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Friday, November 15, 2002

The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. LXV

(Ed. -- The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

If Richard Cohen writes something phenomenally stupid and no one reads it, is it still phenomenally stupid?

This is a variant on an ancient phenomenological question on the nature of being. It’s a tough nut to crack, but to examine this question in an empirical manner I must first get Richard’s readership down to zero. While it’s true that, in time, nothing more than Richard’s own words would be necessary to effect this event, I’m impatient and wish to hurry it along a bit. Well, a lot actually, since I find his fluorescent brand of idiocy increasingly painful to endure and the necessity to Scourge it a growing waste of my time.

Cogito ergo flagello.

Richard bases today’s column on a corollary to the assumption that his words would indeed be phenomenally stupid regardless of his readership, but we’ll get to that momentarily. Philosophically speaking, I’m less certain. Not about the objective nature of Richard Cohen’s idiotarianism, but about whether an anthropomorphic attribute such as stupidity exists outside the context of people. But that discussion is for another day. We’ll also skip right over the difficult question of how Richard Cohen could compose his wretched rhetoric without reading it himself, but then again, he would probably have trouble recognizing his pompous partisan paeans for the putrid pusillanimous patter that they are.

Furthermore, just to aggravate me, Richard changed the format of his column’s title today, thereby forcing me to change the format of my introduction. But as Prince Ludwig the Indestructible once said: I shall return and reek my rewenge!

Return of Bin Laden
As long as he can't be proven dead, he lives.

Oh, really? So, if no evidence is ever found of the corpses of Osama bin Laden and his closest advisors and bodyguards – most likely because they were incinerated and buried under an immense pile of rubble in a cave somewhere – then he must still be alive. Some clever Internet programmer should set up an intelligent agent to notify the Guinness Book of World Records in 2061 that Yukichi Chuganji has been displaced as the oldest man, since; of course, Osama will still be alive because he hasn’t been proven dead. Of course, last time I checked, the Guinness people actually require some modicum of proof before accepting such an extravagant claim. But not Richard Cohen! The assertion of unprovable statements and non sequiturs is a specialty of Dick’s.

Ever since the Pentagon blew the battle at Tora Bora last year…

Sorry? I must have missed that. There were a couple of dreadful accidents, but to say the Pentagon blew the battle at Tora Bora last year indicates a remarkable ignorance of who the combatants were and the nature of the conflict. Even with some remarkable technology, searching a huge mountainous area pockmarked with caves, created over thousands of years of warfare, at elevation, in winter, about as far away from home as we can get, presents some unique challenges. Its possible Osama got away since we are certain that some Al Qaeda and Taliban forces escaped through the mountains into Pakistan with the help of tribal contacts. If I had to guess, I’d say Osama’s been dead since he blew up in Tora Bora, rather than claiming the Pentagon blew it because we lack definitive evidence of his demise. But we can be fairly certain that if Osama escaped, he escaped with his supplies destroyed or abandoned, his communications destroyed and his forces killed or dispersed so widely as to greatly diminish his capacity for mischief.

… and apparently allowed Osama bin Laden to slip the noose…

Allowed? Did he say, “mother may I?” “Pretty please with sugar on it?” Perhaps he knew the secret pass code: “We wouldn’t be here if Al Gore were president.”

Can you imagine what Richard Cohen might have written on 7 December 1942? How our demise was imminent because the war wasn’t over yet, that the allies had better seek an armistice now because clearly the Wehrmacht and the Japanese Imperial Navy could not be beaten.

… the administration has been busy playing down his importance.

No use obsessing over a dead man.

"We've tried hard not to personalize it," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said of bin Laden and his Taliban sidekick, Mohammad Omar. "This is a lot more than bin Laden and Omar," she said.

Sounds right to me.

Yes, it's about failure.

What a coincidence that Tom Daschle was raising the same issues on television yesterday! The DNC talking points program to fax all the operatives is still in good working order.

The decision to de-emphasize the hunt for the two, especially bin Laden, seems "linked" -- that all-purpose Washington word -- to the fact that the United States has been unable to find him, either "dead or alive," in George Bush's unforgettable phrase.

