Monday, May 29, 2006

Three-card Monte

Paul Krugman's column today in the Times points up how challenging it is to deal with adveraries when "the other side doesn't play by any known rules."

Dr. James Hansen, a climate scientist at the center of the global warming debate, appears in "An Inconvenient Truth," the new film on that subject by former Vice-President Al Gore. Krugman notes that Hansen presented scientific evidence for global warming before the Senate in 1988, and his predictions have held up since. Still, the energy industry funded a "smear campaign" to distort his research conclusions and portray them as unreliable. Krugman says plainly, "He was Swift-boated."

Sen. John Kerry knows that technique too well. A Times piece on Sunday detailed his post-campaign research to refute charges against his military record raised in the Swift Boat Veterans' $30 million smear effort. The Times reports that "naval records and accounts from other sailors contradicted almost every claim they made." Not that the "Swifties" cared.
"The mantra was just 'We want to set the record straight,' " Mr. Hayes [an early member of the group] said this month. "It became clear to me that it was morphing from an organization to set the record straight into a highly political vendetta. They knew it was not the truth."
I once wrote a column submitted with the working title, "Heads, I win. Tails, you lose." The headline writer went with, "Soldiers are straightforward about Iraq, while White House deals us a Catch-22." Whatever.

The column observed how slyly GOP operatives rig the debate in their favor:
Earlier in January, Vice President Cheney dismissed those who suggest that overthrowing Saddam Hussein simply “stirred up” terrorists, saying, “They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq on Sept. 11, 2001, and the terrorists hit us anyway.” (In case you missed the connection Cheney repeatedly denies making, Saddam = Osama = Sept. 11.)

The president weighed in too, admonishing critics to “debate responsibly when American troops are risking their lives overseas.” Debating a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq might “embolden” terrorists (read, put troops at risk).

Let’s review: a) Those concerned about emboldening terrorists lack the resolve to put troops at risk against already emboldened terrorists; and b) Those hoping to minimize the risk to troops irresponsibly put troops at risk by emboldening already emboldened terrorists.

It’s like watching close-up magicians at the Magic Castle. This trick is called: “Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.” Wanna see it again?
This verbal Three-card Monte has become standard operating procedure on the right, something Glenn Greenwald highlighted in a similar way last week in the context of what the Wall Street Journal's editorial page claims is the "the peculiar rage that now animates so many on the political left" and threatens their success at the polls. (And we didn't think they cared!)

National Review's Rich Lowry (like the Journal) decried the "rank incivility" in evidence when war hero Sen. John McCain's commencement address at the New School was "heckled by left-wingers."

Greenwald responded:
Lowry said nothing about the continuous mockery by the Bush campaign of war hero John Kerry's war wounds and military service, including the waiving of purple band-aids at the Republican National Convention, nor did Lowry condemn the ongoing attacks on the patriotism and courage of war hero Jack Murtha. And Lowry specifically defended the invocation of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in commercials against wounded combat veteran Max Cleland, dismissing complaints about such attacks on Cleland's commitment to the nation's defense as mere "whining."

... it's a completely perverse "civility" standard which holds that it's fine to attack a war hero's patriotism, impugn their allegiance to the country, question their courage, and mock their war wounds -- as Bush supporters routinely do -- but that it is somehow intolerable to heckle them while giving a political speech.
When Democrat Rep. Lacy Clay of Missouri spoke at UM St. Louis' commencement, he included comments against the war and the president. As conservative blogger Gateway Pundit put it:
Representative Lacy Clay Jr. gave such a hate-filled speech last Saturday morning at the University of Missouri St. Louis campus that he had to stop three times during his talk because the boos from the crowd had drowned him out! But unlike Murtha, Lacy Clay needed security to escort him from the building after he was through with his Bush-bash!
In essence, the UMSL students behaved as any normal, God-fearing, patriotic real Americans would. "Hate-filled," of course, being in the eyes of the partisan (read the speech for yourself). Greenwald observes:
So pro-Bush students heckled Rep. Clay's speech and were so disruptive that the Congressman actually needed security to escort him out of the building for fear that his physical safety would be endangered. Does that show that the Angry Right is deranged and is jeopardizing their chances to win elections? No, it shows the opposite. This incident also shows how deranged the Angry Left is.


So, to re-cap the rules: (1) When a pro-war politician gives a pro-war speech as part of a graduation ceremony, and students in the audience heckle and boo him, that shows how Deranged the Angry Left is -- because they heckled a pro-war speech. (2) When an anti-war politician gives an anti-war speech as part of a graduation ceremony, and students in the audience heckle, walk out and even riot, that also shows how Angry the Left is -- because they "provoked a near riot" by pro-war students.
If there is any rule extant at all among the Macchiavellis of the right, it's "Heads, I win. Tails, you lose." Is it any wonder Americans have come to distrust the confidence men responsible for Iraq, Katrina relief, Social Security privatization, the budget, domestic spying, etc.?

No comments: