Lies, Sighs and Politics

June 8, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
By PAUL KRUGMAN

In Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney completely misrepresented how we ended up in Iraq. Later, Mike Huckabee mistakenly claimed that it was Ronald Reagan’s birthday.

Guess which remark The Washington Post identified as the “gaffe of the night”?

Folks, this is serious. If early campaign reporting is any guide, the bad media habits that helped install the worst president ever in the White House haven’t changed a bit.

You may not remember the presidential debate of Oct. 3, 2000, or how it was covered, but you should. It was one of the worst moments in an election marked by news media failure as serious, in its way, as the later failure to question Bush administration claims about Iraq.

Throughout that debate, George W. Bush made blatantly misleading statements, including some outright lies — for example, when he declared of his tax cut that “the vast majority of the help goes to the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.” That should have told us, right then and there, that he was not a man to be trusted.

But few news reports pointed out the lie. Instead, many news analysts chose to critique the candidates’ acting skills. Al Gore was declared the loser because he sighed and rolled his eyes — failing to conceal his justified disgust at Mr. Bush’s dishonesty. And that’s how Mr. Bush got within chad-and-butterfly range of the presidency.

Now fast forward to last Tuesday. Asked whether we should have invaded Iraq, Mr. Romney said that war could only have been avoided if Saddam “had opened up his country to I.A.E.A. inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction.” He dismissed this as an “unreasonable hypothetical.”

Except that Saddam did, in fact, allow inspectors in. Remember Hans Blix? When those inspectors failed to find nonexistent W.M.D., Mr. Bush ordered them out so that he could invade. Mr. Romney’s remark should have been the central story in news reports about Tuesday’s debate. But it wasn’t.

There wasn’t anything comparable to Mr. Romney’s rewritten history in the Democratic debate two days earlier, which was altogether on a higher plane. Still, someone should have called Hillary Clinton on her declaration that on health care, “we’re all talking pretty much about the same things.” While the other two leading candidates have come out with plans for universal (John Edwards) or near-universal (Barack Obama) health coverage, Mrs. Clinton has so far evaded the issue. But again, this went unmentioned in most reports.

By the way, one reason I want health care specifics from Mrs. Clinton is that she’s received large contributions from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Will that deter her from taking those industries on?

Back to the debate coverage: as far as I can tell, no major news organization did any fact-checking of either debate. And post-debate analyses tended to be horse-race stuff mingled with theater criticism: assessments not of what the candidates said, but of how they “came across.”

Thus most analysts declared Mrs. Clinton the winner in her debate, because she did the best job of delivering sound bites — including her Bush-talking-point declaration that we’re safer now than we were on 9/11, a claim her advisers later tried to explain away as not meaning what it seemed to mean.

Similarly, many analysts gave the G.O.P. debate to Rudy Giuliani not because he made sense — he didn’t — but because he sounded tough saying things like, “It’s unthinkable that you would leave Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq and be able to fight the war on terror.” (Why?)

Look, debates involving 10 people are, inevitably, short on extended discussion. But news organizations should fight the shallowness of the format by providing the facts — not embrace it by reporting on a presidential race as if it were a high-school popularity contest.

For if there’s one thing I hope we’ve learned from the calamity of the last six and a half years, it’s that it matters who becomes president — and that listening to what candidates say about substantive issues offers a much better way to judge potential presidents than superficial character judgments. Mr. Bush’s tax lies, not his surface amiability, were the true guide to how he would govern.

And I don’t know if this country can survive another four years of Bush-quality leadership.

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Published in: on June 7, 2007 at 10:56 pm  Comments (5)  

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  1. If indeed this country has survived, it has not done so intact. We need another revolution, hopefully a ‘soft revolution’ to take it back.

    Time to reboot!

