killer Grease Mungowitz was, it is believed, a very minor professional wrestler in Austin, TX.

His name appeared in the Austin phone book just above mine.

Good on ya, Killer.

My web site, for those who might be interested...

But this blog is personal, and has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with Duke University, or any other organization.