Headline in 2030: “Republicans Killed the Planet!”

Kevin Drum is writing about the frightening ways in which recent climate change research shows that things are going bad much more quickly than our most pessimistic models forecast:

It would be nice to think that perhaps our current climate models are too pessimistic; or even that they’re right but maybe we’ll end up at the low end of the predicted warming ranges; or at worst that the models are right and we’ll end up right at the center. But that just doesn’t seem to be the case. What it really looks like is that our current models aren’t pessimistic enough and that the growth in greenhouse gas emissions is exceeding even the modelers’ highest estimates. We are fast approaching a point of no return that will likely kill hundreds of millions of people, destroy much of the world’s food supply, and spark resource wars that make Rwanda look like a mild family quarrel.

I read this and immediately wondered what difference it might have made if we as a nation had gotten serious about climate change in, oh, I dunno, about 2001 or so, within the first year of President Gore’s first term. What if we had a chance back then to turn things around, an opportunity that is now long gone because of five moronic judges, members of what was, until Bush vs. Gore, the most respected institution in our US governmental system?

Will we someday look back and declare that Republican partisanship killed the planet?

Gore Re-Gored During Washington Post’s Goring of Dean

?Huh, you might ask? Well, I’ve been arguing that what happened to Howard Dean is representative of the media’s habit of not reporting objectively, but in being lazy and reporting their interpretation of the story of a candidate, whether the facts support the story or not. Given the way Gore was treated in the 2000 campaign, I’ve come to call this “being Gored.” I didn’t come up with this first, and I’m not sure who did, but the idea was certainly suggested to me by Eric Boehlert’s mid-January assessment in Salon.com of the media treatment of Dean’s “anger problem.” It’s interesting to compare this column about Dean to one Boehlert wrote about Gore just after election day in 2000. Seems to me that what Dean experienced was exactly the same phenomenon.

What is interesting about all of this is what the Washington Post did with the question of Dean’s “gaffes” in a Jan. 23rd editorial. I only heard about this editorial as it was quoted by media whore Tim Russert in his lengthy Feb. 1st interview with Howard Dean on NBC’s Meet the Press. The transcript is available (for the relevant passage, search the transcript for the word “Quayle”), and from it, we find that Russert placed this question, depending on the words of the Washington Post editorial to do the heavy lifting:

MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post had a very interesting editorial and it tried to put it in context, and let me share it with you and our viewers and talk about it. “Defending the Rant: The speech has caused such big trouble for Mr. Dean because it so graphically evoked already-present worries about the candidate’s temperament. This is a common political phenomenon. Thus, Mr. Quayle’s misspelling of potato was a big deal”–”of underlying doubts doubts about the vice president’s intellect. President George”–Herbert Walker–”Bush’s supposed fascination with a supermarket scanner resonated because of the perception of the president as out of touch with ordinary folk. Likewise, the grief that Vice President”–”Gore took over his alleged boasts to have discovered pollution problems at Love Canal, invented the Internet”–”inspired a character in `Love Story’ was the product of his reputation for self- serving puffery. In each of these cases, the importance of an episode, real or imagined, was inflated because of the pre-existing political condition.”

Do you agree with that?

Where to begin? Dan Quayle’s spelling, George Bush the elder’s supermarket scanner, and Gore’s Internet, Love Story and Love Canal “fabrications” all contrasted with Dean’s “anger.”

They’re all there.

Every last one of them.

Any journalist interested in truth would see that the real conclusion from all of these is that political journalists are incompetent, since every one of these stories except for the Dan Quayle “potato” story is an clear misrepresentation of fact. The Bush scanner incident was created out of whole cloth by the New York Times, and everyone has long known that all three of the Gore stories are false (as well as all the others not mentioned here in this shorthand version of the “Gore is a liar” meme). But the Washington Post editorial board sees each of these little stories as having power only because they are emblematic of certain essential characteristics of each of the candidates involved. But surely, the problem is with these little stories themselves, since they are false (with the exception of the Quayle story), and the real issue is how journalists repeat such false and misrepresented stories. Indeed, it’s not entirely clear that the Washington Post has not mistaken the chicken for the egg, failing to consider that these stories may not be so much emblematic as they are transformative of existing images, that these fabrications have their power not because they are seen as particularly good representations of existing known truths, but because they are such good stories that they completely alter the story by becoming the only stories that get told.

