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Daily Howler: K-Drum saw the glass half full in Stephen Braun's right-on report
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AND THE GLASS HALF EMPTY! K-Drum saw the glass half full in Stephen Braun’s right-on report: // link // print // previous // next //

TOMORROW: We had planned to comment on Glasser’s (Latest) Folly—the laughable, contemptuous piece by Victoria Toensing in yesterday’s “Outlook.” We’ve bumped it back due to Krugman’s Folly. But we’ll get there tomorrow.

For our previous piece on the loathsome Glasser, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/29/07). As we said then: In real professions, people who present this kind of work get dragged before professional boards. Soon after that, they get fired.

HECKUVA LEAR, KRUGGY: Good God. Paul Krugman’s column in today’s Times is just remarkably bad.

First, some points of agreement. Krugman thinks that Hillary Clinton made “an error” in voting for the 10/02 war resolution. We’ll go well beyond that; we think this was one of the worst votes in Senate history. In casting that vote, Clinton (along with 76 colleagues) handed her constitutional war-making power over to the hapless George Bush. By March 2003, Clinton was saying she wanted more inspections. Too bad! Five months earlier, she had transferred her power to Bush. The founders didn’t want her to do that.

Second: We agree with Krugman that Clinton is not “a megalomaniac; she’s not another Dick Cheney.” We don’t really think that a President Clinton would start another crackpot war. (Ditto a President Obama or Edwards.) We don’t think Hillary Clinton’s a nut. Like Krugman, we’re not sure about McCain and Giuliani—and if either man serves as president, he’ll enter office as the head of a party which is driven by such nutty elements.

But Krugman builds his column today around what he calls Clinton’s “refusal to say, as former Senator John Edwards has, that she was wrong to vote for the Iraq war resolution.” Edwards has “admitt[ed] his own error,” Krugman writes—but he says he’s troubled because Clinton hasn’t. To Krugman, Clinton’s “refusal to say...that she was wrong” is reminiscent of Bush and Cheney. “For the last six years we have been ruled by men who are pathologically incapable of owning up to mistakes,” he writes. Clinton isn’t another Cheney, he says. But Krugman is concerned by Clinton’s “refusal to say...she was wrong.”

According to Krugman, Clinton has refused to “own up” to her “mistake” in casting that 10/02 vote. His argument will surely affect many readers. But here’s the problem: Krugman never lets readers decide for themselves whether Clinton has really owned up to her error. He never quotes a single thing Clinton has actually said on this subject. Krugman keeps readers barefoot and clueless. They hear his account of what Clinton has said. They don’t hear her actual statements.

Has Clinton “owned up” to her “mistake?” Has she “admit[ted] past error?” For ourselves, we think it’s odd that Clinton won’t use the specific word “mistake” in describing her 10/02 vote. But in our judgment, she has owned up to her mistake—in fact, she did so long ago. Other readers might agree with that assessment—if Krugman would have the decency to tell them what Clinton has actually said.

The history: Clinton cast that awful vote in October 2002. (So did Kerry. So did Edwards.) But omigod! As early as August 2004, she had clearly rethought the vote. On August 29, she appeared on Meet the Press (where she staunchly defended Kerry and Edwards). Here’s part of what she said—well over two years ago:
RUSSERT (8/29/04): Jay Rockefeller, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was on this program a few weeks ago and this is what he said: "...We in Congress would not have authorized that war—we would not have authorized that war—with 75 votes if we knew what we know now." Do you agree with him?

CLINTON: There would not have been a vote, Tim. There would never have been a vote to the Congress presented by the administration. There would have been no basis for it.
All the way back in 8/04, Clinton said there would have been “no basis” for that vote if we’d known there were no WMD. There wouldn’t even have been a vote, she told Russert (also Wolf Blitzer). Since then, she’s continued making that statement, even spelling things out for the very slow by adding the obvious corollary—she herself would have voted “no” if she’d known there were no WMD. Do you mind if we make a simple statement? In our view, Clinton did “say that she was wrong to vote for the Iraq war resolution” when she made that statement to Russert. (When she said she’d have voted the other way if she knew about the WMD.) Indeed, we were actively impressed with Clinton’s formulation; at the time, we’d been wondering why Dems weren’t offering this obvious presentation. For the record, Edwards was still saying that he would have voted “yes” on the war resolution even if he knew there weren’t any WMD. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/8/07. Cover the eyes of the children.) It would be fifteen months before he wrote the column in which he finally said, “I was wrong.”

