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Daily Howler: On Monday, Bush made a joke. Gail Collins knew just where to take it
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GAIL COLLINS CAN TAKE A JOKE! On Monday, Bush made a joke. Gail Collins knew just where to take it: // link // print // previous // next //

Tomorrow: Spellings and Fisher and “high expectations.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/14/09.

Gail Collins can take a joke: “Man [sic] is the rational animal,” Aristotle is constantly quoted saying. Sorry! He hadn’t encountered the Lady Gail Collins, or the rest of your upper-end “press corps.”

This morning, Collins is typing away in the Times about Bush’s final press conference. Bush said some shaky things this Monday—although we think it’s pretty silly when journalists ask big politicians to list their biggest mistakes. But Lady Collins improved the world, typing this consummate howler:

COLLINS (1/15/09): So far, the Bush farewell appearances have not drawn a lot of rave reviews...A Gallup poll did find that his approval rating had risen slightly since they began, but this was probably due to enthusiasm for the part about his going away.

“Sometimes you misunderestimated me,” Bush told the Washington press corps. This is not the first time our president has worried about misunderestimation, so it’s fair to regard this not as a slip of the tongue, but as something the president of the United States thinks is a word. The rhetoric is the one part of the administration we’re surely going to miss. We are about to enter a world in which our commander in chief speaks in full sentences, and I do not know what we’re going to do to divert ourselves on slow days.

Poor Lady Collins! She doesn’t know how she’ll divert herself from all the coming boredom. But unless the lady is utterly clueless, she knew exactly what to do with Bush’s last press conference. She knew how she could divert herself. She did so by misinforming readers about what Bush actually said.

Yes, Bush voiced the quoted words at Monday’s event—but he was clearly making a joke. But so what? Like many in her palace cohort, Lady Collins knows exactly how—and where—to take so helpful a joke. Today, her readers are told that there are two ways to interpret Bush’s remark about being “misunderestimated.” It may have been a slip of the tongue, she says. More likely, he thinks that’s a word.

Can Collins actually be that dumb? Or is she simply lying again? Good God! Even Milbank said Bush was just joking. Here’s his account of this moment:

MILBANK (1/13/09): The president seemed nostalgic and even wistful at times, and he tried to strike up the banter he enjoyed with the press corps when the economy was booming and the wars were going well. "Just seemed like yesterday that I was on the campaign trail," he began, with a tease: "Sometimes you misunderestimated me."

How obvious was it that Bush had been joking? The Associated Press filed a report which was headlined, “Bush jokes during last press conference.” The first example of Bush’s jokes was his “misunderestimated” remark.

So typical. Bush told a joke at his final conference—and Lady Collins knew just how to take it. She turned it into her latest eye-roll. This conduct strikes us as significant, for a couple of reasons.

First, we’ve long warned you about this type of misconduct, in which “journalists” pretend that a disfavored pol’s joke is really a serious statement. As you may recall, one such incident helped change the world back in September 2000. Al Gore joked about that “union lullaby,” telling a joke he’d told in the past. But your “press corps” knew just how to play it! They pretended that Gore had been lying again, not just about that lullaby but about those troubling doggy pills too! At that point, Gore had led in the polls for almost a month. Quickly, he fell back behind.

You’d think that scribes would learn from such “errors.” Indeed, as she closes this morning’s column, Collins seems to weep and wail about the fact that Bush reached the White House instead of the more capable Gore. In fact, Bush bumped back ahead in the polls when Collins’ gang played its silly trick. But so what? This morning, the lady is at it again, turning a joke to an eye-roll.

And yes, the lady played a role in the two-year trashing of Candidate Gore. We think her column from October 1999 was one of the worst of the whole campaign—and that’s really saying something. But ladies like Collins primp and play, treating their readers like consummate fools. This Monday, Bush said some things that might be worth discussing—though we think it’s pretty silly when pols are asked to list their mistakes. But apparently, Bush’s real statements weren’t clownish enough. So Collins invented another.

Could Collins really be that dumb? Or is the lady lying again? “Man is the rational animal,” Aristotle said. Dude was wrong on several counts—on none more clearly than this.

Not to mention Kevin and Steve: Then there were the twinned posts, by Benen and Drum, about something else Bush said at the presser. Within a half-hour of each either, each dude debunked the following statement. We present it as quoted by Steve:

BUSH (1/12/09): I believe that running the Social Security idea right after the '04 elections was a mistake. I should have argued for immigration reform. And the reason why is, is that—you know, one of the lessons I learned as governor of Texas, by the way, is legislative branches tend to be risk-adverse. In other words, sometimes legislatures have the tendency to ask, why should I take on a hard task when a crisis is not imminent? And the crisis was not imminent for Social Security as far as many members of Congress was concerned.

As an aside, one thing I proved is that you can actually campaign on the issue and get elected. In other words, I don't believe talking about Social Security is the third rail of American politics.

Steve and Kevin both noted that Bush hadn’t campaigned on Social Security. Here’s how Steve debunked Bush’s blunder. Kevin said much the same thing:

BENEN (1/13/09): Putting the merit of the argument aside, I think I understand what Bush is trying to say here—he regrets having pursued privatization because it couldn't pass, but he's glad he proved that a candidate can run on privatization and still win a national election.