And if the US devoted all our assets to finding these two, would we now be hearing criticism from Tom Daschle and Richard Cohen concerning President George W. Bush’s obsession with bin Laden and Mullah Omar distracting him from dealing with the rest of the War on Terrorism, the growing menace in Iraq and North Korea, and who knows what other events that might have already happened had the President not been focused on a larger, longer-term solution?

Specifically, it seems that bin Laden escaped from Tora Bora, where, U.S. intelligence now believes, he was present.

Perhaps he escaped, I have no idea. But I’m willing to put money down that he’s dead if Dick’s interested.

It was a spectacular fiasco.

No, the Wellstone Memorial Service was a spectacular fiasco. Even if bin Laden escaped into Pakistan and Mullah Omar escaped into Iran, I don’t think the US Armed Force’s “failure” rates on that scale. By all accounts I’ve read, what the US did in Afghanistan has been a spectacular success in military terms, given the seasons, distances, and cultural difficulties that had to be overcome. It seems really hard for most of those illiberal kids who grew up in the 60’s to ever acknowledge that the military did a damn fine job.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld set the administration's tone when he implied it didn't matter all that much if bin Laden was dead or alive since, in either case, his days as a master terrorist were surely over. "Wherever he is, if he is, you can be certain he is having one dickens of a time operating his apparatus," Rumsfeld said.

Smart man, that Secretary Rumsfeld.

The commander of U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan, Army Lt. Gen. Dan McNeil, struck a similar note. He said the really important target was al Qaeda itself -- not its leader. "We don't have to find him, because we're going to shut down his terrorist apparatus," he said.

It occurs to me that this doesn’t mean we’ve stopped looking for Osama and Mullah Omar at all, merely that we have other priorities that take precedence. Should some scrap of intelligence indicate that Osama has been located somewhere, I expect a significant detachment of force will be dispatched to deal with him. But sending scarce resources on wild goose chases – to please Tom Daschle and Richard Cohen -- isn’t an efficient strategy, especially when we have to deal with Iraq and North Korea in the short term.

Now an audiotape purportedly from bin Laden has surfaced in the usual outlet for such things, the Arab satellite channel, al-Jazeera. Since the voice mentions such recent events as the bombing in Bali and the murder of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan, the tape has to have been made fairly recently.

Actually, no. Al Qaeda may have had these and other as yet not completed attacks planned for a long time, and sound bites may have been prerecorded for just this eventuality. I’m not claiming this is what happened, because I don’t know. But it is not an obvious slam dunk that this tape wasn’t made until very recently.

And since the Bush administration cannot show that bin Laden is dead, he will continue to live -- whether in fact, tape or myth -- in the imagination and yearnings of his followers, larger than life because he cannot be proven dead.

This is, by and large, true. But many of these followers also believe that they are getting 72 virgins and that all infidels should be put to the sword, so I don’t trust their judgment all that much on anything. Their capacity for self-delusion is endless. While this can prove tactically useful in dealing with them, it doesn’t follow that we should start thinking like they do.

The obvious attempt to play down bin Laden's importance has a whistling-past-the-graveyard quality to it. In the first place, the existence of the new tape is a form of nose-thumbing. It shows the world -- particularly the Islamic world -- that the United States is not as all powerful as some people might suppose.

We have the ability to purchase a tape recording device for $15 at Radio Shack. Your civilization is doomed!

It may be able to pound Afghanistan into rubble and possibly do the same to Iraq, but it is far weaker when facing terrorism -- the ol' asymmetrical warfare business.

At least until we decide to deal with terrorism firmly and without mercy in the fashion it deserves. We could learn a few things from President Putin on this front. Dick seems to have grasped the very basic fact that it is easier to destroy than to build.

This is a lesson Israel learns on almost a daily basis.

But he still hasn’t learned that appeasement only invites more terror. We better just surrender, right Dick?

Second, there was no al Qaeda before bin Laden, and while it might continue to exist without him, it would certainly be far less formidable.

