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TORA BOREALIS! Novak played the Tora card too. But the whole thing began with George Bush: // link // print // previous // next //

PART 4B STILL COMING: It’s still coming. But other matters intrude.

THE WAY WE ARE: Incredible. We agree with Salon’s Farhad Manjoo on one point; we think John Kerry was a poor candidate. But in a dangerous world, a democratic nation that reasons this poorly is a nation in ultimate peril:

MANJOO (11/4/04): The flip-flop charge wasn't a mere political slogan, it was real. Who knows where Kerry stood on what? To me it's clear that's what did him in. Was he a hawk or a dove? If he was a hawk, why did he vote against the first Gulf War? If he was a dove, why did he vote for the second?
Let’s just say it again—incredible. According to Manjoo, if you “vote for” one war in some way, you have to vote for them all! A nation that descends to this level of reasoning is a nation that has almost ceased to function

For the record, we have often wondered if Kerry’s 1991 vote against the Gulf War forced his vote for the 2002 resolution. But put those factual questions aside and revisit Manjoo’s basic reasoning. According to Manjoo, you can only be a “hawk” or a “dove” in our dawning, bizarre, bumper-sticker, brainless world. A pol must support all wars—or none. Our question: In a world where “liberal” “elites” can reason so poorly, are you really surprised that the Bush campaign could peddle that “flip-flopper” charge?

TORA BOREALIS: Some e-mailers complain that we were too hard on Bob Kerrey—that there was no way he could have anticipated Tim Russert’s question about Tora Bora (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/3/04). Wrong again, Spin-Breath! For the record, our complaint is with the Kerry campaign for not preparing its surrogates and spokesmen—but Russert’s fact-challenged question was completely predictable. Indeed, the claim that Kerry had flipped on Tora was a staple of the campaign’s final week. For example, on the night before Kerrey got waylaid by Russert, Bob Novak made John Kerry’s Bora behavior his “Outrage of the Week” on the Capital Gang. But alas! Novak’s presentation was factually bogus, just as Russert’s would be:

NOVAK (10/30/04): John Kerry keeps attacking George W. Bush for outsourcing to Afghan warlords the hunt for Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora. Never mind that the whole successful Afghan campaign was outsourced. Never mind that a frontal American assault at—would have been bloody. Just listen to Senator Kerry on Larry King Live two weeks after, after Tora Bora.

KERRY (videotape): I think our guys are doing a superb job. I think we've been smart. I think the administration leadership has done it well and we're on the right track.
NOVAK: Right the first time, Senator!

For the record, Novak’s facts were even more bogus than Russert’s. He claimed that Kerry made his statement on Larry King Live “two weeks after Tora Bora.” Speaking of outrages of the week, Novak’s statement is politically potent but blatantly false, as we explained in yesterday’s report.

In fairness, Russert wasn’t the only Sunday host peddling the bogus charge against Kerry. George Stephanopoulos peddled it too. When he did, Nancy Pelosi was—what else?—unprepared:

STEPHANOPOULOS (10/31/04): Congresswoman Pelosi, let me bring you in here, because one of the other points the Bush campaign has made is that this is another John Kerry flip-flop. They point to an appearance he made in December 2001, on Larry King Live, where he was asked by a viewer if US troops should go in more directly with napalm and flame- throwers, and here's what he had to say.

KERRY (videotape): For the moment what we're doing, I think, is having its impact, and it's the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimize the proximity, if you will. I think we've been doing this pretty effectively, and we should continue to do it that way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He seems there to be endorsing the US tactics at Tora Bora.

Indeed, Kerry was responding to a question about flame-throwers; the issue of surrogates never came up. And bin Laden’s escape was still days away when Kerry made his comment. But Pelosi hedged, hemmed-and-hawed and evaded, just as Bob Kerrey did on Meet the Press (text of Pelosi’s reply below). But then, it’s endlessly amazing—but quite routine—to see Dem spokes-folk completely unprepared.

At least Stephanopoulos sourced his charge to the Bush campaign, whose cant he was helpfully mouthing. Indeed, as John Kerry began his final-week attack on those missing al Qaqaa explosives, the Bush camp had countered with this pleasing but bogus story. Here was the candidate himself last Monday, on the trail in Greeley, Colorado. We reproduce the transcript of the Federal News Service, including the inserts on audience reaction:

BUSH (10/25/04): Now my opponent is throwing out the wild claim that he knows where bin Laden was in the fall of 2001 and that our military had a chance to get him in Tora Bora. This is—this is an unjustified and harsh criticism of our military commanders in the field.


BUSH: This is the worst kind of Monday-morning quarter-backing. (Cheers, applause.) And it is what we have come to expect from Senator Kerry...

Before Senator Kerry got into political difficulty and revised his views, he saw Tora Bora differently. In the fall of 2001, on national TV, Senator Kerry said, quote, “I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.” At the time, Senator Kerry said about Tora Bora, "I think we've been smart. I think administration leadership has done well, and we are on the right track." End quote. All I can say is that I am George W. Bush and I approve of that message. (Extended cheers and applause.)

