RICH IN THE BALANCE! Gore had made a string of sound judgments. But omigod! Someone laughed at his jokes! // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JUNE 1, 2006
BRODER GETS IT RIGHT: But only because Kevin Drum did so first—and golly Ned, did Kevin nail it! By the way, we note that it was the blogger who got it so right, not all them fancy, higher-priced experts. (In fairness, some of the high-falluters made good assessments too. You know what to do—just click here.)
Just for the record, though, one of them experts had his head in the clouds. Here was Gregg Easterbrooks forecast for the Bush second term. No, we arent making this up:
EASTERBROOK (9/1/04): Second-term presidents traditionally turn their thoughts to history. Of the two most recently reelected presidents, Ronald Reagan in his second term became interested in nuclear-arms reduction treaties with the Soviet Union, in part because they could make him a historic president; Bill Clinton's thoughts of history were postponed by the Monica mess but, by his final year in office, he was trying desperately to solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. If George W. Bush is reelected, how future historians remember him may become a White House concern. There remains a chance that history will come to regard the invasion of Iraq as a liberation and a progressive turning point in Arab society, but the odds are greater the invasion will be pronounced a colossal folly. A reelected Bush, if he wants to win favor with historians, will have to do something impressive, statesmanlike, and out of character.Only at Slate! Of course, Bush still has two years to make Easterbrook the worlds greatest seer. No, Kevin Drum didnt call it this way. But in fairness, this isnt wrong yet.
Special report—Frankly, thats Rich!
PART 2—RICH IN THE BALANCE: Frankly, no one but a major pundit could find such a Rich way to balance the equities. Mocking all comers from Cannes to the Kossacks, a nattering New York Times know-it-all was weighing the pros and the cons of Al Gore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/31/06). So lets see! In 1991, Gore had been right about the Gulf War. And in 2002, hed been right on Iraq, back when big players got trashed for such heresies. And omigod! Gore had also been right all along about the future of life on the planet! Youd almost think that this bill of particulars might tip the scales in a positive way. But then, our pundit, Frank Rich, found himself cruelly forced to sit through Gores god-awful new movie. Struggling to hold down his large buttered corn, Rich finally staggered out into the air—and he explained how the frightful new film proves that Gores just the same, fake as always:
RICH (5/28/06): Though many of the rave reviews don't mention it, there are also considerable chunks of An Inconvenient Truth that are more about hawking Mr. Gore's image than his cause. They also bring back unflattering memories of him as a politician. The movie contains no other voices that might upstage him, not even those of scientists supporting his argument. It is instead larded with sycophantic audiences, as meticulously multicultural as any Benetton ad, who dote on every word and laugh at every joke, like the studio audience at Live With Regis and Kelly.Lets try to follow this now—and no, speaking Frankly, it wont be real easy. For starters, Rich is upset because this film shows audiences laughing when Gore tells a joke. And readers, it gets even stranger; these audiences are multicultural, Rich notes, letting you shape your own conclusion about how that fact is supposed to create unflattering memories of Gore as a politician. Frankly, its hard to get much more foolish than this; in the film, Gore is shown speaking all over the world, so two of the crowds about whom Rich complains arent exactly multicultural—if memory serves, theyre Japanese and Chinese (graduate students, we would have guessed). So lets see how this works so far. On the positive side, Gore has solved every major world problem. But then again, theres the negative side: Some Chinese students have laughed at his jokes! And theyve even dared to dote on his words—perhaps because theyre still able, as Rich is not, to admire Gore for the astonishing knowledge on display in this film. Yes, its hard to get much dumber than this, but Frankly, Rich is up to the challenge—with his utterly foolish complaint about those AWOL Big Scientists, for example. Why doesnt this film include other narrators? Why didnt director Davis Guggenheim interview scientists, augmenting Gore? Mind-reading brilliantly, Rich tells all: There are no scientists in the film because Gore was afraid that hed be upstaged! And yes, this does make perfect sense—if you consider the charisma of most warming scientists, many of them just a screen-test away from careers in big Hollywood thrillers! Of course, as almost everyone knows, this film is meant to record the slide show on global warming which Gore has given all over the world; no other scientists speak at those sessions, so it didnt strike us as shocking when Guggenheim failed to record them. But Frankly, it cant be that simple for Rich; he has to conjure an unflattering theory, taking us back to his cohorts great narrative—the narrative in which Al Gore is a punch line, as hes been all these long years. (Tom Toles explained it in Mondays Post, right there in that dead-on cartoon.)
