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Daily Howler: Harris and Halperin get some things right. But uh-oh! They face a large problem
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THE WAY TO SPIN (PART 1)! Harris and Halperin get some things right. But uh-oh! They face a large problem: // link // print // previous // next //

A RISKY LOVER: We think it’s sad when Dems and libs pin their hopes on silly sex scandals. At times, it can also be risky. On Sunday’s Chris Matthews Show, for example, Tucker Carlson offered this prediction: “Foley's not the only one who behaved in an inappropriate way with pages. There is at least one other, a heterosexual, and his name, I believe, will come out.” At Hullabaloo, tristero had a major cow about Carlson’s statement. (He seemed to assume that Carlson was talking about some Dem, although Carlson said nothing about party.) But large numbers of pages are now being interviewed, and it’s entirely possible that some Dem might have misbehaved along the way. Omigod! There goes the scandal if that should turn up! We have no idea where this will lead. But when we pin our hopes on scandal, we should recognize the obvious fact that scandals are unpredictable. They blow up.

Meanwhile, we chuckled a bit when we stopped by The Lake and read this post about Rahm Emanuel. In the following exchange on Sunday’s This Week, Rahm gave a classic non-denial denial when asked if he had known about Foley’s misconduct:
STEPHANOPOULOS (10/8/06): All week long, there have been suggestions by—on talk radio and by Republicans and their allies that this was perhaps a Democratic dirty trick. And I just want to ask you plainly, did you or your staff know anything about these e-mails or instant messages before they came out?

EMANUEL: George, never saw them. And I'm going to say one thing, let's go through the facts right here.

PUTNAM: But were you aware of them? Didn't have to see them.

EMANUEL: Never saw them. Let me go right through the facts. One, Brian Ross, who broke the story on your network, said it came from a Republican source. Very unusual to do that. Fact two, The Hill paper said it came from a Republican source. All the Republicans and staff people are coming forward are Republicans. Mark Foley, who wrote the e-mails originally, at the bottom of this whole problem, Republican. The leadership of the Congress, from Tom Reynolds to John Boehner to Speaker Hastert, who can't come on this show—

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you were not aware and no involvement?

EMANUEL: No, we never saw them. No involvement and she said not anything, George, and what the fact is, this is—

PUTNAM: Was there an awareness? Was there any awareness?

EMANUEL: Never saw them. The first time I ever saw these things, right here when Brian Ross broke this show and when the Post had the story.
On it’s face, that’s a world-class non-denial denial. Putnam kept asking Emanuel if he was “aware” of Foley’s conduct—and Emanuel kept sticking to a narrow, non-responsive reply. (Ditto for Stephanopoulos’ original question, in which he asked if Emanuel “knew anything” about the e-mails before they came out in the press.) That suggests an entirely unsurprising possibility—the possibility that Emanuel did know, in some way or other, that Foley had been misbehaving. He kept saying he hadn’t seen the e-mails. But he kept refusing to say that he hadn’t been aware.

At The Lake, this translated into a “smackdown” of Putnam. We saw it somewhat differently. How will this thrilling sex scandal play out? Frankly, we don’t hugely care. But when we give our heart to scandal, we give ourselves to a feckless lover. There’s no way to know how this mess will turn out. That’s the problem with such sweet affairs.

Special report: The way to spin

PART 1—A LARGE PROBLEM: Some of the things they said were right-on. Last Thursday, Mark Halperin and John Harris appeared on Charlie Rose to discuss their new book, The Way to Win. At one point, the gentlemen chatted about George Bush’s 2000 campaign. Candidate Bush had “known his stuff” better than most White House hopefuls, the pair said. Harris, anticipating criticism, fleshed out what they meant:
HARRIS (10/5/06): This is going to be a choke point, I know, for some people who say, you know, Al Gore or John Kerry were both smarter than George W. Bush. Whatever—I’m not even going to contest it. I think it is probably true in an SAT sense way, but when we are talking about “know your stuff,” we don`t mean who has got the higher SAT score. We mean the campaign and the candidate who has thought most about developing a coherent theory of the case, what are my ideas and how do they relate to my political strategy...It’s about having a theory of a case that you can describe in a sentence, if somebody asked you for a sentence, a paragraph if they want a paragraph, or a 20-minute speech if that is what they want. And having it be something that you actually believe.
We don’t agree with every word the pair said on this subject, but we largely agree with Harris here. When Bush showed up in Iowa in June 1999 and announced that he’d be running for president, he had the benefit of a campaign which was quite well-planned and well-thought-out. Bush had many shortcomings as a candidate. But he was able to define his major goals, and he could build a coherent framework around them. In Harris’ term, he had “a coherent theory of the case.” We were newly struck by that fact just a few weeks ago when we reviewed Bush’s early campaign speeches for the first time in several years. “George Bush, when he ran in 2000, you knew how he wanted to change the country in every important area he was running on,” Halperin added. We think Harris and Halperin are largely right in this slightly counterintuitive assessment.

But our analysts couldn’t agree with other things the gentlemen said. Indeed, in some ways, the basic framework for their book simply doesn’t make too much sense. Early on, Halperin explained the project, in which the scribes attempt to explain the outcomes of last four White House elections:
HALPERIN: We wanted to explain how these two strategists—look, this remarkable Bush presidency, Clinton presidency, Bush presidency, and what we argue in the book is a pretty good chance of another Clinton presidency. What do these two families know that set them apart from the losers in presidential politics?
Later, Halperin defined the scope of the project again. “Again, there`s only four—we look mostly at these four elections, the two Clinton wins and the two Bush wins,” he told Rose. And once more, later on, with some feeling:
HALPERIN: Most of the people who want to run for president have a vague idea of what they want to do. They talk to their pollsters, they try to figure out how to fashion things together, and it doesn’t connect...But we find, looking at in this crazier era—the two Clinton wins, the two Bush wins—that it is about ideas and giving people a sense that your life experience, your goals in life match up with your policy prescriptions for changing the country. It works for both of those guys.
How do people win elections? Harris ands Halperin look at “the two Clinton wins, the two Bush wins” as they puzzle it out.

The conceptual problem with this should be obvious. In fact, at least one of those “two Bush wins” was a loss—Campaign 2000, when Bush actually lost the popular vote, and would likely have lost the electoral vote if not for that now-famous butterfly ballot. Isn’t it a little bit odd? To examine the things Bush knew that Gore didn’t know in a case where Gore actually got more votes? When your “analysis” attempts to explain four cases—and one of your cases breaks down that way—we’d suggest that your own “theory of the case” may not be as strong as most candidates’.

But then, writers often stretch a point in order to pimp a theory. For us, the gentlemen face a larger problem as they attempt to explain these elections. Here it is: As members in good standing of the mainstream press corps, how do the boys discuss Campaign 2000 without discussing the pivotal role their own cohort played in determining the outcome? As we watched Charlie, John and Mark, we were struck by the ways the trio kept tip-toeing their way around the unpleasantness of Campaign 2000. In that race, the mainstream press behaved in ways no mainstream pundit is free to discuss. How will the gentlemen get around this large problem? Tomorrow, we roll our eyes as Harris explains what hopeful can no longer do.

TOMORROW: Can’t move to the center.