Sunday, September 05, 2004

Conservatives Return to "Know-Nothing" Roots

Watching the GOP convention, I was reminded of a great passage in Thomas Frank's book, What's the Matter with Kansas?

The Republicans today are the party of anti-intellectualism, of rough frontier contempt for sophisticated ideas and pantywaist book-learning. ... Today's Republicans are doing what the Whigs did in the 1840s: putting on backwoods accents, telling the world about their log-cabin upbringings, and raging against the over-educated elites.

The convention was a hate fest, unlike anything in recent memory. It was Pat Buchanan, circa 1992, multiplied many times over. There were so many half-truths, distortions, exaggerations and outright lies about John Kerry and his beliefs, and about the "successes" of the first Bush administration, that it would probably take several days to write them all out and provide the appropriate analysis.

The GOP made a calculated decision, and the early returns -- unfortunately for the Democrats -- is that they calculated correctly. That calculation? That raw passion was more important than raw data.

It's a policy that the administration has taken since its inception. It has put forth bold ideas, facts be damned. And while the media has on occasion debunked half-truths, exaggerations and lies for what they are, the GOP (and its pundit supporters) have been able to change a lot of minds along the way by repeating those same half-truths, exaggerations and lies over and over, facts be damned. And more often than not, the media has been too slow, or too weak, to stand in the way.

It allows conservatives to say with a straight face that:

-- We're turning the corner on (fill in the blank): George W. Bush boasted about 144,000 new jobs created in August, even though economists will tell you that you need 150,000 new jobs per month just to keep up with population growth. In the past year, jobs were created at about 155,000/month.

You can almost hear Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove snicker, because they know it's easier to boast about job creation than to explain economics. It's easier to point at a simple number -- 5.4% unemployment -- than to explain about lower wages for jobs found vs. jobs lost, or to speculate about that the unemployment rate has dropped in part because people have stopped looking for jobs, or stopped receiving unemployment benefits, or settled for part-time work. (Look how long it took me to write out those possibilities.)

As for economic growth, it slowed to 2.5% in the second quarter -- below the 3% you need for a growing and recovering economy. That marked the third consecutive dropoff in economic growth, following the one-quarter boom last fall. But Bush isn't saying that on the campaign trail, and Gillespie and Rove (snicker, snicker) know that our media isn't all that interested in repeating raw data over and over, lest they bore the masses. It's even harder when "GOP superstars" like Rudy Guiliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger can passionately say -- unchallenged -- that things are getting better (and that the recession started under President Clinton, another lie).

As for tax cuts, economists have shown that every tax dollar cut by this administration has provided some 64 cents of economic growth. Fully funding state programs would provide some $1.24 of growth, according to the economists. But that's very complicated to explain on Hardball or Larry King, right? It's much easier to allow Ed Gillespie or Terry Holt to tout Bush's "bold initiatives" and "decisiveness," unchallenged.

-- We're going to fund (fill in the blank): In his convention acceptance speech, Bush listed various programs for which he planned to increase funding. Watch Gillespie and Rove snicker, as the Chris Matthews of the world say the president was "strong" or even "compassionate" in his speech. It's easier to say such things than to fact check -- remember, the speech was available to journalists and even John Kerry earlier in the day -- and discover that most of the programs the president was touting were ones he cut (or tried to cut) since coming to president.

This is nothing new. On the campaign trail, the president had the chutzpah to tout to a Native American audience a federal housing assistance program that his 2005 budget plans to cut. And we all know that Bush fought the formation of such things as the Department of Homeland Security and the 9/11 commission, then touted and took credit for them.

-- John Kerry was wrong on (fill in the blank): Before Sen. Zell Miller challenged Chris Matthews to a duel, he repeated a series of half-truths about John Kerry, wondering whether Kerry would arm our troops with "spitballs" to fight the war on terror. But many of the weapons programs he cited were ones cut in a bipartisan effort under George H.W. Bush, and his defense secretary, Dick Cheney.

This is not news. But our media focused first and foremost on Miller's anger, seemingly unaware of the half-truths, even though he has been saying them for several months on the various pundit shows. The conservatives in the media -- Hannity, etc. -- praised Miller's passion, even as others in the GOP, like John McCain, steered clear, and GOP spokesman like Terry Holt had "no comment" on Miller's factual inaccuracies.

Cheney, with incredible hypocrisy, has made similar charges. He also has thrown out the "Kerry wants to be sensitive to terrorists" line, even though he has used the word sensitive the same way -- as in sensitive to our allies, or sensitive to the conditions in Iraq. But even when the media challenged this hypocrisy, folks like Gillespie and Holt (snicker, snicker) were out in force to throw the kitchen sink against Kerry, and hope to confuse voters into forgetting who originally lied about whom.

