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Daily Howler: How did George Bush ever get to the White House? At long last, the tale should be told
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HOW HE GOT THERE! How did George Bush ever get to the White House? At long last, the tale should be told: // link // print // previous // next //

SCARBOROUGH GETS IT RIGHT: Fairly often, Joe Scarborough is cable TV’s best pundit. On Monday evening, he put the wood to Rep. Peter King (R-NY) about the attacks on the New York Times for publishing the financial transfer story. And uh-oh! At one point, Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, challenged King on his party’s reluctance to perform oversight of the White House:
SCARBOROUGH (6/26/06): Do you not trust yourself with this information, do you not trust your peers? You are the head of the Homeland Security Committee, for God`s sake. I would hope that you— Listen, what if Hillary Clinton is president two years from now, three years from now, and she is conducting these type of programs? Aren’t you going to demand to have that type of knowledge ahead of time?
As he closed the segment, Scarborough did the sort of thing that often makes him a fabulous pundit. Omigod! He told us the truth! He said that his Republican colleagues would have screamed about this sort of thing during the Clinton-Gore years:
SCARBOROUGH: Friends, here`s the bottom line. OK? Let`s bottom-line this one for you.

For me, it comes down to double standards. I always apply the test of what we Republicans would have done had this happened during the 1990s. During the Clinton administration, when I was sitting on the Judiciary Committee, I’ll tell you what would have happened—we would have raised hell. We would not have trusted Bill Clinton with this type of unlimited power. And we have not trusted—we never would have trusted Janet Reno as attorney general with this type of unlimited power.

This is a fight, not just between Republicans and Democrats, not just between the New York Times and George Bush, but it`s a fight between conservative Republicans who believe in limited government—those Jeffersonian Republicans—and establishment Republicans that want to give this administration whatever they ask for.

In our book, Scarborough is best in show when he speaks so frankly—about the double standards he sees from those on his own side.

IT’S SO EASY: Harold Meyerson pens a must-read column in this morning’s Post. Wisely, Meyerson fears that the Bush Admin may yet achieve a political win on Iraq. Here is his opening paragraph:

MEYERSON (6/28/06): Let's give credit where credit is due: Nobody knows how to take the worst political hand imaginable—responsibility for a failing war—and turn it to their own advantage like the Republicans. That was the defining political accomplishment of Richard Nixon in Vietnam. It may yet be the defining political achievement of George W. Bush in Iraq.
Could Bush still win the politics of Iraq? As he continues, Meyerson recalls how this worked for Nixon in the Vietnam era:
MEYERSON: [B]y continuing the conflict, and even expanding it into Cambodia, [Nixon] enraged the 40 percent of the nation that wanted us out of Vietnam. Millions of demonstrators took to the streets; some of the student movement embraced a wacky, self-marginalizing anti-Americanism; and mainstream Democrats grew steadily more antiwar.

And by nurturing such deep divisions in the body politic, Nixon created the very kind of political landscape on which he was a master at maneuvering...

Things are different today, Meyerson says. “There aren't really demonstrators in the streets. No one is being rude or disorderly.” But wisely, Meyerson worries that Bush may yet score a political win by painting Dems as defeatists.

We do have one small gripe with this column. Meyerson seems to think that political genius is required to “take the worst political hand imaginable—responsibility for a failing war—and turn it to [an] advantage.” But in the American political context, this does not take genius. The American public is fairly easily turned on the emotional issues of war. When the “commander in chief” starts to yell “cut and run,” American voters will often be swayed. Historically, it has been fairly easy to make this type of appeal.

Meyerson is right to worry about this. Our suggestion? If Dems and libs aren’t very savvy, this may be an easier play for Bush than Meyerson says.

Special pleading: How he got there!

PART 1—A WORTHLESS STORY: Again, we’ll suggest that you read the book excerpt we posted yesterday, concerning the coverage of Campaign 2000 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/06). And if you do, remember this—that episode is only one of dozens which defined the coverage of that crucial campaign. In the matter we described in yesterday’s post, the mainstream press corps, in massive numbers, recited a puzzling bit of logic—an oddball script which came to it straight from the Bush campaign itself. But this occurred, again and again, from March 1999 through November 2000. The full story of this press corps campaign is astounding. And yes, it explains how Bush ended up in the White House—and how the U.S. Army ended up in Iraq.

But as we have repeatedly said, most Americans have never heard this remarkable story, or anything dimly resembling it. Instead, Americans keep hearing, and keep repeating, an alternate, know-nothing, Gore-blaming tale—a story which utterly fails to explain the key dynamic of Campaign 2000. Sadly, even liberals love to recite it. Below, we offer the latest iteration; it was penned by Bruno Guissani in yesterday’s Huffington Post. Giussani describes a recent speech by Tony Robbins—a speech at which Al Gore was present. We’ll substitute our own points of emphasis for those in Giussani’s original post:

