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GORE DISSEMBLING SYNDROME! We thought Bob Herbert had done it all. Today, Paul Krugman is worse: // link // print // previous // next //

MARK GREEN TELLS THE TRUTH: On Friday, we told you to watch the weekend talk shows with a question in mind: Now that he’d won the Nobel Peace Prize, how would Al Gore’s political history be reviewed by major pundits—by members of the mainstream press corps, the entity which trashed him so unmercifully—so dishonestly—during Campaign 2000?

On Friday evening, Air America’s Mark Green did something astounding. Breaking every known modern pundit convention, he actually told the truth! Green actually blamed the mainstream press corps for its disgraceful conduct toward Candidate Gore! On Hardball, Andy Ostroy of DraftGore.com had just said that Gore should run for the White House next year. Matthews asked for Green’s reaction—and he got an unusual reply:
MATTHEWS (10/12/07): What do you think of that, Mark? That sounds like a solid argument. We need a man of substance, not a frat boy.

GREEN: I agree with that. But I don’t think he will run or should run.

Look, Al and Tipper Gore and all Americans should be really gratified that the person we chose as president in 2000 has been recognized and rewarded for his leadership on global warming. When they hung abolitionist John Brown, he said, "I will have more to say about this when I’m dead." Al Gore has won this recognition while he’s alive.

So, why would he or should he run? First, he understands how the media kicked him so bad and unfairly as a candidate and after he lost. Remember all the over-analyses about how he sighed during the debates? Great! Now we have a president who invades the wrong country!

Why would he want to do that again?
Should Gore run? That’s a matter of judgment, of course; we tend to agree with Green on all points, although we think the situation is a great tragedy. But Green did something in this exchange which Big Mainstream Pundits almost never do; he actually told the truth about the press corps’ role in Campaign 2000. Gore “understands how the media kicked him so bad and unfairly as a candidate,” Green said. “Remember all the over-analyses about how he sighed during the debates?” Of course, the press corps had already trashed Candidate Gore for nineteen months by the time they staged their hissy-fit about those vile, deeply-troubling sighs. But Green had done something that’s just never done: He had outlined the basic truth about Campaign 2000.

If other liberals had spoken this way in the course of the past seven years, we’d be living in a vastly different political country. It might have made sense, in the past year or two, for Gore to plan a run for the White House. Meanwhile, we’ll skip the irony of Friday’s exchange: Green was speaking with Hardball’s Chris Matthews—and no one trashed Candidate Gore in quite the way that Matthews consistently. No one lied about Gore so incessantly. No one was uglier, ruder, more insulting. Last Friday, the well-paid public crackpot lamented this fact: “We need a man of substance, not a frat boy.” But when we were actually offered that choice, Matthews clowned and lied, for two solid years, about the man of substance. Four years later, he purchased a $4.4 million “second home” on Nantucket, where he’s allowed to lounge and play with Jack Welch, who made him so rich.

Mark Green did what no one does; he outlined the basic facts about the way we all got here. But in general, the mainstream press corps lies about this the way you and your loved ones breathe. All weekend, the dissembling rolled on. We’ll discuss it all this week.

You might call it “Gore Dissembling Syndrome.” Members of the mainstream press corps have long refused to tell you the truth about their role, individually and as a group, in the conduct of Campaign 2000. Even today, seven and eight years later, they find ways to avoid admitting what happened. On Friday night, Green told the truth. Few other scribes ever will.

And remember, what happened just isn’t a secret. Ezra Klein knows what happened (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/12/07) . Mike Tomasky knows what happened (same link). Josh Marshall knows what happened too; indeed, he described it back in 2002 (ditto). But will these fine, upstanding liberals stand up now and tell you the truth? We’ll examine that subject all this week—and, of course, we’ll praise the truth-tellers. Yes, Green could have gone farther on Hardball. But last Friday, the impossible happened—and Mark Green did it. Right there on Hardball—Oh. Our. God.—Mark Green told you the truth.

