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Daily Howler: Incomparably, we cut-and-paste Harwood--and warn of a road to defeat
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OUR LARGER POINT! Incomparably, we cut-and-paste Harwood—and warn of a road to defeat: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JULY 10, 2006

OUR LARGER POINT: Roger Ailes responded last week to our criticisms of his talking-head round-up (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/5/06). For ourselves, we wish we could have found a more cheerful way to lodge our complaints about Roger’s post. But we’ll stand by our basic point: Roger’s summary of the Sunday shows was grossly misleading in major ways, and flat-out wrong in certain others. Two particulars: That Meet the Press panel massively tilted against the Bush Admin’s positions. And on This Week, every single thing Joe Klein said took the anti-Bush posture. No one could have imagined these facts from reading Roger’s summary. No, that wasn’t the end of the world—but it did deserve comment.

Being human, we’re all inclined to put our thumb on the scale when we review events around us. But we don’t see how we can build a real progressive politics out of posting embellished complaints. Going a bit further, it seems to us that progressives will be poorly served by adopting the tactics of the kooky-con right (something this writer at the Huffington Post seemed to advocate this weekend). Increasingly, our politics is going to feature battles between the haves and have-nots. For progressives, the other side will increasingly be better-connected and more powerful. In these future debates, the most powerful tool we’ll have on our side will be an insistence on traditional standards of fact and logic. We will never be able to out-bullroar the tribunes of the rich and the powerful. Our view? When we head down that tempting road, we commit ourselves to future defeat.

Roger did make one claim about the Wall Street Journal’s John Harwood that we thought was worth pursuing. Is Harwood some sort of “right-winger?” Unless we are simply rewriting the language, no—simply put, he is not. Harwood is a bland, conventional mainstream reporter/pundit—perfectly capable, largely predictable, unexciting, generally non-partisan. You may not agree with every word he says—but no, he isn’t another Bill Bennett. As an illustration, we’ll post the transcript of his last Countdown appearance. He appeared on the show with guest host Brian Unger to discuss the alleged “bump in the polls” George Bush was said to be enjoying in the aftermath of his trip to Iraq (shortly after the death of Zarqawi). What follows is the full transcript of this segment. As you can surely see, Harwood did not express a “right-winger” perspective on this ballyhooed tick in the polls. Harwood is not a fiery liberal in his public role. But he isn’t a right-winger either:

UNGER (6/15/06): More on the reinvigorated Rove later. First the return [from Iraq] of the commander in chief, clearly hoping that the appearance of a turning point in Iraq will help foster a turnaround in public opinion here.

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll suggesting it might, at least is a little bit. Sixty-one percent still think the country is on the wrong track. But that’s down from two months ago. The president`s approval rating got a point bump, up to 37 percent from 36 percent back in April. And his approval ratings in Iraq are also up, 35 percent now approve of the job he is doing, up two percentage points.

But unchanged, the public perception of whether removing Saddam Hussein was worth the human and financial cost to the war. Fifty-two percent still say it wasn’t. Now to put the polls and the politics in perspective. I`m joined by CNBC’s chief Washington correspondent, Wall Street Journal senior contributing writer, John Harwood. Thank you, John, for joining us.

HARWOOD: Hey, Brian.

UNGER: The poll was taken before President Bush went to Iraq but after the death of Zarqawi. He seems to have gotten a slight lift in his approval ratings for that. Is it safe to assume he is going to get another bump from his five hours in the Green Zone, too?

HARWOOD: He might get a little, Brian, but I think Americans are going to be watching, waiting and seeing what actually happens on the ground before they decide how much of a bump to give him. This bump he got in our survey show that the death of Zarqawi made people feel a little more optimistic. His approval did tick up one point, but so did his disapproval. So far, the American people are taking a cautious approach to interpreting this news. We should say this was before he got the good news about Karl Rove.

That may not be reflected in the polls, either, but certainly it is a good substantive development from the standpoint of Republican politicians.

UNGER: With these approval ratings in the 30s, what do you think would give it a little uptick here?

