Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Thursday, September 26, 2002
Unpatriotic Gore

When Al Gore talks, conservatives listen. And then they lie. And they never, ever, apologize or retract. They just play up one lie until it's discredited, or long after, and then go on to the next one. Conservatives pundits have been doing so for years. And their younger brethren in the blogosphere have learned the same rules.

Gore's latest speech on Iraq has brought forth an entirely predictable string of attacks. As usual, the substance of the speech is being pretty largely ignored - if you consider substance, Gore generally looks good, because, unlike his critics in the media or the man who 'defeated' him in 2000, Gore actually is a man of substance. But there are plenty of other ways to attack a speech.

One good way to view the attacks on Gore is as projection. Pundits lined up to accuse Gore of being a liar and exaggerator in 2000. Unfortunately, the number of untruths they could find, although they searched his considerable record of public statements going all the way back to the Carter administration, was shockingly paltry, and what there was was generally ludicrously trivial. No problem - they just lied and exaggerated.

If Michael Kelly is projecting in his attack on Gore's speech, dishonesty is the least of his problems. He may possibly not be projecting, but what he surely isn't doing is providing a reasonable or honest response. Kelly has run through a whole theasaurus before he gets to a single specific criticism: Gore is "distasteful... beyond [the] decent politician...dishonest, cheap, low...hollow...bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas...breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension ... wretched...vile...contemptible. But I understate."

Damn, that sure does sound like Michael Kelly. And a lot like this Kelly column.

What Gore said, in essence, was that the war against al Queda has not been won and should be the nation's first priority. An attack on Iraq, especially if carried out unilaterally, will be at best a distraction from fighting terrorism, at worst, it may lead to reducing the international co-operation without which that war is unwinnable. And it shouldn't be undertaken until more careful thought than any we have evidence for has taken place concerning the real problem, which is not defeating the Iraqi military, but building a stable state after Saddam has been overthrown. These are at the worst reasonable criticisms, so unsurprisingly Kelly either ignores them or takes them out of context to distort them.
Here is Kelly's first actual complaint:

Gore uttered his first big lie in the second paragraph of the speech when he informed the audience that his main concern was with "those who attacked us on Sept. 11, and who have thus far gotten away with it." Who have thus far gotten away with it. The government of Gore's country has led a coalition of nations in war against al Qaeda, "those who attacked us on Sept. 11"; has destroyed al Qaeda's central organization and much of its physical assets; has destroyed the Taliban, which had made Afghanistan a state home for al Qaeda; has bombed the forces of al Qaeda from one end of Afghanistan to the other; has killed at least hundreds of terrorists and their allies; and has imprisoned hundreds more and is hunting down the rest around the world.

Most of this is true, some of it, such as the claim to have 'destroyed' the Taliban, is plainly false. While the Taliban and al Qaeda were damaged, probably significantly, by the Afghan campaign, neither one is gone by any means. Gore specifically pointed this out in his speech: "Unfortunately, when the Russians left [in 1989], we abandoned the Afghans and the lack of any coherent nation building program led directly to the conditions which fostered Al Qaeda terrorist bases and Osama Bin Laden's plotting against the World Trade Center. Incredibly, after defeating the Taliban rather easily, and despite pledges from President Bush that we would never again abandon Afghanistan we have done precisely that. And now the Taliban and Al Qaeda are quickly moving back to take up residence there again. "

Well, perhaps Gore was talking loosely. No. He made clear in the next sentence this was a considered indictment: "The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the coldblooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized." If there is a more reprehensible piece of bloody-shirt-waving in American political history than this attempt by a man on the sidelines to position himself as the hero of 3,000 unavenged dead, I am not aware of it.

It seems that it was just yesterday that we were told that September 11 had changed everything, and that we must continue the war against al Qaeda for as long as it takes. Now, Bush has decided that he prefers to finish off Saddam, and asserting that we still need to continue the war against Osama is not merely reprehensible, but the single worst act of demagoguery in the history of the nation.

But is Gore wrong when he says that that "The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized"? Well, of the 22 known terrorists on the list issued on Oct 10 last year, I could find no evidence on the FBI's own web site that a single one has been confirmed as killed or captured. (Mohammed Atef has been reported as killed, but is still listed as wanted by both the FBI and the State Department. There is also an uncertain report that another key figure from the list is in custody.) While it is true that most of those on this list were probably not directly involved in 9/11, this is the government's own list of the most critical and dangerous Al Qaeda activists, and from zero to two have been put out of commission after a year. This seems like less than an overwhelming success.