VISIT HIS INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: As the week progresses, we’ll return to the pitiful way that British judge’s ruling was covered by the Washington Post, which is now our most cartoonish plutocrat newspaper. In the meantime, why not visit Tim Lambert’s archives? (Lambert is one of them scientist fellers.) At first, he’ll link you back to us. After that: Beaucoup information.

GORE DISSEMBLING SYNDROME: We really thought we’d seen it all when we read Bob Herbert’s column on Saturday. This morning, we have to admit a hard truth: Paul Krugman’s column is worse.

The gentlemen suffer from a crippling malady which might be called “Gore Dissembling Syndrome.” When it presents, high-ranking members of the mainstream press corps find ways to keep from telling the truth about the long and gory way Al Gore became a figure of ridicule over the past ten years. Sometimes, as in the case of Herbert, these sufferers tell you the basic truth—while hiding their own role in the grim process. Sometimes, as with Krugman’s column, they won’t even take you that far.

We’ll likely discuss this syndrome all week, examining the work of younger liberals as well as big stars like Herbert and Krugman. But in all cases, the result is the same: Voters are kept from knowing the truth about this remarkable subject. In the process, they are kept from knowing the basic truth about their mainstream press corps.

Let’s start today with that Saturday column, in which Herbert dissembles so vastly—a column which (you decide whether to laugh or to cry) was praised at Josh Marshall’s web site.

As we’ve long told you, major parts of the liberal world have simply refused to tell the truth about Campaign 2000—the two-year campaign which changed the world’s history.

Responding to news of Gore’s Nobel Prize, Herbert penned a Standard Liberal Column, correctly praising Gore for his tireless work and comparing him to the slacker, George Bush. The great, good man was selling it hard. Here’s an important early excerpt, in which he discusses how “downright idiotic” our presidential politics have become:
HERBERT (10/13/07): Mr. Gore, who won an Academy Award for his documentary on global warming, ''An Inconvenient Truth,'' and an Emmy for his cable TV network, Current, knows better than anyone else how toxic and downright idiotic presidential politics has become.

He may be one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, talented men in America and remarkably well-equipped to lead the nation, but it's Mr. Bush's less-than-curious, less-than-distinguished son, George W., who is president.
So thoughtful! So intelligent! So talented! And according to Herbert, Gore “knows better than anyone else how...downright idiotic presidential politics has become.” And then, Herbert did something that’s rarely done; he actually told the basic truth about the fateful 2000 campaign—the campaign which sent less-than-distinguished Bush on to his seat in the White House:
HERBERT: When I heard that Mr. Gore had won the Nobel, my thoughts wandered to the younger Mr. Bush and to Rudolph Giuliani, who is leading the current field of Republican presidential candidates.

Mr. Bush came to mind because, for all of the obvious vulnerabilities he exhibited in 2000, it was not him but Mr. Gore who was mocked unmercifully by the national media. And the mockery had nothing to do with the former vice president's positions on important policy issues. He was mocked because of his personality.

In the race for the highest office in the land, we showed the collective maturity of 3-year-olds.
Darlings! In this passage, Herbert does something that is just never done. Despite being a mainstream press figure himself, he correctly describes the gruesome history of that fateful 2000 campaign; he correctly says it was “the national media” who mocked Candidate Gore so unmercifully, “because of his [supposed] personality.” (He doesn’t say it was “late-night comedians” or “Gore’s Republican opponents,” the disingenuous path that is normally taken by these congenital liars.) And omigod! In one fleeting moment—so fleeting that you’d barely notice—Herbert even uses “we” to describe the group which engaged in this conduct. “In the race for the highest office in the land, we showed the collective maturity of 3-year-olds,” he correctly writes. Emphasis added.

This sort of thing is never done, as Krugman proves again this morning. But after that, his anger still showing, Herbert offered a truly remarkable passage. It would be hard to overstate the bald-faced dishonesty here:
HERBERT (continuing directly): Mr. Gore was taken to task for his taste in clothing and for such grievous offenses as sighing or, allegedly, rolling his eyes. It was a given that at a barbecue everyone would rush to be with his opponent.

