Sunday, August 10, 2003

I can't remember which blogger it was (Atrios?) which noted that the Washington Post has a journalistic form of multiple personality syndrome... that the news pages were very aggressively going after Bush, whereas the Op/Ed pages were just as aggressively pushing the spin. Whoever it was, he nailed it when it came to this Washington Post editorial, which was attacking former veep Gore and his recent speech for Moveon:

Mr. Gore, who not so long ago was describing Iraq as a "virulent threat in a class by itself," validated just about every conspiratorial theory of the antiwar left. President Bush, in distorting evidence about the Iraqi threat, was pursuing policies "designed to benefit friends and supporters." The war was waged "at least partly in order to ensure our continued access to oil." And it occurred because "false impressions" precluded the nation from conducting a serious debate before the war.

This notion -- that we were all somehow bamboozled into war -- is part of Mr. Gore's larger conviction that Mr. Bush has put one over on the nation, and not just with regard to Iraq.
These paragraphs show a trend that goes on throughout this editorial- it pooh-poohs the supposed "conspiracy theories" of the left without actually rebutting them. Said "conspiracy theory" is, of course, that of the relative coordination of the right in America, which should be relatively uncontroversial were it not for the strenuous denials of those who either know better or damned well should.

(I'd hope that the Post falls into the latter camp.)

I'm not going to go into heavy quotation because you've all heard this before, so I'll just summarize the basic points and respond:

1) Gore's claim that there wasn't a "proper debate" is nonsense: there was a lot of debate.

Answer: Gore's claim was based on the idea that the debate was operating under false pretenses; that people were engaging in it believing that the administration had evidence of Hussein's deception and dangerousness that it actually did not, and knew it did not. The full power of the conservative movement was bent to convincing the people of the validity of that information, and of the validity of Bush's reaction.

(Not that the latter was hard- the case was practically teleological if you bought Bush's arguments, which was part of the problem. It's hard to argue by attacking assumptions, which is why controlling those assumptions is so important.)

2)The belief in "conspiracy theories" discredits Mr. Gore, as it's insulting to believe that Bush has some sort of "propaganda machine".

Answer: Every political party has a propaganda machine. Indeed, almost every organization of any stripe does. It's what Public Relations is all about, and it's the raison d'etre of spin doctors. It's hard to think that there's such a thing as "propaganda" in modern American society, but it's undeniably true. Bush is not exceptional in that.

What is exceptional about the Republican machine (it doesn't belong to Bush, but it benefits him) is its sophistication, breadth, and tactics... that it's willing to not only put the spin out there, but change the ground rules by which their position is understood. This is partially done by right-wingers "working the ref", but this is what Bush's intelligence games are all about, too: changing the background upon which the debate takes place.

This is why the lies and redefinition are so important. He's using the power and legitimacy of the presidency to support Republican propaganda.

3)Gore's wrong because the Democrats voted for the war resolution.

Answer: Democrats had their eyes on one date: November 2002. Their vote had precious little to do with policy and everything to do with politics. The vote still remains legitimate, of course, but it can't be used as proof that the Republicans were right and that the Democrats truly supported them. Besides, Democrats maintain that they were lied to about this, or at least mislead, and the Post never did explain why exactly this impression is wrong. It's a circular argument... they're saying that the claim that the Democrats were mislead is wrong because of their vote, when the question is whether the vote was made while they were mislead.

4)Gore's wrong because Democrats voted for USA PATRIOT.

Answer: The World Trade Centre had just been destroyed; positions then seemed justifiable that seem wrong today. We didn't know then that Bush would use this as an excuse to Iraq, we didn't know that Bush would lie about it, we didn't know that Bush would so badly abrogate his duties to national defense... we didn't know a lot of things that we do now.

Finally, and this ain't exactly new:

5)Gore and the Democrats are doomed because they're trying to be both anti-Bush and for national security.

Answer: Bush is a danger to national security. Period. His weak domestic spending on national security is dangerous. His needlessly belligerent and naive foreign policy is dangerous. His extremely poor handling of the war on Iraq and its aftermath is dangerous. The problems that said war created for information-gathering in the war on terrorism is dangerous. His poor handling of the war on terrorism in particular is dangerous. His abandonment of Afghanistan and the Afghani people is dangerous. His fetish for secrecy is dangerous. His outrageous mistreatment of American soldiers is dangerous. The Washington Post is dead wrong on this. If you're for national security, criticizing Bush just makes sense. Period.

Is this editorial really worth this long response? Probably not. It's poorly written, tendentious, and full of holes you can fly a space shuttle through. It'll also likely be forgotten, the metaphorical "fart in the wind". Still, it's a useful example of the kind of talking points that Democrats are only going to hear more of in the coming months, and engaging those talking points is going to be critical in ensuring that Bush doesn't get to own the issue that he's so manifestly screwed up: foreign policy and national security.

Edit: Atrios eviscerates the Post here for inconsistency and here for deliberately misquoting Gore.

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