Except, he didn't. The 2004 race was four whole years ago, but it's recent enough to know that Bush did not "campaign on" his Social Security scheme.

Inconsolably, the analysts hurled themselves onto their beanbag chairs, hung their heads and cried.

No, Bush didn’t campaign on privatization in Campaign 04. But he did campaign on the issue—quite extensively—during Campaign 2000. Duh! It was a major part of the spring 2000 campaign; it dominated the month of May, as Bush began to seize control of the polls for the general election. And by the way: Amid endless talk about Bush’s bold leadership, the issue polled quite favorably for Bush. We asked John Zogby about this matter at the GOP convention that summer; he told us that privatization had polled favorably for years, as long as you voiced a few disclaimers—disclaimers Bush constantly offered. But never mind! Kevin said this about that this week: “If he had campaigned on it, he either would have learned quickly what a loser his privatization plan was or else ginned up some support for it.” Sorry—that’s just totally wrong. The press corps praised Bush for running that way—and the issue polled quite well. (The politics changed in 2005 for reasons we all could explore.)

Why did the analysts hurl themselves onto their rugs and sob so loudly? Because we’ve endlessly examined this episode, in some detail, here at THE DAILY HOWLER (link below). Why have we stressed this topic so much? Because the episode showed so much about the way the mainstream press corps was functioning by the end of the Clinton years. What happened when Bush proposed privatization? Duh! He was widely praised for his brilliant “bold leadership” by conservative and mainstream pundits alike; Gore was trashed within an inch of his life for daring oppose such a plan. Good God! We must have linked a hundred times to the remarkable colloquy between Tim Russert and Joe Klein, in which they flayed Gore for his troubling conduct in opposing Bush’s wonderful plan. We’ve discussed this again and again and again, quoting a long string of major scribes (David Gergen! Ohourgod!)—but Steve and Kevin were utterly clueless about this major episode. Not completely unlike Lady Collins, they rushed to say how silly Bush was for having made such a dumb statement.

Sorry. Bush did campaign on privatization, quite extensively—and the episode was profoundly instructive. As we’ve noted, the press corps made virtually no attempt to examine the problems with Bush’s proposal. Instead, they used the issue as they were using all issues by that time—as another chance to promote the novel they were writing about Gore’s troubling character. (In 1995 and 1996, they had used the Medicare debate the same way—as a chance to show what a big liar Bill Clinton was, even though Clinton was being much more truthful than his Republican foes. But so what? Career liberals sat on their asses then too. Only Al Franken explained it.) This was a deeply instructive set of events—and, of course, the episode gained renewed relevance when Bush acted on his proposal at the start of his second term. In our view, it would have been surprising if Kevin and Steve didn’t know about this episode, even if we’d never mentioned it. But we’ve described these events in endless detail. Result? Of course! What else in this world? On your side, your intellectual leaders remain completely clueless.

Why were the analysts crying so hard? For years, we’ve used the word “ineducable” in discussing modern career liberals with them. More specifically, we’d said that such liberals seem “ineducable” when it comes to the work of the mainstream press. For years, the analysts insisted that we were wrong when we said such things about nominal allies. This week, the analysts cried and cried. Their error had now become clear.

Sorry. In 2000, Bush did show that you could run and win on privatization. (Sorry—you could run and “come close.” Though we’re not sure a pol could do so again.) More importantly, he showed the bedrock corruption afflicting your mainstream “press corps” by that time. But we’ve told you something for many years—you simply can’t make career liberal pundits tell the truth about the mainstream press. Something keeps their minds from closing around the real facts of the world.

By the way:

In fairness, it may have been an unthinking comment. But Kevin also made the following remark this week, in a post concerning Bush’s road to the White House: “To this day I don't understand how such a manifestly unqualified candidate got either nominated or elected in the first place.” Good God! Again, that may just be a throw-away comment—and yet, the weird remark was put into print, and many young liberals were misled again. To this day, one of their intellectual leaders simply can’t grasp how Bush got there. How did such a man reach the White House? The whole thing remains a major mystery. Perhaps historians will figure it out. Kevin has no idea.

Perhaps Kevin just made an unthinking comment. But we do understand how Bush got where he is—and we’ve explained it again and again, for years. But as we’ve long told you: During the age of the Clintons and Gore, career liberals agreed that they wouldn’t tell you the truth about the work of the mainstream press corps. We’ve been scolded for saying such things. Maybe Atrios can rise before noon this day and explain why such things still get said.

Atrios! We’ll ask you directly, as with Rappiccini! Please tell us why our nominal allies still make such remarkable statements!

Visit our thoroughly waste-of-time archives: Sorry. Bush did campaign on privatization, quite extensively. For one account of this key episode, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/30/06 (scroll down). Other accounts litter our work through the years. But so what? Your big smart bright leaders still haven’t heard about the way we all got to this place. You can’t make these blocks of stone tell you the truth about Gore and George Bush. If you live to age 100, they simply aren’t going to do it.