We've paid a heavy price. The president who got such high marks as a barbecue companion doesn't seem to know up from down. He's hurled the nation into a ruinous war that has cost countless lives and spawned a whole new generation of terrorists. He continues to sit idly by as a historic American city, New Orleans, remains wounded and on its knees. He's blithely steered the nation into a bottomless pit of debt.

I could go on.
“I could go on,” the great scribe declared. But wouldn’t you know it? He didn’t go on—at least, he didn’t go on in a way which might have helped this country understand its recent political wars—the wars which have us in our current fix, the wars which may harm us further.

What makes this passage so disingenuous? Just this: Herbert himself was one of the “3-year-olds” who reacted to Bush and Gore’s first debate by mocking Gore “for such grievous offenses as sighing.” (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/5/07, where we first discussed this in detail.) That history-changing first debate took place on Tuesday, October 3, 2000. Two days later, Herbert’s column appeared. It bore this headline: “Gore piles on.” Here’s the sad way it started:
HERBERT (10/5/00):

Gore piles on

If he can somehow force himself to stop sighing and interrupting and behaving condescendingly in front of the television cameras, Al Gore may yet get elected president.
“Interrupting?” Word-counts showed that Bush spoke substantially more than Gore in this critical first debate. But Herbert knew what really mattered as the world’s history hung in the balance; what really mattered was mocking Gore, for his (supposed) personality! Yes, Gore gave better answers than Bush, Herbert went on to say in the next several paragraphs. But then, he returned to his principal focus—to his cohort’s long, stupid war against Gore, in which they had already spent nineteen months “show[ing] the collective maturity of 3-year-olds.” In today’s one post, there’s no way to untangle all the misdirection involved in the passage which follows. But, for history, here it is—Herbert’s account of what really mattered in that world-changing first debate:
HERBERT: The vice president clobbered Mr. Bush on the issue of prescription drugs for the elderly. And he scored well, I thought, when discussing potential appointments to the Supreme Court, saying, "Governor Bush has declared to the anti-choice groups that he will appoint justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who are known for being the most vigorous opponents of a woman's right to choose."

But Vice President Gore never wins easily. He may have the experience and most of the issues on his side, but he can't keep his superciliousness in check. He just can't do it. So there he was on Tuesday night sighing loudly with disdain, or smiling contemptuously, or smugly, as Governor Bush did the best he could with this answer or that.

Earth to Al Gore: This turns people off.

There's an old saying: You don't shoot a man who's committing suicide. There were times during the debate when Governor Bush seemed not to understand the finer points of his own tax cut and Social Security proposals. And he seemed lost on matters of foreign policy. It would have been quite sufficient for Mr. Gore to give his own views on these matters and to correct any misstatements by his opponent.

But Mr. Gore seems to feel the need to pour it on—to offer not just his answer to a given question, but to show us everything he knows about the topic. He doesn't seem to realize that in the real world, people hate Eddie Haskell.

At one point during the debate the moderator, Jim Lehrer, said to the vice president: "I've got an idea. If you have any more to say about this, you can say it in your closing statement. We'll move on, O.K.?"

The vice president's boorishness gets in the way of his message and almost certainly pushes some voters into a more favorable view of Mr. Bush, who benefits from a more conversational tone and the demeanor of an ordinary guy.
That passage is packed with arrant nonsense—more than we can unpack today. (Example: On cable shows right after the debate, average citizens complained about Bush’s rudeness, not Gore’s—specifically, about his endless insistence that Gore was using “fuzzy math” and “phony numbers.” Just imagine if Herbert had bothered to tell them that Gore “phony numbers” were accurate!) At any rate, Bush had made endless misstatements, about his own proposals, as he debated Gore this night. But Herbert knew what really mattered; he was appalled by Gore’s troubling conduct. He offered the types of considerations he calls “idiotic” today.

