MONDAY, JUNE 2, 2003
CHAIT CHAT (PART 1): Jonathan Chaits cover piece in last weeks New Republic has many things to recommend it (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/03). But lets begin with that Culture of Lying. TNRs cover screams HES STILL LYING, and Chait isnt kidding around on that point. Bushs Most Dishonest Tax Cut Yet, says the cover. Soon, we get a groaning example of the culture which has grown around Bush:
CHAIT: Bushs primary justification for his tax cut is creating jobs, which he calls the plans whole purpose. Speaking in Ohio last month, Bush asserted, The package needs to be robust so that we can create more than a million new jobs by the end of 2004. Thats not my projection. Thats the projection of a lot of smart economists whove analyzed the package.Thats not my projection, Bush says. Its the projection of a lot of smart economists. But doh! In fact, the calculation comes from his own Council of Economic Advisers, Chait notes. More than a million new jobs from the tax cut? Right or wrong, thats the presidents projection. But as they listen to Bushs statement, decent Americans, trusting their president, are in fact being played once again.
Its embarrassing to sift through such ham-handed groaners, in which a president is so disingenuous. But a Culture of Lyingallowed by the presshas now spread all around Bush. Despite the headlines on TNRs cover, the lying isnt Chaits primary point. But his article spills with Grade A groaners. How disingenuous will Bush be? Here comes another prime example:
CHAIT: Bush told a California rally earlier this month, [Congress] agreed to [cut taxes in 2001]. The problem is that they werent going to let you keep your own money for three, five, or seven years from now. He makes it sound like an unwelcome scheme, probably cooked up by Tom Daschle. In fact, Bushs original 2001 plan had phase-ins, and Congresswith the administrations approvalextended the phase-ins in order to include the deepest possible tax cuts while still appearing to comply with its budget.As Chait has noted before, Bushs proposals have spilled with phase-ins and sunset clauses. But the man just loves to fool the rubes, so he pretends that his rivals did it.
There are many virtues to Chaits report; well examine different aspects of the piece all week. But on our first reading, we were struck by the groaners that litter the article. Some of the fakery is quite important. Other exampleslike those abovesimply bespeak a growing culture in which dissembling has become the rule. As president, Bush dissembles much, much more than he ever did as a candidate. But pols tend to lie when they know its allowed, and the press has permitted this nonsense from Bush. For that reason, Bush can say that what he did was actually done by someone else. He can pretend that clauses which he put in bills are the work of vile men of the Congress.
Where has all this nonsense come from? In Campaign 2000, the press corps created a pleasing script (they typecast a drama, said the Posts E. R. Shipp). According to the press corps script, Gore was a liar, just like Bill Clintonso Bushs dissembling had to be ignored. The corps made up lies and pretended Gore said them; meanwhile, Bushs camp slowly learned they could say whatever they liked. Now Americans are handed a string of prime groaners, and the press corps politely pretends not to notice. Tomorrow we examine more Grade A nonsenseimportant nonsense that drives our debates.
TOMORROW: Do tax cuts increase or decrease federal revenue? It all depends on where you stand regarding that Culture of Lying.
BOWDEN: I trusted Bush, and unless something big develops on the weapons front in Iraq soon, it appears as though I was fooled by him. Perhaps he himself was taken in by his intelligence and military advisers. If so, he ought to be angry as hell because ultimately, he bears the responsibility.We dont necessarily agree with Bowdens reasoning, but hes asking obvious questions. Bowden wants to know what happened here. Indeed, what American wouldnt?
Actually, after watching yesterdays Meet the Press, we can think of several. Does the fog come in on little cats feet? So did Russerts panel of pundits as they discussed those WMDs. David Broder did start the session by saying that the CIA in my view has been misused by this administration. But Russerts pussy-footin panel struggled to keep themselves out of the catnip. Mark Bowden wants the truth. Others arent eager to help him.
For example, what about those forged documents about uranium from Nigerthe documents Colin Powell touted at the UN? According to Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times (5/6), the documents in question had been forged so amateurishly that they should never have been taken seriously. According to Kristofs reporting, the matter had been clear since February 2002. At that time, a former ambassadorCheneys office had asked him to investigatereported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged. Kristof: The envoy reported, for example, that a Niger minister whose signature was on one of the documents had in fact been out of office for more than a decade. Seymour Hersh did similar reporting on this incident in the New Yorker.
Mark Bowden probably wants to know the truth about this matter. We hope he didnt watch Meet the Press. Incredibly, this was the panels entire discussion of that seminal topic:
RUSSERT: On January 24th, the presidents State of the Union message, he said that The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently bought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, and that now has been proven not to be accurate, that the documents were forged. How does that find its way into a presidential speech?Somebody goofed, Safire explained. And that was the total discussion! Russert simply changed the subject, moving on to the next question.
At times, the group seemed to be on Planet La-La. Nobody ever thought [Saddam] had nuclear arms, Robert Novak said at one point. And no one contradicted the statementalthough Cheney and Rice had both warned the public about those Iraqi nukes. Earlier, Novak served another howler, saying that the Admin never discussed Iraqi WMDs until Secretary Powell talked the president into going to the U.N. No one on the panel demurred, although the statement is complete, screaming nonsense. (Bush warned about Iraqi WMDs at a 10/11/01 press conference. Rice followed suit four days later.) Meanwhile, what do you suppose Broder said when Safire posed this tangy question?
BRODER: I believed the rationale that our government put out. I believed when they said that there are these weapons of mass destruction and we have proof that they exist What gave this urgency, what gave it the plausibility to go ahead and act on our own against Saddam Hussein was the assertion that he had amassed these weapons of mass destruction.How did Broder answer? He didntRussert cut the question off, moving to the Potemkin discussion about that Niger document.
No, the panel had little time for the questions which trouble Mark Bowden. But they did have oodles of time for one question. They had plenty of time to clown around, asking if Bill Clinton wants to seek a third term. Read through this embarrassing transcript, and marvel at the time spent on this nonsense. This Sunday, out in America, Mark Bowden had serious questions. But at Meet the Press, they knew their roles. They clowned around about Bill Clintonand ran from important discussion.
MILLIONAIRE PUNDIT VALUES: And, of course, theres always time for this required exchange:
RUSSERT: There are indications that some of the soldiers in Iraq, because of their low income, will not be beneficiaries of this tax cut. Would that be acceptable to you?Can these harlequins ever discuss the budget without explaining how rich they all are? The buffoonism here is simply endlessunlike that clipped discussion on the topic which Mark Bowden raised.