The only valid conclusion from the examples cited in the editorial is that journalists who came up with the Dean anger stories are just as incompetent and untrustworthy as the ones who trafficked in these falsehoods about Gore and Bush senior.

But no, that’s never the lesson that journalists take away from these facts. It’s never their problem, but instead it’s the problem of the candidate.

How can the Howard Dean’s of the world ever succeed in revolutionizing our political system when the media outlets are all staffed by journalists who do not understand that their first responsibility is to truth?

Another Example of Dean Getting Gored

I had personally been bothered by the incident where Dean attacked a citizen speaker and told him to sit down, but I’d only seen Dean’s angry response — I did not know what he was responding to. Now I know. It turns out the man Dean was responding to was a Republican heckler and that the audience cheered when Dean told him to sit down and shut up. But all we saw on the newscasts was Dean yelling at the guy — both the context (the reason Dean was provoked) and the reaction (the cheering crowd) were omitted. That’s item 1. Item 2 comes from the same story, which points out that Clark did exactly the same thing, but that hasn’t been in the news media.

Can anyone conclude that the media’s treatment of identical situations constitutes fairness in reporting? Can anyone dispute that Dean is not getting a fair shake? Instead, the media fits every incident into the party-line story about the candidate (“Dean is angry”). Since “Clark is angry” is not their version of the Clark story, his anger goes unreported.

And lost in even my own analysis is the question of whether anger is justified or not. Anger is bad in the media shorthand, where they don’t really care about substance, just about appearances.

How can we ever take back our political system when there’s an operator in the middle of every transaction with an agenda who has no accountability or standards, except to promote themselves?

The Media Whores Just Don’t Get It

William Saletan at Slate.com almost seems to get it in regard to the culpability of the media in ruining good candidates with unfair coverage. In his Iowa Caucus blog he writes:

3. Dean was Gored. Want to know how Al Gore lost the presidency in October 2000? You just saw it: a relentless focus on one candidate’s record and comments. That’s understandable (and I participated in it), because Dean seemed to be on his way to the nomination, just as Gore seemed to be on his way to the presidency in October 2000. You always scrutinize most carefully the person who, barring intervention, is likely to win. The catch is that you’re the intervention. Some of the criticism of Dean was way over the line. (The next pundit who scolds Dean’s wife for not campaigning should have to sleep on the couch for a year.)

If he’d stopped right there, it would have been the indictment that the media deserve. Unfortunately, he draws entirely the wrong moral:

But some of it was well-earned by Dean. Moral: When the camera’s on you, shape up

In other words, it’s not the media’s fault for intervening in the political process, it’s the candidate’s fault for making the mistakes that give the media the opening.

I am reminded of a meeting the officers of the Oberlin College Lesbian and Gay Union had with then-new college president, S. Frederick Starr, in 1984. Among other items on our agenda, we expressed our concern at some recent anti-gay incidents in the Oberlin community (a recent off-campus gay bashing of a student, an effigy burning, complaints about the Gay Union’s annual conference occuring on the same dates as a parents’ weekend) and asked what Starr felt should be done in the future. His response was to say that if we didn’t want public attention we shouldn’t be so visible. In other words, it was our fault when we were attacked, since we made ourselves vulnerable through visibility. And he had nothing to say about the culpability of the attackers.

It was morally bankrupt in 1984, and it’s just as odious 20 years later.

The Dean=Gore Media Trope

Well, I’ve been saying it for a long time, but now it’s being said by others: the media are doing to Dean what they did to Gore in 2000, reporting their canned story instead of facts. Salon has an article by Eric Boehlert today on The Media vs. Howard Dean, and it’s a stemwinder.

I’m actually troubled by a number of things about Dean’s responses to accusations of inconsistency. I am not entirely satisfied with the way he has handled any of the quibbles over his record (and they are quibbles — the same consistency is not being required of the other candidates).