Kelly knows better, however:

The men who "implemented" the "coldblooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans" are not at large. They are dead; they died in the act of murder, on Sept. 11. Gore can look this up.

So there's the proof that the War on Terrorism has been a complete success: the 9/11 terrorists died on 9/11, so obviously al Qaeda is beaten, due to the genius of George Bush! Apparently Kelly is borrowing his rhetorical style from the Vonnegut character who noted:
Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules -- and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.

This is the essence of Kelly's indictment, weak as it is to support the vituperation Kelly makes it with. But he does have a feeble sally or two left.

Although Gore knows that Bush has been publicly trying to move the nation toward war with Iraq since at least January, he pretended to believe the president was only now -- "in this high political season" -- pushing for war in order to gain electoral ground for his party and to divert attention from his administration's failure against al Qaeda by attacking "some other enemy whose location might be easier to identify." I see -- Bush is risking his presidency on a war with Iraq because it is the easy thing to do.

So Bush has been trying to move all year towards war with Iraq. His own aide said of the plan: "from an advertising point of view, you don't launch a new product line until after labor day." And yet when suddenly, in the middle of September, Bush for the first time asks Congress for what he has wanted all yerar, and asks for it befroe the elections, Gore suspects a political motive. How reprehensible.

Although Gore knows that Bush is also seeking, as Democrats also demanded, United Nations approval, he pretended this represented a failure of leadership as well because "thus far, we have not been successful in getting it." True enough -- because the Security Council hasn't voted. Thus far. Cute.

The Security Council hasn't voted partly because Bush has spent most of the year insisting that he didn't care about it. And because Bush has insisted so long that he isn't interested in a Security Coucnil resolution, the chances of getting one are probably decreased. God knows what Gore is upset about, that sure sounds like leadership to me.

The other entirely predictable attack is that Gore lied. The first public appearance of the attack in this case was from Brit Hume of Special Report, who claimed that Gore's latest speech misrepresented the stance he took in 1991. Hume's guests all had extensive records of aiding previous equally false Gore smears - Bill Sammon of the Moonie-owned Washington Times actually invented one of the less successful ones, falsely claiming that Gore had arranged a massive and environmentally harmful water release for a campaign photo op during the New Hampshire Primary. Unsurprisingly, they all went along with the story:

HUME: How do we explain that, as against what he said yesterday?

BILL SAMMON: It’s inexplicable. It’s puzzling why he would flip-flop on something so easily checkable.

MORTON KONDRACKE: He invented the Internet. He’s got a bad memory.

You have to look closely to appreciate the sheer gall and the breathtaking level of dishonesty on display here. Sammon expresses shock that Gore would distort "something so easily checkable". Kondracke then implicitly agrees, and cites the completely checkable, thoroughly discredited, "invented the internet" lie. And nobody blinks! This smear has been in wide circulation for two years, and Kondracke either knows it is a lie or is a total incompetent. But that's no problem: flat-out lies about Gore and total incompetence are both things that nobody in the media will call you on. And he's right; nobody does.

This latest smear has been shown to be a lie by Bob Somerby and by the excellent blogger Hesiod. Timothy Noah noted that the smear originated as a memo sent from the RNC.

The blogosphere was as enthusiastic about this story as the pundits. Henry Hanks repeated the lie So did Jay Caruso. Stephen Rittenberg used the out-of-context quotes to claim Gore was a 'post-modernist'. Glenn Reynolds linked approvingly to both Stephen and Henry, although also linking to a pro-Gore piece by Max Sawicky. And none of these bloggers has posted any sort of retraction.

By now this is a story of tiresome predictability. It isn't exactly a shocker that yet another story of Gore lying turns out to be all hot air. It's about as unexpected as a report on a group of cultists gathering to celebrate the end of the world being followed by a story noting that, notwithstanding the most careful exegesis of the Book of Revelations, the world is still turning.

But lies quite simply do work in politics, as long as the lie gets more circulation than the truth. They work in the media, when the media would rather spread them than expose them. And they seem to work in the blogosphere too.