GIUSSANI (6/27/06): One of these talks contains another powerful Gore-related moment of truth. At one point during his speech, motivational speaker Tony Robbins asks the audience to raise their hand if they have ever failed to achieve something significant in their lives. All hands go up. So Robbins asks: why did you fail? And starts listing the answers: not enough knowledge; lack of time; not enough money; lack of other resources; wrong boss. "The Supreme Court", says a voice from front row, and it's Al Gore's. The whole room laughs. Robbins too, and walks towards Gore to shake his hand. But then he becomes serious again: "You may not have enough money, you may not have the Supreme Court. But that's not the defining factor. The defining factor is never resources: it's resourcefulness”. The audience goes silent, sensing that something is gonna happen. "If you have emotion, something that I have experienced very strongly from you the other night [during your first speech] at a level that's as profound as I ever experienced, and if you had communicated with that emotion, I believe you would have...won!" Easy to guess what goes to many minds in the audience at that moment: Wow! Has Tony Robbins just flatly told Gore the other inconvenient truth?
Let’s summarize. In this story, Robbins recites the Current Standard Everyone-Can-Recite-It Conventional Account of Campaign 2000. Here it is: If Gore had only been more authentic/had been himself/had been more emotional/had behaved the way he does in his movie, he would have ended up in the White House (“would have won,” as Robbins puts it). As we’ve said, everyone has heard this recitation; most people have heard it a thousand times. (When we went to see Gore’s film last Friday, it was the last thing we heard going in—and the first thing we heard coming out.) By now, everyone on earth, even Robbins, can recite this familiar story. Meanwhile, Giussani can’t wait to run to the Post and vouch for this savant’s vast wisdom.

Might Gore have ended up in the White House if he’d campaigned a bit differently? Obviously, yes, he might have done so; because Campaign 2000 was so narrowly decided, any change you can imagine might have changed the outcome. And no, Gore wasn’t a perfect candidate (no one is), although he was a very good one in certain ways. Sorry, kids, but Tony Robbins doesn’t really know much about that.

So yes—Gore might have ended up in the White House if he’d campaigned somewhat differently. But plainly, Gore’s performance was not the most striking element of this crucial campaign. Just look at that excerpt we posted yesterday, concerning the coverage of Bush and Gore’s first debate. What happened in that remarkable incident? There was nothing much wrong with Gore’s performance; he won all five post-debate viewer polls, by an average margin of ten percent. But uh-oh! The mainstream press corps then swung into action, offering an odd analysis. Here’s one example of the logic which was peddled all over the press:

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER EDITORIAL (10/4/00): Whether Bush won or lost on points, he was the overall victor because, with lower expectations, he held his own and didn’t embarrass himself.
As we showed you, this puzzling bit of logic was yodeled all over the American press. Yes, Gore had won “on points,” pundits said. But Bush was really the overall victor, because he was somehow being held to a lower standard—and because he didn’t “embarrass himself.” (Say anything stupid; mangle any sentences; commit any bloopers; drown in a sea of malapropisms.) As we noted, Mara Liasson summed it up brilliantly one week later, on Fox:
LIASSON (10/10/00): I don’t think [Bush] made a big botch of things in the first debate. He didn’t mispronounce words; he just didn’t very effectively make a clear, coherent argument for his policies. But otherwise, in the aftermath, he was fine. I think the bar is higher for Gore, there’s no doubt about it. Here’s a guy who kind of lost for winning. He came out of the debate winning on points and still losing the game.
Endlessly, pundits recited this puzzling script. Yes, Gore had done a better job. But because Bush didn’t make “a big botch of things” (didn’t “mispronounce words”), pundits declared him the winner. And yes, this oddball talking-point had come straight from the Bush camp itself. And this, of course, was only the start of the way the press corps spun this debate. A savage pounding awaited Gore—one which Margaret Carlson explained to Don Imus, quite remarkably, exactly one week later. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/03.)

This was a crucial episode in Campaign 2000—a vastly damaging episode for Gore. But clearly, the damaging outcome of this debate had little to do with Gore’s performance. Could Gore have performed somewhat better in this debate? Yes, of course he could have. But Gore’s performance had little to do with what happened in this critical matter. And yet, know-nothings like Giussani and Robbins won’t stop reciting their know-nothing script, in which Campaign 2000 is said to turn on the fact that Gore could have performed somewhat better. Yes, Gore could have performed somewhat better. But that ignores the astonishing conduct which actually shaped this historic race. Over and over, that astonishing conduct came from the press corps—not from Gore himself. People who tell you to focus on Gore have led you away from the story.

People love to recite simple stories—and Robbins does so in this post. Our question: Will voters get to hear the actual story of what actually happened in Campaign 2000? As we’ve told you, we’re now returning to a book project—to the book which tells this remarkable story. And yes—yesterday’s excerpt tells just one small part of an astonishing, two-year-long tale.

We’re tired of hearing the know-nothing story. And by the way: If you have suggestions about publication, we would love to hear them. Here at THE HOWLER, we lack the gene for knocking on doors—so consider this a general call for smart and savvy book agents. The story of Campaign 2K is astounding—and it’s time to let people hear it. It’s time to cut our motivational speakers loose—and to let people learn their real history.

Robbins knows little about that campaign. Here at THE HOWLER, we know the full story. We’ll offer more thoughts on this book on the morrow. But hey! Book agents! Get off your keisters! How did George Bush ever get to the White House? At long last, voters deserve to be told. Campaign 2000 changed all our lives. Its history deserves to be told.