For instance, I don’t think he handled the Confederate flag controversy as well as he should, though in that case, he was stabbed in the back by those who should have supported him. As has been widely reported, he originally delivered the remark to a minority audience in early 2003, who applauded him. When he delivered it again, and the media pit bulls grabbed hold of it, his original audience did not defend him, instead choosing to get all bent out of shape about Confederate flags. Free clue: he wasn’t supporting the Confederate flag — he was talking about people who do so and making an important point about how much those with whom we disagree might very well share economic interests. But Dean has not made this point and instead of showing that he could turn the flap into an opportunity to explore the whole issue, he caved and apologized. Perhaps he was just cutting his losses. In any event, he did do a better job explaining the issue in later debates without referring to the Confederate flag, so perhaps this was OK, after all.

The other main issue that bothers me is the middle-class tax cut. Dean proposes rolling back the entire Bush tax plan, which when it came to a vote actually included a number of middle-class tax cuts incorporated into the bill by Democrats. Other candidates want to retain these tax cuts (which average $300 or $1400 per year, depending on which candidate is talking). I can see an argument for both. Dean’s case is that retaining the tax cut won’t come close to restoring the net loss in services and benefits to middle class taxpayers that were necessary to pay for the huge tax cuts. Dean’s point is that the net gain to the middle class of rolling back the entire Bush tax plan as passed will be far greater than the meager benefits of the Democratic-sponsored middle-class tax cut. But he’s not making this case as forcefully as necessary. Yes, he’s making the argument, but he’s not closing the deal, he’s not drawing out the implications of the details — he seems to think that sticking with a rundown of all the things that cost more because of Bush’s global budget is sufficient, without closing the circle and making the point that it’s all connected, that you can’t look at one without the other.

It seems to me that currently the momentum is with John Edwards, who is not a terrible candidate (he’ll be a great candidate in 2008, I think). Edwards’ best talking point is the idea the Bush economic program is shifting the burden of financing government from capital to labor. By this, Edwards really means that the tax system is being made less progressive, shifting much of the tax burden from the wealthy (capital) to the worker (labor), as well as shifting the benefits the government provides more and more to the wealthy. It’s an excellent point, exactly correct.

And it’s the point Dean should be making when asked about his plan to repeal the Bush tax cuts in their entirety.

Lott and Gore

What a weekend politically. Lott has now realized he can’t apologize away his braindead racist remarks and Al Gore is out. I have admired Al Gore for a long time. I voted for him in 2000, and glady. He is a smart man but not a brilliant one. He realized, it seems, with the savaging the media gave him on his book tour this past month, that he was going to be treated just as unfairly by the “liberal” media this time around as he was the last time. And he decided not to play the game. Good for him. He shows his integrity in avoiding the ugliness that would have ensued.

The contrast with Lott is remarkable. Gore was a man who never let slip the kind of Neanderthal stupidities that came from Lott’s mouth, because Gore is both master of his own thoughts and of his utterances.

Why is it that this country’s media will not tolerate Democrats who are intelligent, educated, well-spoken and in the dead center of national political beliefs while those same so-called “liberal” media let the Republicans get away with murdering logic, the English language and political integrity? I can’t help but think it’s overcompensation for some kind of feared “liberal” bias. The result is that anyone to the left of Richard Nixon gets slaughtered. Everyone on the weird radical right gets treated with kid gloves, as though their ignorance and hostility to government and the good it can do were somehow a handicap protected by the ADA. Good men like Gore are out of the running while complete morons like Bush run the country.

The worst thing that could happen to the Democrats would be to nominate Joseph Lieberman, who is more beholden to big business, especially the insurance industry, than many a Republican. Lieberman, Lott-like, also once apologized for laughably stupid remarks (the bogus assertion that all morality derives from religion), but once a political figure says something in public, he can’t really take it back. If such public figures can make such questionable remarks in public, it is hard to accept the sincerity of the apologies, that they really didn’t believe what they said. If they didn’t believe it, what business did they have saying it in public? And if they worded the statements so poorly, what business do they have seeking our votes? If they can’t speak off-the-cuff in public, they are unlikely to be very good at governing, which requires, more than anything, thoughtful improvisation in the face of pragmatic realities.

If Lieberman is the Democratic candidate (or VP candidate) in 2004, I’ll vote non-Democratic in a Presidential election for the first time in my life. Anyone but Lieberman (well, except for Bush)!