A point I believe Secretary Rumsfeld made above, though Dick seems to claim it as his own here.

He bankrolled the organization with his personal fortune…

And a lot of help from Saudi Arabia.

… but more important, he is a rare charismatic leader.

Is there a point here?

There is no point in calling him names -- evil, for instance -- when no matter what we may think of him (and evil he surely is) he is a hero in parts of the world.

Moral equivocation at its finest.

For many reasons, he has become the personification of extreme Islam's war against the West, modernity and -- a rational person would suggest -- the welfare of its own people.

And for all of these reasons, he will soon enough find his name cursed by the people his “cause” has oppressed and destroyed once they have the freedom to act without fear. Does Mr. Cohen think Mullah Omar could win an election in Afghanistan now?

Last, I have to go back to Clarke, the Pentagon spokeswoman. She and her bosses may now choose not to "personalize" the search for bin Laden, but I -- and countless others -- feel differently. The man is a mass murderer who took more than 3,000 lives on Sept. 11 alone. He is responsible for other terrorist attacks as well, including the bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen.

Too bad the Clinton administration passed on its chances to take him into custody when they had the chance. Has Richard no animosity reserved for the man who really could have prevented the tragedy of 9/11 but didn’t?

Those of us who were in New York when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were hit, who were downtown when the buildings collapsed, can never forget that day. The sound of buildings snapping and then collapsing, people plummeting to their deaths or tumbling into an inferno of jet fuel, firefighters and cops rushing up stairs that would soon be pulverized, widows, orphans, a gash in the city that endures -- all this makes Sept. 11 very personal indeed.

It’s personal to those of us that weren’t in New York that day, as well.

Osama bin Laden laughed at all this, his cackle caught on an earlier videotape. Now, in effect, he laughs some more. The murder of innocents in Bali, in Jordan, in Tunisia, in that Moscow theater -- the terrorism he applauds, if not supports, and which was mentioned on that tape, makes it imperative that he be captured or killed, and that we know for sure.

Certainty only exists for utopians.

That would be good policy -- and satisfying as hell.

Good policy, perhaps. I think it is still our policy, but we aren’t going to keep crawling around all the rubble filled caves of Tora Bora just to try and get a DNA slice that may or may not be there. If Osama is still alive, he will be found. I’m quite certain we have stopped looking for him. But there are other irons in the fire, and one of them is about to be shoved up Saddam’s bottom real soon.

Yea, that’ll be satisfying. And just. And a source of goodwill for all the people of Iraq. Then it will be Kim Jong-Il's turn.


Will Blix Nix Saddam's Trix Or Will Hans Back Iraq Attack

Whatever else you might think about Hans Blix and the UN inspectors slated to go to Iraq, don't call them cowards. Anybody going to Iraq right now wearing a blue helmet has a non-negligible chance of dying or being taken hostage as things heat up. The tension is high and if they find something, I'm not sure how they will get out. And everybody knows this. Wearing a UN badge isn't going to help much if some Iraqi soldier feels that the wrath of Saddam will come done hard upon him and his family because an inspector found something he shouldn't have. Or Saddam may decide he needs some human insurance and unarmed UN inspectors will fit the bill rather nicely.

While I reserve the right to disagree with their statements, policies or procedures, Mr. Blix and the others going into Iraq deserve a lot of respect for taking on a frightful task with dangers greatly exceeding the political risks faced by most of their critics. I don't feel we need to give Saddam any leeway at all, but the grand Kubuki dance we've been engaged in so publicly the last six months probably does have a purpose, hard to see though it may at times be.

Say a prayer for these brave men, if you are so inclined, and wish them luck as they enter the lion's den.


Burn in Hell

Myra Hindley is dead. Good.

I understand Ian Brady is on a hunger strike. I hope it hurts like hell until he can get a chance to experience it in all its glory.

The only thing more depressing to me than Myra's crimes is the fact that some in the UK lobbied to have her released in the last few years. You don't want the death penalty in the UK, fine. I disagree strongly, but that's your business. Releasing an animal that admitted torturing and killing five children? That's obscene.