So yes, for our money, we think that Clinton has basically copped to her error. We think she did so years ago. Other voters might share that assessment—if they were told what Clinton has said. But never once, in Krugman’s whole column, does he quote a single word the lady has said. He’s The Man, The King, The Poobah—the one who parcels out “information.” He doesn’t tell readers what Clinton has said. They only get his account of her statements.

Of course, we’ve already seen what happens to voters when journalists choose to play God in this manner. Last Sunday, David Kurtz posted at TPM—and he didn’t seem to have the slightest idea what Clinton has actually said on this subject. Two days later, Michael Sean Winters posted at TNR—and he didn’t seem to know what Clinton had said in New Hampshire the previous weekend. In short, we can all be turned into Major Dumb-Ass when strongmen like Krugman control information. When they refuse to report what a person has said. When they give their account of such statements.

Voters deserve to read what Clinton has said—not some strongman’s paraphrase.

Beyond that, let’s discuss the most foolish part of Krugman’s column—his apparent sense that Edwards is being more forthcoming than Clinton about that 10/02 vote.

For what it’s worth, we doubt that either Clinton or Edwards is being fully truthful about the thought process behind their vote, or about their subsequent thoughts on the matter. But it’s just obvious that Edwards has been misstating— a point which escapes Krugman’s notice. Could anyone above the age of 6 believe what Edwards told Russert this month? In this passage, Edwards explains why he didn’t renounce his 10/02 vote until 11/05:
EDWARDS (2/4/07): I can tell you what happened with me, personally... When the [2004] campaign was over, and the election was over, we had a lot going on in my own family—Elizabeth had been diagnosed with breast cancer, we were taking care of her, and, for the first time, I had time to really think about, number one, what I was going to spend my time doing; and, number two, my vote for this war and, over time, when I reflected on what I thought was going to be necessary, going forward, to have some moral foundation to work on issues like poverty and genocide and things that I care deeply about, I could no longer defend this vote. It was pretty simple. And I got to the place I felt like I had to say it and had to say it publicly. So a year or so ago, I did that.
It isn’t quite clear what that statement means. But does anyone over the age of 6 believe that Edwards didn’t “have time to really think about his vote” until 2005? That statement is just laughably bogus; it’s a silly, transparent, political l*e. But to Krugman, Edwards seems like the honest one here, and Clinton is being less than forthcoming! Truly, we have all become children again when even Krugman can present such prime cant.

Guess what, students? Politicians often withhold or misstate the full story about their thinking on controversial matters! They do this thing we call “playing politics”—and Edwards and Clinton are both so engaged at the present time. We don’t know why the Clinton campaign doesn’t want her saying the word “mistake” when she talks about her vote. But we do know this: Clinton said, in 8/04, that no one would have voted for the resolution if we’d known about the WMD. According to Edwards, he didn’t realize this, about his own vote, until some time in 2005. If you believe that, you should look in the mirror. You may be five years old.

Note to Krugman, on Planet Zarcon: Both these people are “framing” their statements (with the help of their consultants). Neither person is “telling the truth.” There’s no Cordelia here—and no Goneril. But omigod! There’s a heckuva Lear! And Kruggers! Good gravy! It’s you!

FOR THE RECORD: Again, we think it’s silly when Clinton refuses to call her 10/02 vote “a mistake.” But we think she has “owned up to her error;” we think she did so in 8/04. Other voters might think that too—if Strongmen would report what she said.

Is Edwards less likely than Clinton to go along with “the Beltway establishment” in the future? (That is Krugman’s serious concern.) We don’t have a clear idea about that; we see potential flaws with both these candidates. But Krugman’s reasoning here is weak. He needs to do a better job of pursuing this serious matter.

AND THE GLASS HALF EMPTY: We agree, one thousand percent, with Kevin Drum’s take on this report in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. Drum quotes the following passages from Stephen Braun’s right-on report:
BRAUN (2/18/07): Conservative admirers of the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth media blitz that helped torpedo Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential candidacy in 2004 are now agitating to "Swift-boat" [Hillary] Clinton.

....Whether she can strike back quickly may prove crucial to winning over Democratic primary voters looking for assurance that she can survive a bruising general election and Swift-boat-style attacks.

