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WHEN GORE SPOKE ON WAR (PART 1)! Two years ago, Gore nailed Iraq. But guess how your pundits reacted:


ZINNI ON RUSSERT: We received a number of e-mails about Tim Russert’s session with Nancy Pelosi (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/1/04). One e-mail raised an important point, a point which may call for clarification:

E-MAIL: Nice to see a dissection of Russert’s questioning of Pelosi. When he began asking his questions, which blatantly assumed the Republican spin position 100 percent, I found myself slack-jawed in disgust.
By contrast, some mailers say they emitted “low, mordant chuckles.” We found this mailer’s “slack-jawed” response more suitable for the occasion.

But here’s a point of clarification. It isn’t necessarily wrong to consider GOP (or Dem) talking-points. If a host plans to ape them the way Russert did, he might want to say whose outlook he’s pimping. But the two parties have a right to express their views, and especially if they raise good points, it’s perfectly OK to use them.

The problem here concerns the content of the GOP points. Russert’s questions had nothing to do with the actual merits of Pelosi’s views; instead, he seemed to scold her for having expressed them. Such an attitude strangles democracy. When he appeared on 60 Minutes, General Zinni discussed such approaches:
ZINNI: Look, there is one, there’s one statement that bothers me more than anything else, and that’s the idea that when the troops are in combat, everybody has to shut up. Imagine if we put troops in combat with a faulty rifle, and that rifle was malfunctioning and troops were dying as a result; I can’t think of anybody that would allow that to happen, that would not speak up. Well, what's the difference between that and a faulty plan and a faulty concept and strategy that’s getting just as many troops killed and is leading down a path where we're not succeeding in accomplishing the mission that we've set out to do?
Zinni is the former commander of all U.S. troops in Iraq. But somehow Russert knew much better about the way the troops must be feeling. The GOP had been pushing this line, and Big Russ’s obedient Buffalo boy knew he should peddle it too.

Our current series: Gore on war

GORE ON WAR (PART 1): As you know, it’s Hard Pundit Law. Any time Al Gore makes a speech, pundits scramble into position, competing to make the silliest comment. To prove they belong, they recite approved scripts. For example, when Gore spoke last week to, the New Republic’s Ryan Lizza recited on CNN’s Inside Politics:
LIZZA (5/30/04): I basically agree with what Jonah [Goldberg] said. I mean, you have to have someone that goes to the [Democratic] base and sort of gives them a little bit of red meat once in a while. And if Kerry is not going do it, why not Al Gore? This is who–Al Gore has sort of reinvented himself in the last few years.
Good boy! Lizza thought Gore’s speech made political sense–so he managed to score Pundit Bonus Points by working in “reinvented.” Not prepared to be outdone, Goldberg soon tossed it out too:
GOLDBERG: [Gore] may have 2008 in mind. But that’s betting that he’s not going to reinvent himself between now and then, which has so far been a losing bet for Al Gore.
Good boy! “Reinvented” is always safe when pundits are asked to comment on Gore. So too with another guild-approved claim: It’s all about the next White House election.

Meanwhile, on Meet the Press, Andrea Mitchell took a different tack. Mitchell was at pains to misstate what Gore said in his speech:
MITCHELL (5/30/04): I think what’s most unhelpful to John Kerry in this regard is Al Gore. The Al Gore speech sets out what is a growing feeling in the Democratic base. We want out [of Iraq]. We want quick withdrawal. And John Kerry has not signed on to that. And the more Al Gore speaks out in this fashion, emotionally pulling at the heartstrings of the Democratic liberal base, the more it sets Kerry apart from his own party.
Of course, Gore said nothing about withdrawal. In fact, he explicitly said that Kerry shouldn’t propose any specific plan for Iraq. But so what? When Al Gore speaks, pundits start inventing. It’s a special time for our pundit brigades–a time when they get to imagine the world, and just let the facts be gol-danged.

