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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Thursday, December 25, 2003

 

Washington at War: against Dean http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20040112&s=alterman

posted by Aziz P. at Thursday, December 25, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
Eric Alterman has a landmark essay in The Nation that addresses the Anybody But Dean mentality pervading the media establishment. Alterman starts out with a review of the recent political hit-jobs that various pundits have trotted out just in the past week, noting that it's hard-line neocons and liberal institutions alike that have jumped on the anti-Dean bandwagon, including The New Republic, The New York Times, even the new Center for American Progress.

Intriguingly, much of the liberal criticism is schizophrenic. For example:

My colleague at the Center for American Progress, Matthew Miller, attended the speech and found it lacking, not in substance, which he thought properly Clintonian, but in presentation. "When Dean barked it out, it felt smaller and shabbier, as if he were lecturing us on simple facts we ought to have known." Miller worries at length about what it means that Dean accidentally thanked US soldiers for their "services" rather than "service." Jonathan Chait, so obsessed he now operates an anti-Dean blog at The New Republic, also admits that the position that so exercised the Post pooh-bahs is "narrowly true." Chait's problem with Dean, and I quote, is that the Vermont governor "gives off the vibe that he likes to equivocate about the bad guys rather than recognize them for what they are" (what a bummer that Dean dude is...).

ABC's Sam Donaldson made the same silly point, admitting that "in context, you know what he's saying," but when normally perspicacious pundits like Miller and Chait talk in terms of "feelings" and "vibes," something more than policy disputes are at work.


Alterman is correct that part of the antipathy to Dean is because he doesn't kowtow to the pundits' sense of self-importance. Given the astonishing failure of the media to properly inform the public about the disastrous nature of Bush's policies - and the wholesale character assassination that Gore endured during the 2000 election while the liberal pundits looked the other way, and Bush got a free pass.

The other point is that the political calculus of supporting the war on Iraq is being exposed by Dean's relentless consitency. The major establishment candidates are all on the losing side of the factual evidence:

This utter disconnect was supremely exacerbated by Dean's statement that "capturing Saddam didn't make America any safer" - a statement that both the American public and the Dept of Homeland Security recognize as factual. The truth is that the war on Iraq distracted us from Al Qaeda - leaving them free to innovate new tactics such as infiltrating pilots into foreign airlines. This has even led to flights being cancelled and small towns in New Jersey being mentioned by name as targets.

All of which underscores Dean's basic point that the Bush Administration's ideological blinders have made us less safe. Alterman's most damning critique of the media pundits is that their focus on Dean blinds them to the utter ineptitude of Bush's policies - and the way in which the President can't even articulate a defense:

Dean has some problems, no doubt, but the pundits hardly seem to notice that George W. ("You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror") Bush cannot pretend to defend deceiving the nation into war anymore. When ABC's Diane Sawyer pressed him in an interview about whether Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction or merely would have liked to have them, Bush replied contemptuously, "What's the difference?" (Try this, Mr. President: "I shot that man, Your Honor, because he pointed a gun at me and was about to pull the trigger," or "I shot that man, Your Honor, because he looked like he was thinking about getting a gun.")


Of course, the response from the establishment candidates that the pundits favor is to simply cede the debate on national security. It's only Dean who has seized onto the basic truth. And the punditocracy hates him for it:

Today, the nation remains no less divided than four years ago, with about 20 percent of the vote up for grabs. The punditocracy has chosen its side. Perhaps it's time the rest of us choose ours.


UPDATE: Paul Krugman has some relevant advice for journalists covering the 2004 election. And Nick Confessore noticed the media hostility some time ago.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.