HARWOOD: I think the only thing, Brian, that is going to make a big, big difference in the president`s ratings and in the overall mood of the country is if there is enough progress that the president could credibly go to the country and say, because things are going so well in Iraq, we are going to be able to bring a lot of American troops home. Until that happens, people are going to realize the costs of this war, that they are continuing, they have been going on for a long time, a lot of guard and reserves and soldiers, regular soldiers are on their second, third, and fourth tours. People are very tired of it.

UNGER: Let`s talk about that in real terms. The president`s upbeat demeanor in the Rose Garden markedly different than his somewhat humble appearance with Tony Blair last month. But beneath this hoopla, the conditions on the ground seem to be unchanged that there was no announcement of troop draw-downs, no sense of when this mission will be accomplished, no indication of when this new Iraqi government might stand up so our soldiers can stand down. Despite the enthusiasm from the president, if—let`s look at it this way, if you are a soldier on the ground, what is changed today?

HARWOOD: Nothing, really, although there were reports, of course, that Zarqawi was not only directing the insurgency in Iraq, but he was also training foreign terrorists to be sent out and dispersed to other countries and attack the United States.

To the extent he`s gone, let’s make no mistake, that is a positive development, but it doesn’t solve the problem the president alluded to today with continued sectarian violence. They have got to do something about the militias and make sure that that doesn’t overwhelm the resources of the new government. But we have got an awfully long way to go before people can feel like we are winning there. And that`s the key point that White House officials have understood for a long time.

As long as the American people think we are not winning the war, they are going to be downbeat about it. If the president can use some of that upbeat mood to convey a sense of optimism, and we can really do it, and we are doing it, that could make some difference, but not until large numbers of troops come home is it going to make a huge difference.

UNGER: Let’s take a political angle here, John. The president`s emphasis on solidarity with the Iraqi government, we heard this mantra, we are with you. Is this the first step in laying a political foundation or plan to extricate U.S. soldiers from this war gradually without it appearing he is making the decision based on polls, which as you know, consistently point to the fact that most Americans don`t want to be there?

HARWOOD: Well, it could be, but I think that’s a fascinating question and double-edged sword perhaps. First of all, the president has a good track for not pulling out troops when it might have helped his 2004 reelection. He hung in there. And I think it was striking in his remarks in the last couple of days how determined he is to stay the course and try to convince the American people that it’s worth it, that we have an important, long-term national security reason for staying there, apart from whatever happens to the Iraqi government per se, or the Iraqi people themselves. It matters to the American people.

And it’s possible to see in the president`s remarks—him getting in deeper, if you will, personally committing himself to helping al-Maliki, making it more difficult to respond to pressure if that comes later in the year from Republicans saying, “Mr. President, we just can`t tolerate this anymore.” He certainly doubled his bet, if you will, on remaining in Iraq and making this work and it’s plain that it is something he believes in, has bet his presidency on.

UNGER: Quickly, here, in all the talk of self-governance, self-defense, these are terrific topics that should have been best discussed three years ago. By talking about them now are we sort of admitting that there is no policy as we went into this war?

HARWOOD: I think everybody agrees that there were a lot of mistakes made in the planning. People argue on different sides. The president alluded to that. Some people argue that a lot more troops should have been sent in the first place. But I think what the president is trying to do now is move the debate forward and not back. He knows if it’s looking backwards he will lose that debate.

UNGER: CNBC’s chief Washington correspondent and Wall Street Journal senior contributing writer John Harwood, thank you so much for your time tonight.

HARWOOD: My pleasure.

We don’t know Harwood, and we’re not major fans. As noted, he’s competent, bland, conventional, predictable—but no, his isn’t a right-winger. On Meet the Press, he went after Bennett for the whole segment. But then, there was nothing surprising about that. In fact, Meet the Press had not assembled a panel of “right-wingers” that day.

On the liberal web, we often brag that we represent the “reality-based” community. In the future, progressives will continue to find themselves at war with well-funded dissemblers—tribunes of powerful upper-class interests. Our view? Aggressive embrace of “reality”—of the traditions of fact and logic—will constitute our best hope for success. It’s always tempting to overstate—and being human, we all end up doing it. But for progressives, it’s a road to defeat. There they go again, we should say, when tribunes of the powerful do it.