There are no scientists in the film because Gore was afraid that he might get upstaged! If you can buy that, youll buy almost anything—and by now, you know wholl be selling. Indeed, in his previous paragraph, Rich helps us see how stupid it is when Democrats think that Gore might actually make a good president. And he hands us perfectly scripted claims about Gores 2000 campaign:
RICH: The less flattering aspect of Mr. Gore has not gone away: the cautious and contrived presidential candidate who, like Mrs. Clinton now, was so in thrall to consultants that he ran away from his own administration's record and muted his views, even about pet subjects like science. (He waffled on the teaching of creationism in August 1999, after the Kansas Board of Education struck down the teaching of evolution.) That Gore is actually accentuated, not obscured, by ''An Inconvenient Truth.'' The more hard-hitting his onscreen slide show about global warming, the more he reminds you of how much less he focused on the issue in 2000. Gore the uninhibited private citizen is not the same as Gore the timid candidate.To his credit as a guild member, Rich has the latest scripts down cold. (Gore is a liar has now been abandoned.) Gore was in thrall to his dumb-ass consultants! He shouldnt have run away from Clinton! And of course, the dumbest new script of them all: He should have talked more about global warming! These things are very easy to say—indeed, trained pundits repeat them like magpies—but theres no way to show that these speculations are true, and theres plenty of reason to suspect that theyre false. In the case of that silliest point, only a fool could really believe that Gore could have sent himself straight to the White House if only hed only talked more about global warming. After all, what actually happens, here on this earth, when pols try to discuss such a topic? We got a good reminder last week; when Hillary Clinton gave a serious speech about energy, Broder and Dowd both swung into action. Like Rich, they staggered out into the light, complaining bitterly of all theyd endured—even knowing which word from Clintons speech could be used to produce highest mockery. Wonkishly, she had droned on:
DOWD (5/24/06): She droned on numbingly about carbon dioxide sequestration...Shorter Dowd and Broder: Just how dare that goddamned bitch make us hear the word sequestration? And of course, when Broder spilled out into the air, he announced that the guild will now be talking about Hillarys sex life—and he dropped the name of a Canadian pol about whom we should start to gossip (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/06). So yes: That is how the press corps acts when pols try to discuss global warming, and that is what the press would have done if Candidate Gore had spoken more on the subject. Meanwhile, the RNC would have run to its script—Al Gore is trying to banish the car!—and pundits would have stared and said nothing, just as theyd done for many years. Frankly, this would have been a Rich way to stage a serious run for the White House. Only a fool could recite this fine claim. Proof? All scribes recite the claim now.
Do we see a certain familiar foolishness when Rich tries to balance the equities? Gore was right on Iraq; right on the Gulf War; and he was right about global warming. On the other hand, a bunch of students have laughed at this jokes and, making it worse, they were multicultural! They dared to resemble a Benetton ad! And of course, there are no scientists in the film, because they make Gore feel unworthy. Reasoning in the ludicrous way our major pundits have done for a decade, Rich puts these two bags of ore on the scale—and he finds that the laughter of those troubling students counts for more than Gores good judgments! The Kossacks? Theyre mocked for thinking that they might like a president who has good judgment; this is just desperation, Rich says. Cant they see how those audiences look? Elsewhere, such judgments would seem like a sign that their author was mad. But weve developed a new term for it: Press corps.
You will be able to judge for yourselves when you go to see this new film. For ourselves, well be eager to judge Richs brilliant critique when we go see it again. But why did those audiences hang on Gores words? Why did they pay such attention to Gore? Again, well offer the obvious thought: They may have hung on Gores every word because they care about the world of their brith, and because they still can admire a man who has assembled such astonishing knowledge. Those attentive young students havent spent the past decade talking about earth tones and Gores cowboy boots; theyve managed to skip mindless topics Rich and his cohort have urged on the world. And they arent in love with that stupid old narrative, the one Toles nailed in that brilliant cartoon, the narrative Rich and his cohort still cling to, the one in which Gore is the punch line.
TOMORROW—PART 3: Rich praises Gore for his call on Iraq. But heres what he said at the time.
NOW THEY TELL HIM: For the record, the hot new notion that Gore should have talked about global warming comes from Joe Kleins new book, Politics Lost (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/18/06). Result? All good pundits now rush to repeat this—although its a very dubious claim. For the record, no one seems to have offered this advice in real time. Weve been searching through the record, and so far, we cant find anyone saying this in real time.
NARRATIVES IN THE BALANCE: Did Gore waffle on the teaching of creationism in August 1999, after the Kansas Board of Education struck down the teaching of evolution? Seven years later, Rich is still disturbed by the matter; to Rich, this episode shows how Gore muted his views, even about pet subjects like science back when he ran for the White House. And apparently, this was Gores most egregious episode; its the only one Rich mentions, except for Gores refusal to spend more time talking up global warming. How hard will Rich work, even today, to retain the narrative in which Gore is the punch line? You might like to know what lies behind this tale—the one which seems to tip the scales against all Gores good judgments.