But mostly last week, as everyone knows, pundits said Al Gore was crazy. “It looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again,” said spooky Fox pseudo-psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/28/04). But the phony doctor was really IN when John Podhoretz typed for the New York Post. “It is now clear that Al Gore is insane,” he explained. “I think he needs medication.” Of course, let’s recall something we mentioned last week. Given the Short Attention Span of most pundits, the claim that Gore is “clearly insane” often means that he just spoke too long:
PODHORETZ: Gore’s speech is the single craziest political performance of my lifetime, and I use the word “craziest” advisedly. The speech, at 6,600 words, was twice as long as Bush’s address to the nation on Monday night. The indiscipline shown by the sheer endlessness of Gore’s address is a reflection of the psychic morass in which he has become mired.
To Podhoretz, when Gore had more to say than Bush, it meant that Gore was crazy. But so it has gone for several years when Gore dares to give public speeches.

Yes, the pundits clowned and played, as they have done for years with Gore. But the timing of Gore’s latest trashing intrigued us here at THE HOWLER. On the same day The Veep made his troubling speech, the New York Times wrote an “editor’s note” explaining why the brilliant paper had bungled the run-up to war in Iraq. In Washington, everybody understands–now–that our press elites failed us two years ago. And everyone is busy swearing that they’ll be much more careful the next time.

But wouldn’t you know it? One well-known person spoke quite clearly in the period now under review. On September 23, 2002, a former official–his name was Al Gore–delivered a highly-publicized speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. “I want to talk about the relationship between America’s war against terrorism and America’s proposed war against Iraq,” he began. “Like most Americans I've been wrestling with the question of what our country needs to do to defend itself from the kind of focused, intense and evil attack that we suffered a year ago, September 11.”

We think Gore’s speech is intriguing today because it turned out to be so prophetic. On that date–two years ago–Gore recited a list of points that have now become Conventional Wisdom. Two years later, many Americans would surely say that Al Gore hit the nail on the head. More particularly, every pundit knows to agree with the things Gore said in his address.

But readers, what did they do, two years ago, when Al Gore gave that cogent speech? Of course! They said the speech showed Gore was a nut! And a liar! Gore’s speech that day was right on target–but a vacuous “press corps” ranted and played. If you think they plan to change their ways because they now pretend to repent, you might recall that day two years ago, when Gore spoke out on war.

TOMORROW: What Gore said

ALL TOGETHER NOW: As you know, Washington pundits just can’t be happy until they’re all saying the same stupid things. Last week, to cite one example, Washington flunkies ran to say that Gore is just like Howard Dean. How scripted are the lads and lassies? Here is a small pundit sampler:

Maureen Dowd, New York Times, 5/27/04: John Kerry’s advisers were surprised and annoyed to hear that Mr. Gore hollered so much, he made Howard Dean look like George Pataki.

Paula Zahn, Paula Zahn Now, 5/27/04: Well, we did see a pretty good Howard Dean imitation from Al Gore, didn't we?

Robert Novak, Crossfire, 5/28/04: [Gore] gained credence with the huge lunatic wing of the Democratic Party this week when he did his imitation of Howard Dean shouting.

Margaret Carlson, Capital Gang, 5/29/04: That looked like Gore channeling Howard Dean in Iowa. It’s not a good performance.

Chris Matthews, The Chris Matthews Show, 5/30/04: Wary Kerry! Al Gore screams like Dean, but the candidate stays cool, some say too cool.
Matthews was giving the show’s introduction. During the actual program itself, he played a few clips of what Gore had said, interspersed with excerpts from Dean’s famous speech. And Newsweek’s Jon Meacham knew what he should do. He said what his host hoped to hear:
MATTHEWS: Wasn’t that a great chorus there, Jon? Do you think that’s leadership there? I mean–

MEACHAM: I have a scream!

MATTHEWS: I have a scream.

Good boy! Meacham did what Good Pundits do–he agreed with his social superior.

Of course, it’s fun to see where these spin-points get started. According to Nexis, this one began on Wednesday’s Capitol Report, voiced by RNC shill Barbara Comstock. Alan Murray, host of the show, quickly agreed with his guest:
COMSTOCK (5/26/04): No, I have to think that the Kerry campaign is cringing when you see those images that are very Howard Dean-like. And–

MURRAY: They are. It was very much like Howard Dean.

Good boy! According to Nexis, it started with Comstock, then roared through the ranks, becoming one of the week’s basic points. We’ll enjoy more of the pundit corps’ clowning as our series continues this week.

By the way: As we noted last week, Gore’s speech was extremely low-key, except for a few moments when he called for Bush Admin resignations. To see the speech which few pundits watched, you know what to do. Just click here. Warning: Despite the speaker’s “clear insanity,” you will have to wait a good long while before you see Gore raise his voice.