  2. “What is most glaringly apparent from this entire spectacle is that outside of a handful of honest conservatives too small to merit much discussion [the ones who objected to Bush early on as a radical rather than a “conservative” (and were viciously attacked as heretics, non-conservatives, even liberals)], the right-wing “conservative movement” — which eagerly ignored its own “principles” when Bush was popular and re-discovered them only when it needed to repudiate him — has conclusively demonstrated that its only real “principle” is its own political power.” – Glenn Greenwald

    “The fierce, bullying, often witless tone of intolerance that has overtaken the left-wing sector of the blogosphere.” -Joe Klein

    Joe, your position is not only understandable, but articulate, mature and well-taken. We adore your consistently cogent analysis, never miss a single day, and urge you to keep up the great work. It’s just that fierce, bullying, witless and intolerant as it all admittedly is, the felony vote theft of two U.S. elections and wholesale shredding of our Constitution, while tossing the Great Writ of Habeas Corpus from the Magna Carta into the disposall, after standing down our military to pull 3 WTC buildings in an asbestos and felony corporate fraud abatment procedure killing 3000 Americans and other nationals, then used as a pretext to launch a heinously illegal, incompetently and shamefully conducted war, thus killing and maiming 500,000 more human beings including 23,500 of our Best and Bravest, then further using this as a pretext to legitimate a 24 hour surveillance control police state eugenics media technotronic dictatorship already emplaced on our soil, then presenting us with a 56 trillion dollar tab payable to China, then packing Vuitons for Dubai and Paraguay while ardently ignoring the victims of Katrina, eliminating benefits for everyone but aparatchicks, then legislating an all you can eat bouffet bonanza of corporate welfare while incessantly blaming all of these random events on leftist liberals and secular progressives, nutty as it seems, nonetheless has inexplicably had an odd way of slightly dampening the mood of a tiny few eccentric and entirely marginal bagladys and street people, who apparently believe in their foolish deluded naievite that they are Americans. Hope this at least helps you to understand the obscure,
    but as you rightly point out, entirely deplorable temporary epiphenomenon which you are perfectly justified in criticising; it’s simply kooky crazy how some people seem to imagine that the blogosphere is an appropriate forum to express opinions which most of them, get this, don’t even get paid for writing. That has to tell you something right there. Can you imagine how loony these so-called citizens actually are? It’s something else, it really is, but thankfully we’ve got you, Joe, to point out the hypocracy and moral bankruptcy of the fatcat dirty hippy machine and the repressive leftist liberals who have opposed all of this since 1963.

    “One cannot say — and I never have said — that there are no conservatives who dissented from the Bush worldview, but their numbers are so tiny as to be irrelevant. That is because this movement’s belief in its ostensible political principles is plainly illusory, just a crass political prop. And they simply do not believe in the basic constitutional values which have defined the country since its inception, nor do they believe in the rule of law (hence the virtual consensus that convicted felon Lewis Libby should be pardoned). What else do they need to embrace in order to eliminate all doubts about that? The idea of mounting a primary challenge to George W. Bush in 2004 never crossed the mind of any prominent conservatives, at least not publicly. The consensus among them was that he was one of them, a True Conservative, someone to be hailed and revered and built up — and that consensus remained undisturbed until now, when political considerations compel them to pretend that they have been dissatisfied with Bush because he is something other than a “conservative.” And with that behavior, this movement reveals itself to be as dishonest and free of principles as they are destructive.

    The “Republican base” has become virtually monolithic and easily recognizable — it is the swooning crowds cheering for torture and a doubling of Guantanamo, threatening war with Iran, urging still more surveillance and limitless government power in the name of the All-Consuming, All-Important Glorious War with the Scary, Dangerous, Never-Before-Seen Muslim Terrorists. Anyone who opposes that vision — The Bush Vision — is not considered to be a Republican at all, let alone a “conservative.” Just ask the tax-opposing, spending-hating, small-government-advocating Ron Paul. The Republican Party that gathered last night for their latest ritualistic displays of faux-“toughness” is, in every sense, the Party of George Bush (and it is worth comparing how desperately conservatives are fighting to distance themselves knowing how toxic is an association with that President, versus the desire of Democrats to align themselves with the still-popular Bill Clinton, a set of facts which are typically reversed completely by the press). To the extent conservatives had differences with Bush, those differences have been marginal (a Harriet Miers here and a Dubai Port deal there), virtually always premised on the theory that he was insufficiently extreme and uncompromising, and most of all, muted. One of the few things more dishonest than the administration itself is the conservative movement which built and sustained it and now wants to pretend that it didn’t.” -Glenn Greenwald