What did Herbert stress from this first debate? According to Herbert, Gore had been “boorish” and “supercilious.” He had “sighed loudly with disdain”—and he’d even been caught “smiling smugly.” Indeed, Herbert even stooped to playing the Eddie Haskell card, one of the most scripted—and idiotic—of the endless insults his tribe had thrown at Gore for the prior two years (details below). Meanwhile, Herbert vastly underplayed Bush’s misstatements—and incredibly; astoundingly; unbelievably; he even vouched for Bush’s good faith in making these groaning misstatements! Bush “seemed not to understand the finer points of his own tax cut and Social Security proposals?” Simply put, that must be the stupidest written statement in all of recorded world history.

Bush “seemed not to understand the finer points of his own tax cut and Social Security proposals?” In fact, Bush vastly misstated the most basic elements of his tax cut proposal, and he completely misstated the most basic facts about his own prescription drug plan. When Gore engaged in the molehill of sighing which the press corps turned into a mountain, he was reacting to Bush’s groaning misstatements about these central topics. But good God! Herbert not only understated the vastness of Bush’s misstatements, he vouched for Bush’s good faith in making them! To Herbert, Gore had been “sighing loudly with disdain...as Governor Bush did the best he could with this answer or that.”

We’re sorry, but that’s just astounding. On Saturday, Herbert spoke about the “unmerciful mocking” this gang of “idiots” aimed at Gore during Campaign 2000. He forgot to mention the way he and his colleagues kept vouching for Bush’s good intentions, right up to the end.

“Governor Bush did the best he could with this answer or that?” In real time, Herbert’s statement was especially strange—because of the work of Paul Krugman! In the previous several weeks, Krugman had written three separate columns about the way Bush kept misstating the basic terms of his own tax cut plan. By the time of this debate, it was absurd to think that Bush and his campaign weren’t misstating this plan on purpose. But so what? Bush opened this critical first debate with his standard, gross misstatements—with the very misstatements Krugman had debunked. And Brother Herbert, playing the fool, said he was doing the best he could. He wasn’t bothered by Bush’s lying this night. He was troubled when Gore dared to sigh!

So that’s what Herbert did in real time, when it actually mattered. We’re now in Iraq because people like Herbert played you this way in real time. Simply put, they were very angry about Bill Clinton’s blow jobs, and they’d spent the previous nineteen months punishing Clinton’s successor for them. Sometimes, they even admitted this purpose. Most often, they didn’t let on.

But let’s forget what Herbert did in real time; let’s revisit his conduct on Saturday. On Saturday, Herbert was really feeling the spirit, spouting off about what “the national media” did to Gore during Campaign 2000. He specifically cited those meaningless sighs as the prime example of their “idiotic” conduct—while forgetting to say that he himself pushed this pap when it actually mattered.

We really thought we’d seen it all when Herbert played us for fools this way. Then, this morning, we read Krugman’s piece. We thought it was worse—by far.

TOMORROW: Krugman exhibits the syndrome.

LATER THIS WEEK: Jonathan Chait, Josh Marshall.

IN SEARCH OF THE HISTORICAL HASKELL: That’s weird! Where would Bob Herbert get the idea that Gore was like Eddie Haskell? Oh, that’s right—we almost forgot! He got it from the biggest fools who ever drew air—the people Krugman is busy disappearing in this morning’s column.

Let’s return to October 2000. One day before the Bush-Gore debate, Katherine “Kit” Seelye typed this up, in a Times “news report:”
SEELYE (10/2/00): In his least appealing moments, Mr. Gore can seem sanctimonious and condescending. He likes to show how much he knows. Some call it the Eddie Haskell effect; he appears to be the model student, pandering to the teacher, but when the teacher leaves the room, he turns around and annihilates his fellow students.
Maybe that’s where Herbert got it! But wouldn’t you know it? “Some call it the Eddie Haskell effect,” Seelye said—but she forgot to say who those people were! In particular, she forgot to name Maureen Dowd. Here she was, back in March:
DOWD (3/19/00): Like his father's, W.'s basic message is: Trust me—I've been bred for this job. Like Bill Bradley, W. is counting on Mr. Gore's smarmy, Eddie Haskell personality to rub people the wrong way.
That, of course, is exactly what Herbert helped make happen on October 5, when the world’s history hung in the balance. And three days later, on October 8, Dowd decided to go there again: “Let Al Gore sigh and roll his eyes and do his smarmy Eddie Haskell,” she mocked in the Times.