Senator—yet Senator Kerry's record on national security has a far deeper problem than election year flip-flopping. On the largest national security issues of our time, he has been consistently and dangerously wrong.

Quoting Kerry on Larry King Live, Bush was fooling the rubes once again—and the rubes were happily cheering him for it. (Again, Bush was citing Kerry’s quote about the use of flame-throwers!) But so what? Six days later, Russert and Stephanopoulos peddled Bush’s message, even though it was factually bogus. And Bob Kerrey and Pelosi were unprepared to respond. By the way, those cheering-but-misled Bush voters later told exit pollsters that they were voting on the basis of “moral values.”

One final irony—two days after Bush made that speech, Nicholas Kristof wrote a column in which he explained that Bush isn’t a liar (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/27/04). Kristof proved his point with a meaningless story about a stuffed animal, a story from Bush’s autobiography. “Like President Ronald Reagan, reality to [Bush] is not about facts, but about higher meta-truths,” the pensive pundit explained. “To clarify those overarching realities, Mr. Bush harnesses ‘facts,’ both true and false.”

Two days earlier, Bush had harnessed one of those “facts” that are actually false, eliciting cheers from an audience in the “red-state” lands that Kristof so publicly adores. And on the Sunday before the election, Tim and George repeated Bush’s “false fact,” with Russert flatly misstating chronology. Say hello to the worthless men who are paid millions to steward your discourse.

PARTIAL-TRUTH PUNDITRY: But then, the Kristofs are endlessly weak and compliant. Consider the pundit’s groaning column in yesterday’s New York Times.

As he wrote, Kristof didn’t know who had won the election. But he knew what the Dem Party needed to do. “[T]he Democratic Party's first priority should be to reconnect with the American heartland,” he wrote. “John Kerry's supporters...should be feeling wretched about the millions of farmers, factory workers and waitresses who ended up voting—utterly against their own interests—for Republican candidates.”

Politically, of course, that point is obvious; in this past election, millions of people voted against their (economic) interests in casting their votes for Bush. And obviously, that’s bad political news for Dems. But Kristof lavishes moral blame on Democrats for this situation:

KRISTOF (11/3/04): One-third of Americans are evangelical Christians, and many of them perceive Democrats as often contemptuous of their faith. And, frankly, they're often right. Some evangelicals take revenge by smiting Democratic candidates.
Dems are “often contemptuous” of evangelical Christians, although no specific example is cited. Sensibly enough, evangelicals “take revenge” on Dems for this conduct. Earlier, Kristof quotes Thomas Frank on this general matter—offering one of the most selective quotes of this or any season:
KRISTOF (11/3/04): One problem is the yuppification of the Democratic Party. Thomas Frank, author of the best political book of the year, ''What's the Matter With Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,'' says that Democratic leaders have been so eager to win over suburban professionals that they have lost touch with blue-collar America.

''There is a very upper-middle-class flavor to liberalism, and that's just bound to rub average people the wrong way,'' Mr. Frank said. He notes that Republicans have used “culturally powerful but content-free issues” to connect to ordinary voters.

To put it another way, Democrats peddle issues, and Republicans sell values. Consider the four G's: God, guns, gays and grizzlies.

Some of that may even be true, depending on how you well you can stomach Kristof’s loaded language. But what a way to explain Frank’s book! You’d never know it from Kristof’s column, but Frank’s book savages Republicans and conservatives for ginning up those “content-free” issues—fake issues invented to stir the rubes, even though the Republicans who invent them have no intention of acting on their professed “values.” But whenever Kristof types on these topics, “we Democrats” (his phrase) are at moral fault—and George Bush is pleasingly honest, a man whose interest in “meta-truths” leads him to use those “false facts.”

We agree with Kristof on one point—Dems shouldn’t be “contemptuous” of religious faith or of associated political values. (Again—he gives no examples.) But we also think this—Big Pundits shouldn’t roll over and die when faced with a political establishment which invents those “content-free issues” and uses them to stir up decent, sincere people who don’t know how badly they’re being played. And Big Pundits should have the courage to confront the reasoning of religious voters, just as they’d do with anyone else. But Kristof is simply too weak to do this. Just watch as his bowdlerized reasoning unfolds:

KRISTOF: To put it another way, Democrats peddle issues, and Republicans sell values. Consider the four G's: God, guns, gays and grizzlies...

As for gays, that's a rare wedge issue that Democrats have managed to neutralize in part, along with abortion. Most Americans disapprove of gay marriage but do support some kind of civil unions (just as they oppose ''partial birth'' abortions but don't want teenage girls to die from coat-hanger abortions).

That’s probably true—“most Americans” probably do “support some kind of civil unions.” And “most Americans” probably do “oppose ‘partial birth’ abortions but don't want teenage girls to die from coat-hanger abortions.” But wedge-issue politics isn’t aimed at “most Americans”—it’s generally aimed at a narrower band of truer believers who can be enlisted to swing an election. We hear from Kristof about Dems who are “contemptuous” of religion, but not about the ugly gay-hating that was used to swing this past election. When Kristof writes, “we Democrats” are full of contempt. And George Bush? His love of “meta-truths” leads him to use those “false facts.”