Earth to Rich: Sometimes pols do mute their views, seeking the goal of getting elected. But in this matter, Rich refers to at most a two-hour waffle—a waffle which actually involved a Gore staffer, while Gore was on vacation. Indeed, how bad was this troubling waffle? Richs own paper didnt devote a single word to the troubling story. (Neither did a long string of other big papers.) And here was the headline of the AP report on the day of the troubling incident:
AP HEADLINE (8/26/99): Gore favors teaching of evolution in schoolsShocking, isnt it? What follows is the AP report. Frankly, this is the best Rich can dredge, even now, seven years later:
THE AP (8/26/99): Weighing in on a Kansas controversy, Vice President Al Gore's office said Thursday he favors the teaching of evolution in public schools but would not oppose instruction in creationism if taught as part of a religious course.The next day, Gores office said that Gore thought the Kansas school boards decision was a mistake, and he opposes it. By the way, what exactly was the waffling here? In his initial statement, Cabrera hadnt specifically said that the teaching of creationism would have to be in a religion class. So theres the best that Rich can do to show how Gore muted his views about science. And remember: Gore and his family were off at the beach when all this dark waffling occurred. (Note: This matter drew so little coverage that its somewhat hard to compare the other candidates views.)
So once again, its Rich in the balance. On the one hand, we have Gores long-time leadership on global warming and his prescient call regarding Iraq. On the other hand, Gores staff once said that a state could teach creationism as part of a religion course, as the Supreme Court had said. To Rich, the latter just seems more important; sadly, it tips the scales against Gore. And, of course, it tells Rich something very pleasing. It tells him that all those good judgments by Gore arent enough to kill a treasured narrative, one in which Gore, for all his good judgments, serves as a crowd-pleasing punch line.
By the way, what did Rich say about this at the time? Here he is, in the New York Times, cutting-and-pasting the corps favorite bite, the one they repeated again and again until they had Bush in the White House:
RICH (9/11/99): More recently, Mr. Gore hedged about the teaching of creationism—who would have thought the inventor of the Internet would believe that the Earth was invented in seven days?—until an outcry from his own supporters led to a hasty retreat.Yes, thats what this idiot wrote. But Frankly, Richs record on Gore is appalling, in various ways. But so what? You know the rules of this High Pundit Class! Even today, just like Arianna, Rich refuses to state the obvious: I was the one who bungled these matters! Even today, as in that great narrative, it has to be Gore who was wrong.
Much more, in the next two installments, about the string of cosmic bad judgments which came to us straight from Rich, not from Gore. Why is the man with worse judgment now president? Frankly, Rich played a key role.
BUSH AND GORE GET WARM: Bush and Gore had a long exchange on environmental matters in their second debate. Below, we present the transcript of that exchange. Weve highlighted segments dealing with warming. Remember: As well see in future installments, Rich insisted, all through this race, that Bush and Gore were well-matched twin losers. Only the mighty McCain stood apart. What possible difference could it make, which of these two hapless men became president? You can assess Richs gruesome misjudgment as the hopefuls discuss global warming. Note the way Gore is constantly trying to mute his views about science.
We assess one statement by Bush down below:
LEHRER (10/11/00): New question, new subject. Vice President Gore, on the environment. In your 1992 book, you said, quote, "We must make the rescue of our environment the central organizing principle for civilization and there must be a wrenching transformation to save the planet." Do you still feel that way?What are we going to tell our children? Gore asked. In the case of Rich, is he going to say that his narrative mattered most above all?
For what its worth, several newspapers analyzed Bushs correction of what Gore said about voluntary emission standards. (See asterisks, above.) Here was the discussion in the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times and the Boston Globe offered similar analyses:
RUBIN AND GOSSELIN (10/12/00): Bush seemed disingenuous in describing his role in combating air pollution in Texas, where some large cities have severe smog problems. For most of his governorship, Bush left unchanged the law that allowed about 1,000 utility plants and other industrial plants built before the federal 1971 Clean Air Act to meet lower emission standards than newer plants.In short, Bush had pushed a sweeping bill which made compliance with emission standards voluntary. But he only mentioned a much smaller bill which did have mandatory standards. (The decon—electric decontrol bill that I fought for and signed in Texas has mandatory emission standards, Mr. Vice President, Bush indignantly said, thereby correcting Gores troubling statement.) According to the Boston Globe, the Gore campaign challenged Bushs statement, even as the debate was proceeding. Overall, Bush appeared to misspeak with more frequency than the vice president, the Globes fact-check team said.