But then, it was Dowd who introduced this image to the world, in our most “idiotic” newspaper. All the way back in July 1992, she had pimped the image twice in one day, during the Democratic Convention at which Clinton and Gore were nominated. One of these pieces she wrote by herself. And Frankly, she wrote the other with a man named Rich—the dumbest mother-f*cker on the planet:
DOWD (7/13/92): Like the baby boomer's favorite teen-age sycophant, Eddie Haskell, Mr. Gore has two distinct demeanors. He can be playful in private, but in official settings, he drops his voice to sound more self-consciously sincere and he composes his chiseled features to look more earnest.

DOWD AND RICH (7/13/92): Some have christened the new ticket "Elvis and Eddie Haskell."

Mr. Clinton is the sinner who has seen the light, but he still has a bit of bad-boy swagger that leavens his persona as a policy wonk. Mr. Gore, by contrast is the straight-A student who never lets one forget it.
Poor babies! Already, they were feeling vewwy bad because Al Gore is smarter than they are.

In 1997, Dowd returned to the image, discussing Gore’s trip to Beijing .In Dowd’s thoughtful view, Gore had “deepened the mystery of why he can never integrate his two personalities: the Eddie Haskell in him, forever trying to please the adults in the room, even if they happen to be the assassins of Tiananmen Square, and the charming, self-deprecating insider who pops up in the limbo known as ‘off the record.’”

For the record, Gore was “trying to please” those particular adults in that particular room because he was on a diplomatic mission.

At any rate: During Campaign 2000, Gore was endlessly called “Eddie Haskell” by the simpering fools of the mainstream press corps—the people Herbert trashed this weekend. For example, here’s Jonathan Alter in March 2000, explaining exactly what would his cohort would do seven months later, in October:
ALTER (3/20/00): Bush is not as smart as Gore, a handicap in a world that increasingly belongs to the swift. But the Synapse Gap also greatly lowers the expectations for Bush. For all of Gore's vaunted debating skills, Dan Quayle held his own against him in 1992, partly because expectations for Quayle were nonexistent. And Bush is no Quayle; he routinely bested McCain in later primary debates. Gore, meanwhile, has to worry about looking like an Eddie Haskell. Even if he wins the debates on points, Bush might prevail overall with some well-timed one-liners.
After the debate, they called Gore “Eddie Haskell.” And they endlessly said that, while Gore had won the debate “on points,” Bush had really prevailed because of those lower expectations. (For a detailed review of this episode, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/06.) This is Alter, seven months out, knowing exactly what his colleagues would do when Bush and Gore held their debates.

At any rate, Candidate Gore was frequently called “Eddie Haskell.” (Though never in the Washington Post!) But as with so much of our modern “idiotics,” the usage traces to Rich and Dowd. According to Nexis, their twin use of the image in July 1992 represents its first appearances anywhere in the American press. Eight years later, post-debate, a great liberal at last took his turn.

JUST THROW UP YOUR HANDS AND LAUGH: We really thought we’d seen it all when Herbert disappeared his own gruesome conduct. Would anyone reading his Saturday column ever imagine that he himself was one of the pundits who staged that “idiotic” fit about Candidate Gore’s deeply troubling sighs? But over at TPM, Steven Benen heaped praise on Herbert’s “terrific op-ed”—specifically quoting the part of the column where Herbert dissembles so baldly! Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Benen behaved in good faith in his post. Assuming that, we’re forced to say this: There are no words for the sheer incompetence we liberals display when it comes to these matters. (This has now gone on for eight years!) And many have not behaved in good faith. Herbert, on Saturday, stamped himself as one of their greatest leaders.

Benen also linked to Jonathan Chait’s regrettable piece in the Sunday Los Angeles Times. (It too is a “terrific op-ed,” Benen says.) We’ll plan to review Chait’s column on Wednesday. Beyond that, we’ll plan to discuss his new book all next week. It bears an apt name: The Big Con.