From the annals of Globe-al vacuity

ADOPTING THE NICHE OF A NAMESAKE: How far back do we go in this business? Why, we can even remember a day when, if you heard someone make fun of “the Globe,” you assumed they meant the supermarket tabloid! But the Boston Globe has ended all that. Consider Sunday’s Matthews Show. Nina Easton, the Globe’s ace Kerry reporter, was one of program’s guests. Yes, the following exchange really happened. No, we really aren’t making it up. And yes, that’s the New York Times’ David Brooks chiming in with the vacuous joke. In the empty world of the modern press, no man is a Gilligan’s Island:
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Who's the real John Kerry? Before he headed off to Vietnam, John Kerry was a loner at the elite St. Paul’s Boarding School, but already charting his course for the presidency at Yale. Nina, is this a guy that was one of these guys you meet in school, they run for student council president every year, they’re planning to go to Harvard Law, and the whole thing’s about becoming president of the United States?

EASTON: There is–there’s no doubt that that’s a piece of John Kerry. There’s a piece of John Kerry that wants to please audiences, which gets him into this what, what Nixon called “the phony.” You know, in 1971 Nixon snarling to Charles Colson, you know, this, this, this anti-war protestor Kerry’s a phony but a real effective phony at that.

For the record, Kerry went to Boston College Law. But yes, dear readers, it really is true! We have now reached the point where major pundits like to quote Nixon calling Kerry a phony! Laughably, the Globe “biographical team” to which Easton belongs is so enamored of this Nixon comment that they quote it three separate times in their bio of Kerry–first in the preface, then in the introduction, and then in the actual bio itself! By the time you hit page 110, you’ve seen them lovingly quote Nixon’s comment three times! (Not that they have any problem with Kerry!) But let’s get back to Sunday’s show. Our biographer continued her limnings:
EASTON (continuing directly): The thing that people don’t realize about John Kerry, he’s not really from a Massachusetts neighborhood. He lived his life–he was always saying goodbye. He lived his life across a dozen towns in two continents. He was shipped off to boarding school when he was 11 years old. This is not–this is somebody who–

MATTHEWS: Why does he talk like a Brahmin then?

EASTON: It’s very funny, by the way, to listen to his–the tape in 1971–


EASTON: –his Senate testimony with the high Boston Brahmin accent.

MATTHEWS: He sounds like a Brit! He sounds like a Brit!

EASTON: Which is gone. It’s completely gone!

MATTHEWS: I wonder why he decided that wasn’t going to work?

BROOKS: Thurston Howell III.

EASTON: Right, Thurston Howell III.

What does Nina Easton think when she hears young Kerry discuss Vietnam? Of course! Easton think it’s very funny, because of Kerry’s funny accent! At any rate, let’s skip the part about dating Jackie’s half-sister. And let’s skip the brilliant theories about the suicide of Kerry’s grandfather. Let’s get to the part where the BBC’s Katty Kay puzzled her head about John:
KAY: What I don't understand about Kerry is here is a man who’s wanted to become president, it seems, all his life. He’s worked in politics for so long, but he hasn’t managed to master–and this is what David was saying, he hasn't managed to master that ability to connect with people. I mean, this is something you can learn, I think. He doesn’t have to do these speeches. I think even the foreign policy speech that he gave this week, there was a lot of valuable stuff in there, but it didn’t–wasn't a speech that got my heart soaring, thinking, “Right. Here is somebody that's going to lead us in a safer direction.” Why has he not been able to do that?
Katty! Maybe Kerry met lots of people like you and just didn’t want to connect!

Of course, here’s the miracle about today’s press–they’re too lazy to update their own Standard Stories. Anyone can see the obvious–the stories these pundits recite about Kerry are the same silly stories they told about Gore. He always wanted to run for president! Weirdly, he doesn’t know how to connect! His father just wasn’t warm enough! Too lazy to bother inventing new tales, your pundit corps recites tired old hits. And yes, they really are that empty. When Easton hears Kerry talk about Nam, she can’t get past the funny accent. Is it any wonder that the Globe bio is one of the most comical books of its kind ever written? Or that, when people mock “the Globe,” they no longer think of the tabloid?