Religious voters shouldn’t be held up to contempt (Kristof gives no examples). But if people are going to vote their religion, their religion can no longer get a free ride. For ourselves, we’re sick of “religious” people who make a joke of their “sacred” texts by picking-and-choosing among the passages, scavenging for bits of scripture which support their personal biases. And we’re doubly sick of “Democrat” writers who are too weak and afraid to challenge these voters. Meanwhile, do “most Americans” oppose “partial birth abortion?” Probably, which makes it a great wedge issue—but how much do they know about the issue? In June 2003, for example, did they know the things Ruth Marcus cited in a Washington Post op-ed piece?

MARCUS (6/4/03): The poisonous national debate over what's known as partial-birth abortion resumes this week, and this time for real: The House is expected to handily approve a prohibition on the procedure, and the Senate has already passed its version. While his predecessor twice vetoed bills outlawing partial-birth abortion, President Bush is eager to sign legislation that he says will “protect infants at the very hour of their birth.”

For those who support abortion rights, partial-birth abortion is not the battleground of choice, which is precisely why those who oppose abortion have seized on the issue. The procedure is gruesome, as indeed are all abortions performed at that stage of pregnancy. Although partial-birth abortion is routinely described as a late-term procedure, this label is misleading. The procedure isn’t performed until after the 16th week of pregnancy, but it's already legal for states to prohibit abortions once a fetus is viable, at about 24 weeks. More than 40 states have such bans, and properly so. The Supreme Court has said that abortions must be available even after fetuses are viable if necessary to protect the life or health of the mother, and it may be that the health exception ought to be stricter. But this has nothing to do with a partial-birth abortion ban. The law would not prevent any abortion, before viability or after. Instead, it would make one particular procedure—one that may be the safest method for some women—a criminal act.

Indeed, even as they dwell on the gory details of the partial-birth procedure, the groups pushing for a ban on it don't seem to be doing anything to make it easier for women to obtain abortions earlier...

Nor should they have to. But in June 2003, did voters out in Yamhill, Oregon know that Bush’s legislation “would not prevent any abortions, before viability or after?” That the law would only replace one procedure with another? That “it's already legal for states to prohibit abortions once a fetus is viable, at about 24 weeks?” That “more than 40 states have such bans?” And when religious voters stood in line this Tuesday, were they among the “most Americans” who “don't want teenage girls to die from coat-hanger abortions?” Or were they the people whom Marcus cited—people who “don't seem to be doing anything to make it easier for women to obtain abortions earlier?” We’d guess that the answers to these questions are obvious. But you won’t hear them asked by Kristof.

Let’s state the obvious—voters are entitled to their beliefs. And this too: An American voter can cast his vote on any basis he or she chooses. Nor should religious people be held up to “contempt” for their views, on abortion or anything else. But it’s hard for pols to tackle religion, and it should be easier for pundits to do so. Too bad we’re overrun with weakling pundits who are eager to accuse “we Democrats” of contemptuous conduct while telling us that Bush is “honest” because he only uses “false facts” in pursuit of “meta-truths.” Spare us from weak-kneed, Dem-bashing Dems—from weak-kneed, faux Dems like Nick Kristof.

Dems are contemptuous, we are told. Today, these Dems should be feeling wretched. But are Republicans fake? Should they feel wretched? And are religious voters often clueless? Those are the basic claims in Frank’s “best political book of the year.” But go ahead and find a hint of these notions in Kristof’s new weak-kneed column.

PELOSI UNPREPARED: Even by Sunday, Pelosi was unprepared to respond to Bush’s “false fact:”

KERRY (videotape): For the moment what we're doing, I think, is having its impact, and it's the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimize the proximity, if you will. I think we've been doing this pretty effectively, and we should continue to do it that way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He seems there to be endorsing the US tactics at Tora Bora.

PELOSI: The fact of the matter is, is that Osama bin Laden is still at large, able to taunt and instill fear. He's a terrorist, and part of what a terrorist does is instill fear. That is a failure of the Bush administration. John Kerry has never criticized the troops. He has criticized the policy. He has criticized the leadership from the White House that would say if I were president, I would move heaven and earth to get Osama bin Laden. President Bush said we will bring him to justice, or we will bring justice to him. We all subscribed to that, and then without doing that, the president distracted our whole effort and went into Iraq, which was on the basis of false information, without the proper equipment for our troops. We've lost over 1100 of our young men and women, thousands more wounded at the cost of now a trillion, a quarter of a trillion dollars and great cost to our reputation, so the president has failed in how he has tried to protect America.

Kerry’s comment had nothing to do with the use of surrogates instead of US forces. And events at Tora Bora were still unfolding when he made this statement, in response to a question about use of napalm and flame-throwers. But Pelosi seemed unaware of these facts. Result? Every voter who watched the show could see that Pelosi hemmed and hawed—that she failed to defend her Dem hopeful.