We also heard about how Kerry wanted to gut intelligence, even though it is well documented that he proposed cutting 1% of our intelligence budget to cut waste and fraud. Why didn't his bill pass? Because it was superseded by a similar bill proposed by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), which did pass with bipartisan support. (And, by the way, Bush's proposed new CIA Chief, Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), proposed even bigger cuts, in a bill that did not pass). Different charge, same results -- the media generally snored.

We're fighting a war on terror, and yet Osama Bin Laden's name was mentioned once at the GOP convention (or one fewer time than Richard Nixon's name was brought up, according to Mo Rocca, a guest correspondent on Larry King.) Amazing, isn't it? You'd have thought that Saddam was behind 9/11 -- just like (snicker, snicker) Karl Rove wants you to.


In the course of my work, I probably speak to a core of about 200 sources. Over the years, I have come across the occasional lie or half-truth. Some sources, upon being pressed, will provide the entire story. Others, however, will continue to lie, even when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

And because I have so many sources to choose from -- in theory, I have over 1,000 at my disposal, and nearly all of the 200 could be replaced -- I have on occasion dropped a key source because I could no longer trust them. And it didn't take repeated embarrassments to make those decisions.

But, sadly, our major media personalities don't work that way. They are either too stupid or too weak to stand up to those who tell them half-truths and lies.

Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, asked Chris Matthews on Friday whether he feared being "blackballed." It's a great question, and Matthews clumsily suggested he was indeed afraid of that happening.

My question is, why doesn't Chris Matthews (and others in his shoes) blackball those who lie to him (and the viewers)? Why bring these people back on again and again?

Case in point: Christine Todd Whitman, the former EPA chief, was on Hardball last week as one of their seemingly endless stream of panelists discussion the convention. But this is the same Christine Todd Whitman who, in the wake of 9/11, told television audiences that the air in Lower Manhattan was safe to breathe.

The exact dateline:

-- Sept. 13: EPA issues press release saying air samples are "very reassuring."
-- Sept. 17: Federal and New York City officials allow people to return to their homes.
-- Sept. 18: EPA declares: "their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe."
-- Oct. 3: EPA says Ground Zero data through Sept. 30 reveals "no significant health risks."

Significantly later, EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley admitted "the EPA had not gathered nearly enough data" to make such sweeping declarations. New Yorkers, as a result, were exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos, lead, concrete, glass and other debris.

But Whitman is given a free pass on all of that, cancer be damned. And her former boss, George W. Bush, posed with firefighters last week, and there was nary a peep about what the EPA did (or even about Bush's budget cuts relating to police, firefighters and emergency medical workers).

Case in point: The key "facts" about John Kerry's purple hearts and other medals, as laid out by the Swift Boat Veterans, have been overwhelming debunked as at best hearsay and pointed speculation, and at worst, lies.

When John O'Neill goes talks with Chris Matthews or George Stephanapoulos or Wolf Blitzer, the charges being made had been documented. And significant research was available to debunk those charges. Web sites like easily showed how the various charges either were based on hearsay, or contained information that had been contradicted by earlier statements by the various Swifties.

Yet, Chris and George and Wolf gave these folks a chance, and allowed a lot of damaging information to be presented as a "point of view." And even if the mainstream "journalists" scored a point or two, the Swifties could turn around and spew with Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or Hugh Hewitt or Mark Levin, unchallenged.

Only 1 in 4 people find the Swifties' charges credible. When the Swifties strike again, will the media ignore them? Probably not. Because Hannity and Limbaugh and the rest of the conservatives will give them airtime, and the remainder will cower, lest they be accused of showing "liberal bias."


The GOP has shown a disinterest in egghead Harvard studies. It doesn't matter whether it economics, Ground Zero air quality ... heck, intelligence about Iraq. The administration has "strength" and "passion" and "decisiveness" about the issues of the day!

Our media, sadly, too often follows this "know nothing" route. Poorly prepared for interviews, unwilling or afraid to fact check on the air, they are accomplices to the Bush administration's strategy of keeping our populace uninformed.

And if that means your son or daughter has to die in Iraq, well, don't let some Harvard egghead tell you that there was a body of intelligence out there before we went to war that was ignored because it contradicted the administration. And if your loved one got sick because they returned to Lower Manhattan prematurely because of assurances from this administration, well, don't let some Sierra Club envirofreak tellyou that there was a body of intelligence out there before people returned to their homes that was ignored because it contradicted the administration.