    “Clearly the administration is now still trying to cement some sort of bipartisan consensus on the necessity of staying in Iraq, on whatever basis possible – in the process dividing the Democratic leadership from their antiwar base and sowing divisions in the party’s congressional caucus. Along with the recent Reid-Pelosi capitulation on Iraq war funding, the gluing together of a pro-occupation coalition in Congress will have the Democrats co-owning this disastrous war in no time. This will smooth the possible transition from Republican to Democratic rule, without interrupting or in any way threatening the War Party’s Middle East agenda. Once they sign on to the consolidation of a permanent American beachhead in Iraq and environs and go along with the construction of permanent bases, the Democrats will be ready to continue the “liberation” struggle begun by Bush. His war will become their war, and they’ll be politically invested in “winning” it. In Washington, both Democrats and Republicans are vocally miffed that the Iraqis haven’t met various “deadlines” regarding the passage of an oil resources bill and the holding of local elections, among other items – the typical reaction of a colonial taskmaster, impatient with the dull-witted natives and groaning under the white man’s burden. All in all, we’re developing a colonialist mindset, and, it seems, all the nastiest habits of the species. Aside from the mind-boggling corruption and outrages such as Abu Ghraib and the Haditha massacre, we exhibit a uniquely American blend of arrogance and self-righteousness that far surpasses the revolutionary hubris of the Soviets at their height.

    The Soviets, after all, were commies of the Stalinist variety, who believed that socialism in one country would suffice for their purposes, because after all, capital-H History would inevitably inaugurate the victory of the proletariat and carry the communist cause to victory worldwide. All they had to do, or so they thought, was defend the revolution on its native soil – Russia, the “workers’ fatherland” – and the triumph of communism would eventually follow. What we have in Washington, however, are commies of an entirely different color. The neoconservatives of today have a political-ideological pedigree that stretches all the way back to certain dissident Trotskyists and disillusioned acolytes of the God That Failed – and it shows. These were the followers of Leon Trotsky, the ice-picked dissident and founder of the Red Army, who lost out to Stalin in the post-Lenin internal struggle for power. Trotsky and his followers energetically criticized the Stalinists for conciliating the capitalist world: Moscow, they claimed, was constantly reining in and sabotaging the world revolutionary Communist movement. Socialism in one country, they averred, could never survive – encircled as it was by hostile powers, the Communist revolution had to either expand or be strangled in its cradle. The neocons, in their long odyssey from Left to Right, carried this virus into the “conservative” movement – so that the GOP and the rhetoric of a Republican White House sound like Trotsky on steroids.

    In this sense, the warlords of Washington are far more dangerous than the imperialists of the past. The British, the Soviets, and even Alexander the Great had some conception of limits on their imperial ambitions: but not, it seems, the Americans. Driven by an ideological energy that is both messianic and quasi-religious in its fervor and unreason, they seem intent on driving themselves over a cliff – and taking much of the world with them.” -Justin Raimondo

    Beyond both parties which merely exist to provide legitimation for the appearance of our participation and consent in processes detrimental to us and to which we thus have not consented, and which exist to propel violent processes of action to reaction to synthesis which are by nature destructive and must therefore abrogate our individual rights by intentionally destroying peace, and again above all governments, is the actual governing power which cannot reveal it’s existence or only does so in the horrific events which parties to it engineer through control of the myriad technological and psychological means at their disposal. So far from operating in any human societal interest, the actual government historically actively creates, promotes and conducts our enslavement and is now working to complete this design upon all genuine human freedom itself.

  3. […] Lies, Sighs and Politics June 8, 2007 Op-Ed Columnist By PAUL KRUGMAN In Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney […] […]

  4. CuttingThrough, I’d like to introduce you to an old acquaintance of mine. He’s called Mr. Period. Perhaps you should consider using him a tad more frequently in your next screed? Just trying to be helpful.

  5. I first cottoned on to the TEXAS TINHORN early in his first campaign when he was caught unawares by a live mike talking about ‘them sunsabitches over there’. On another occasion, as the Supreme Court awarded him the 2000 election her was heard to cry: ‘Ah’m gonna be the fuckin’ president.
    Real born again Christians do not use gratuitous profanity such as that. They simply DO NOT.
    Would that some ace nooz hound would ask him if he prays out of the same sewer from which his everyday speech issues forth. UGH!


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