Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

LET’S PRAISE HARDBALL! Kerry offered a nuanced discussion. Why can’t our pundits do likewise?


LET’S PRAISE HARDBALL: We strongly recommend the transcript of last night’s Hardball, featuring John Kerry for the full hour before a student group at The Citadel. Kerry offered intelligent, nuanced views about war with Iraq—the kind of views that have often been obliterated in our pundit discussions. And this was truly a fascinating hour, matching the experience of a seasoned solon with the youthful ardor of the Citadel’s corps. Such discussions have occurred since the dawn of the west—at least since noble Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, spoke words of wisdom to ardent Diomedes in the war councils portrayed in The Iliad.

We note that Kerry assumes that a war with Iraq will most likely prove necessary. But he offered sensible advice about steps we should take in the hope of averting such action. What a shame—that our pundits tend to be so much less capable than this pol, whom one of their number recently scorned because he likes to play the guitar. Read last night’s transcript, then review that odd piece (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/10/02). Then shake your head in utter amazement at the state of our puzzling press corps.

Or look back over Andrew Sullivan’s reaction when Gore made his speech on Iraq last Monday. Tragicomically, Sullivan’s lead reaction (on last Tuesday) was entitled, “NOW WE KNOW.” We reprint the segment in full:

NOW WE KNOW: I wonder what Al Gore’s champions in the 2000 race who belong to the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic party must think now. Gore unveiled himself in the 2000 campaign as a left-liberal on domestic matters—favoring race-baiting, corporation-bashing and pseudo-populism. But his neo-liberal supporters still supported him. They argued that he was still a foreign policy hawk, that he favored strong American action in the Balkans, that he backed the first Gulf War, that he was pro-Israel to the core. Now we know he was faking that as well. His comments on the war do not surprise me. They don’t make Gore an isolationist, or a reluctant warrior on terror, or any other kind of ideologue. They just show that he is a pure opportunist, with no consistency in his political views on foreign or domestic policy. He’ll say whatever he thinks will get him power or attention or votes. How else to explain his sudden U-turn on Iraq? Two years ago, he was demanding that Saddam must go. Seven months ago, he was calling for a “final reckoning” with Iraq, a state that was a “virulent threat in a class by itself.” Now, with Saddam far closer to weapons of mass destruction, Gore is happy to see Saddam stay in place. Even the New York Times, in a piece written to soften the hard edges of Gore’s attack on Bush, conceded that “his appearance here suggested a shift in positioning by Mr. Gore, who has for 10 years portrayed himself as a moderate, particularly when it comes to issues of foreign policy.” You can say that again.
And that’s true. “You can say it again” as much as you like, but that won’t make it true—or intelligent.

“How else to explain [Gore’s] sudden U-turn on Iraq?” Duh. How about explaining it the way Gore did? As Sullivan may have somewhere heard, there is now a “war on terror” going on, and Gore claimed, in his speech, that unilateral pursuit of a War on Saddam would do major harm to that effort. Gore might be right and he might be wrong, but his claim didn’t seem to be crazy—after all, Brent Scowcroft had made the same claim only a few weeks before.

What would have served the national interest in the wake of this speech by Gore? As E. J. Dionne asked, “Why couldn’t you have a straight account of what Al Gore said, and then a debate, including all the questions?” Dionne had another suggestion. “If you want to have Rush Limbaugh on trashing Al Gore afterward, fine. Report the news,” the Post-man said. “Report what [Gore] said, and then criticize him.”

But that would have been too much for Sullivan, one of the stunningly immature fellows who inexplicably steward our discourse. Predictably, Sullivan couldn’t quite bring himself to “report what Gore said.” According to Gore’s speech, it was perfectly obvious “what had changed” since his statement of two years ago; according to Gore (and to Scowcroft before him), the war on terror had changed the terrain, and it needed to be considered in planning a War on Saddam. But Sullivan couldn’t quite bring himself to tell readers what Gore had said. Instead, he launched on a silly discussion of whether Gore was a hawk, or a dove, or a left- or neo-liberal—the kind of brainless discussion that increasingly defines the work of his dysfunctional cohort. Perhaps you’ve heard of “boys with toys.” For the boys who increasingly run our discourse, the toys-of-choice tend to be brainless labels.

Kerry spoke with some nuance last night, to a hall of ardent young (mostly) men. But those young men, nineteen years old, were far more intelligent than the fellow Sullivan plays in his web site. What a shame that the young men will walk out of that hall and be confronted with the dysfunctional gang that addles their senses—with a gang that talks about how fat Gore is, and does Kerry wind-surf, or play the accordion.

It’s hard to imagine where we found this crew. They are childish, dishonest, immature, hugely dumb—and they’re eager to serve you, day after day, with distractions from things that might matter.

WINGED WORDS OF WISDOM FROM NOBLE NESTOR: Nestor “always gave the best advice,” Homer said. We think Professor Fagles has it just about right in his 1990 translation. With minor variations, this ancestral scene was replayed on last evening’s Hardball. Rash Diomedes has stirred the troops with a call for instant action:

HOMER, The Iliad:
But Nestor the old driver rose and spoke at once.
“Few can match your power in battle, Diomedes,
and in council you excel all men your age
But you don’t press on and reach a useful end.
How young you are—why, you could be my son,
my youngest-born at that…
But it’s my turn now, Diomedes.
I think I can claim to have some years on you.
So I must speak up and drive the matter home.
And no one will heap contempt on what I say,
not even mighty Agamemnon…”
But if noble Nestor spoke today, many would heap contempt on his statements. Did the seasoned driver have a beard? Was he heavier (or lighter) than the least time he rose? Does he play show tunes? Or wind-surf the wine-dark sea? And many pundits would simply pretend that Nestor’s comments made no sense at all. They would struggle for ways to pretend that he’d made some sort of “U-turn” from prior discussions. “Contradictions” and “lies” would be quickly made up, and recited by scores of daft pundits.

Weirdly, impulsive young children now rule our discussion. But for a hint of more sensible times, read your Homer—or review last night’s Hardball.

GOOD SOUND ADVICE: Nestor advises Agamemnon to serve a fine meal and call a council of elders:

HOMER, The Iliad:
“Come, gather us all and we will heed that man
who gives the best advice. That’s what they need,
I tell you—all the Achaeans—good sound advice.”
Of course, if Adam Nagourney were writing it up, he’d stress what a bum noble Nestor was for not saying what he’d do about tax cuts. “Nestor offers few suggestions,” the headline would likely have said.