And if we re-elect Bush because a majority of Americans believe the half-truths and lies shoved down their throats, well, don't let some New York Times liberal columnist tell you that there was a body of intelligence out there before the election that was ignored because it contradicted the administration.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

A point you made that really struck me regards “anti-intellectualism" -- the idea that the current administration won't let some “Harvard egghead" tell them what to do.

Ironically, many in the administration sprouted from Ivy League schools. Others have post-graduate degrees:

George W. Bush -- BA from Yale and MBA from Harvard

Dick “Five Deferments” Cheney -- Started at Yale, got a bachelor's and master's from University of Wyoming, then a doctorate from University of Wisconsin.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- BA from Princeton.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice – BA from University of Denver, MA from Notre Dame, PhD from University of Denver.

Chief of Staff Andrew Card -- BS from University of South Carolina, attended JFK School of Government at Harvard.

Attorney General John Ashcroft – BA from Yale. Law degree from University of Chicago.

Secretary of State Colin Powell -- BA from City College of New York, MBA from George Washington University.

Someone needs to remind them that they're hardly a bunch of "good ol' boys."

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

am troubled by the failure of the media over the last week to put into proper context outrageous lies and other distortions made at the Republican convention, which polls sadly indicate the American public is buying.

1. The GOP claim that Kerry is a indecisive waffler (the exact same claim it made against Al Gore) without examining George W. Bush's own significant waffles.
2. The GOP faulting Kerry for voting against weapons systems when Cheney voted against the exact same programs.
3. Bushie claims about Kerry voting against security measures without discussions of Bush taking similar actions as well as cutting military pay and veterans benefits.
4. The GOP finding problems with Kerry's Vietnam service but having earlier labeled Clinton a "draft dodger," i.e. damned if you had served and damned if you had not. No one appears interested in challenging the Republicans wearing of purple bandaids on the convention floor to mock Kerry's war commendations. Disgusting.
5. The media unfairly allowing Bush to make claims about Kerry's shifting positions on the Iraq War without accurately or adequately discussing Kerry's true positions.

Thanks, Don

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are all missing the far larger point here. Elections are not won simply on data. Passion is extremely important even when it shields "the truth". Elections are about selling a platform, sure, but also a person or group of people. I am sick of hearing about how the media did or didnt do this or that. Both sides have their gripes and i am sure they are legitimate to a degree. When it comes to politics, everyone spins, or whatever you want to call it. Zell Miller came across as an angry matter what he said. Not about substance, it was about style. Most I know hated it. John Kerry may not win this election and the reason.....because he blew it.

He has allowed himself to be defined by the opposition on so many issues it makes one wonder if he is just setting up Hilary for 2008. It is pathetic. He has not defined his issues clearly, his personality at all and has overplayed Vietnam to such a degree that he has lost the public. He is always on the defensive; his response to the convention "attacks" was to try to counter attack Cheney and his lack of service. Played right into Bush's hands.....keep staying on the vietnam service record. Pathetic. Everyone on earth knows he served there, that Bush didnt...time to move on. Not to mention, spending time attacking cheney is perfect for bush as noone elects the VP anyway.

The basic point is that if BUsh wins, it is for one simple reason. He and his team are far better at this than Kerry's. Kerry does not look presidential and despite liberals (and others) screaming about the difference between facts, lies, conspiracies etc., many many people will vote for the guy who makes them feel comfortable, safe (especially in war time), calm not angry. And someone who is capable of selling a message.

This is Kerry's race to win. If he doesnt step up to the plate, he doesnt deserve it.

I also should mention that while it is true that the republican spin on the economy is just that - spin - the democrat crap about blowing the surplus and that Bush is the cause of everything is ridiculous. A president has little effect on the economy and i wish people on both sides would speak to the few things that he does affect instead of ranting about things they do not understand. Spending on the war and increasing the deficit to do so is fair game. Tax cuts adding to it are fair game as well. But tax cuts do spur the economy. Question is the long term effect vs. the short term gain. A democratic president would not have been able to avoid the internet company implosion, telecom implosion, 9-11, corporate scandals.....

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, fair enough.Everyone has a right to criticize. I have an idea. Someone on this site inform the uneducated, non elite on some issues that I view as important in deciding how to vote.

1) Explain JKs position on Iraq and Aphganistan. Include nothing about what already happened-only about what to do now. And without unsupported generalities like "I will gather all of our allies who will now help". What will he actually do different than Bush? Maybe I have missed the answer to this so someone educate me.