....Hillary Clinton's longtime spokesman, Howard Wolfson, dismissed the early GOP moves with characteristic terseness: "One thing people know about the Clintons is they know how to fight back.
Omigod! Cheers echoed off THE HOWLER’S vast walls! Even before we read Kevin’s commentary, we were struck by Braun’s use of the verb, “Swift-boat.” And that was the same thing Kevin noticed. Here was his righteous analysis:
DRUM (2/18/07): I'm with Wolfson: I don't have any doubt that Hillary can take care of herself. But you know what I liked about this story? The fact that it talks about "Swift-boating" right at the top. It gives me a smidgen of hope that this time around the media is going to recognize campaign tactics like this for what they are: common thuggery, not legitimate attacks.

Or maybe not. We'll see. For now, though, a tiny ray of optimism.
Who knows? This may turn out to be the last time a reporter uses this particular language. But as Kevin says, this superlative report by Braun gives Democrats a ray of hope. Who knows? Maybe other reporters will start to speak clearly and directly about the shape of our modern discourse. Maybe they’ll call a spade a spade. Maybe they’ll call these attacks by their name. Maybe they’ll describe them as “Swift-boats.”

But we had a further, sadder thought when we saw Braun’s report. Once again, we were struck by how much liberals have lost by refusing to discuss the conduct of Campaign 2000. By 2004, liberals and Dems had roused themselves slightly from their Decade of Lethargy (the political sequel to the Summer of Love). We managed to raise a few complaints about the swift-boat attacks, to the point where the term has gone into use as a recognizable verb. But right to this day, we have utterly failed to make such complaints about the conduct of Campaign 2000. No reporter will ever report that Clinton, Edwards or Obama is about to get “Gored.” Readers would have no idea what they meant. Editors would strike the strange language.

The failure here has been monumental—and yes, it’s the liberal elites and the liberal careerists who have failed so monumentally. We no longer see any reason to smooth it (we never should have done so at all); despite the mountain of great work he has done in other areas, we despise the role Josh Marshall has played in this cosmic liberal failure. As late as the summer and fall of 2002, Josh wasn’t just ignoring what happened in Campaign 2000; he was writing press-friendly posts, in liberal journals, in which he actively pretended that this astonishing conduct hadn’t occurred. (When we lightly challenged him on this point, it became clear that he had always known about Campaign 2000. Link below.) So yes, we truly despise Josh’s work in this area. We think he should recant, retract or repudiate those unfortunate pieces. He should apologize—say that he made “a mistake.” He should finally get up off his big, fat keister and admit that his actions were “wrong.”

Kevin saw the glass half full when he read Braun’s right-on report. We agree—but we can’t help noting the half of the glass that is empty. Do you mind if we offer an obvious comment? If people like Josh hadn’t played the fool in the wake of Campaign 2000, more voters would have been on alert when the Swift-boat attacks were lodged against Kerry. Being aware of what happened to Gore, such voters would have been more suspicious when it began to happen to Kerry. And almost surely, these voters would be much more wary today about attacks on Obama, Edwards, Clinton.

Voters should have heard about this for the past seven years. By now, they’d be extremely wary. But we have failed to put them on alert. Understandably, Kevin was surprised by Braun’s report. This shows us the depth of our failure.

BEYOND THAT, WE DO HAVE OUR DOUBTS: Beyond that, we’ll strongly disagree with this one part of Kevin’s right-on post:
DRUM: I'm with Wolfson: I don't have any doubt that Hillary can take care of herself.
Sorry, but we do have doubts. We deeply admire Clinton’s toughness; like Bill Clinton and Al Gore, she has taken a mountain of sh*t over the past fifteen years and has come back fighting. But why do we assume that her courage and fight will be enough in the next two years? After all, Bill Clinton and Gore couldn’t “take care of themselves” in the face of the attacks which were dumped on their heads; Clinton got impeached in 1998, and Gore didn’t get to the White House (in part because of Clinton’s impeachment). Sorry, but it isn’t enough for us to stand back and assure ourselves of our candidates’ toughness. Gore refused to buckle for twenty straight months—but his discipline and toughness, by themselves, weren’t enough. Indeed, we liberals are so flamingly stupid that many among us still complain about the “lousy campaign” Gore allegedly ran—not realizing that our own cosmic silence was the thing that put Bush where he is.

Liberal elites and career liberals have monumentally failed to address this problem. These groups have relentlessly failed to challenge and define the shape of our ongoing discourse. Our elites have behaved like well-mannered boys; they’ve taken their cues from E. J. Dionne to the end. In 1999 and 2000—and in the years since—these well-mannered fellows have utterly failed to warn the public about the shape of our discourse. In particular, Josh has failed to explain his writings from 2002. We wish he’d stand up and move forward. This problem really didn’t start with that “madrassa” attack.