2) Explain JKs position on the larger battle against terrorists. Include whether he believes in pre-emption and if so, under what circumstances. Explain how he would or would not include the UN (who will always block our efforts since one veto ends the story) in his decisions. Explain how he handles terror sponsoring states and also how he handles terrorist cells within other countries. Specifically, Iran, Syria, N Korea and Palestine (although that is not a country nor a government).
3) Explain JKs view on defense spending and the size and scope of our armed forces and where he would have them deployed currently.
4) Say something about JKs record in the Senate so I dont only hear about this from the republicans. No point in defending one vote or another as most know that a senator must switch positions on bills as no bill is very clear and carries baggage with it. However, please explain whether the RNC statements about the pattern of voting is true and if not, show that. I know virtually nothing about Kerry other than he has good hair, a rich wife, served honorably in vietnam, and likes outdoor sports.

5) Explain JKs position on homeland security and how it contrasts with BUsh. What policies would he change, what would he keep. Examples are the patriot act, profiling, director of intelligence, other 9-11 issues etc....

This would be a good start. I believe most americans know where bush is on these issues and many likely disagree with him. the problem is noone knows where JK stands-difficult to vote for someone like that. He has two months. Tick tock.

7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question for some in this country to ponder.

Why do you think it is that in the last 24 years, we have had republican presidents except for clintons 8 years. and clinton was a centrist if there ever was one.

has america shifted right? has the republican party become more centrist? Has the democratic party shifted left? has the democratic party lost its way or its message?

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can find anything you need to know about John Kerry's positions from

That's not the point of this web site, though. Typical Republican maneuver -- don't deal with a criticism, but instead change the subject.

Your president looks into a television camera and talks about programs he wants to expand, but fails to mention that he's cut those programs. The vice president makes fun of Kerry for saying something that he has said himself. This is your leadership? A bunch of people who would rather distort the truth than defend their positions?

If a Democrat didn't serve in Vietnam (Clinton) he's a draft-dodger. Kerry won medals, but that's not good enough. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

But beyond that, when it comes to Bush and Cheney, black is white. Up is down. Right is left. The economy has weakened since last fall? Say it's stronger. Wages are down? Say they're up. Al Qaeda beheads Americans and blows up buildings and trains and whatever else in Europe? Say we're safer. Change your policy on Iraq to adopt points your opponent has made? Call your opponent a flip-flopper. And so on.

That's our leadership. It's b.s., just like the blog's name says.

2:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if everything you say is true, i dont believe i am the only one dodging the questions-as i have asked a few. Even if I decided not to directly address what i consider to be overdone and overplayed irrelevant issues, you decide never to address the more simple truths I espouse about america, the election overall etc..... If everything you say about Bush & team are true, i believe you are suggesting that people vote for kerry simply because of that. and many will-maybe even me (i am not republican as you imply; just very disappointed in the democrats these days) Kerry has not articulated his positions clearly or often enough (other than vietnam). I have been to and his positions are not even clear there or better said, if you dig deeper you find the same BS that Bush says as well. I agree with you that Bush spins his positions. So does Kerry and Kerry can promise the universe if he wants to since he is not president and has no presidential record. and never speaks to his senatorial record. Point is he needs to sell his promises to the american people to win. This is not unusual-selling yourself and your position exists in all aspects of a capitalist, democratic society. I could create a website, take a few people's views and tailor it into a position. POinting people to a website would not make me able and ready to run for president. HE needs to sell it-not on the internet.

Also, and I dont mean to be harsh...but i have news for you. Bush is your president as well (I am assuming you are an American citizen/resident). You may not like it but you also may need to get used to it if Kerry doesnt pick up steam. I dont particularly like Bush or agree with him (mostly on domestic issues) and I believe his administration has made many mistakes (the biggest being never able to admit making them)---but this entire "Bush and everyone associated with him being evil" tirade you see out there is absurd. Not to mention, it is scary that obviously intelligent people ascribe to these theories although all sound reasoning would suggest otherwise. It used to be that all the ideologues were on the republican right. Now there is this weird group onthe left that is in this bubble of ideological hatred for all things Bush. It is bizarre. While I agree everyone has the right to have their own views, I find it difficult to stomach the fact that the democratic party appears to have moved away from what most people agree is a very centrist american public overall.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point is not whethr Bush's policies are good or bad. or if kerry's ideas are good or bad.

the point is that the bush folks don't want to defend their policies. they want to trash the democrats. and people like chris matthews call those speeches "strong," which is b.s.

12:42 PM  

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