What's the Opposite of Coattails?

See what happens when the co-dependent enablers aren't stopped:

Al Gore says he'd consider Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as his running mate if he runs for president in 2004 ...

Wow. Al still thinks it's up to him!

... but Clinton rebuffed the idea... Clinton's spokesman Philippe Reines said, "As she has said many times before, Sen. Clinton intends to serve her full six-year term," which runs through 2006.

Hillary! running for Vice-President and serving out her six year term in the Senate are not mutually exclusive events. Her odds of winning anything in 2004 are effectively zero.

Democratic insiders claim Clinton is eyeing a 2008 presidential bid. She recently told NBC she will "absolutely not" run for president or veep in 2004, but said only that she has "no plans" to run in 2008.

And this is supposed to fool whom?

A Quinnipiac University national poll this week found President Bush would wallop Gore by 12 percentage points in a 2004 rematch.

That would probably mean a 60 seat majority in the Senate as well. Bring it on Al.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Get Over Yourselves

Is there anything more completely worthless than talking heads speculating on the degree of seriousness in Saddam Hussein's letter "accepting" the UN inspectors?


I Think I'm Going To Join the NRA Even Though My Wife Might Divorce Me Over It


A [Palm Beach, FL] jury has awarded the widow of teacher Barry Grunow $1.2 million from a gun distributor. Pam Grunow's lawsuit accused Valor Corp of distributing a gun that was "unsafe, defective and lacked features that would have prevented a minor from using it."

This is insane and will no doubt be celebrated by all the gun confiscation nuts.

Pam Grunow's lawyer asked for $76 million. But the jury found gun distributor Valor Corporation 5 percent liable for Grunow's death. The owner of the gun and the school board held the most of the liability, the jury found.

But what tops it all is this:

The jury didn't find any liability for Nathanial Brazill, who pulled the trigger. Brazill stole the unloaded gun and bullets from a cookie tin stashed away in a dresser drawer of family friend Elmore McCray.

That's right. The one person on earth who is unquestionably responsible is not held liable. I guess he didn't have any money for the trial lawyers to grab.

We already knew that you don't have to have a room temperature IQ to vote in Palm Beach, but apparently you only need a refrigerator temperature IQ to serve on a jury there.

Link via American Realpolitik.


What, She Didn't See This Coming?

Heard on ATC, Miss Cleo has settled a lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission. In return for not admitting guilt she will pay about $5M in fines and promise to stop going after $500M in unpaid charges she claims stupid people, I mean, her clients owe her.

Oh, the guy in charge of the lawsuit? The man who was mad as hell about this rip-off and wasn't going to take it anymore? Howard Beals.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. LXIV

(Ed. -- The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

While lurching is probably a better adjective, even Richard Cohen can read the writing on the wall in Left-Leaning Losers . . .:

By my count, eight Democratic members of the Senate have either run for president or are being mentioned (sometimes only by themselves) as candidates in 2004.

There used to be a saying that every senator saw a future President in the mirror each morning when he was shaving. I suppose that’s just as true for the female senators, whether they are shaving or not.

Only one of them -- Edward M. Kennedy -- voted against the congressional resolution authorizing war with Iraq.

"War with Iraq" must have sounded too much like "rye on the rocks," and Teddy hates ice in his whiskey.

Yet to hear some people tell it, it is Kennedy's one vote that represents the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.

Old habits die hard. When your only tool is a hyperbolic hammer, every problem looks like a neo-reactionary nail.

What party are they talking about?

Uh, Boobies to Florida? Now that looks like a party. But, don’t tell Ted.

It cannot be the party that won the popular vote for the presidency in 2000 and that for the previous eight years controlled the White House.

Let it go, Dick. It is the same party, and if Bill Clinton knew how to do anything – it was party. But, no election was held in 2000 in which the popular vote mattered. For the last time, if the popular vote had mattered, George W. Bush would have spent more time campaigning in Texas and California, and then he would have won this infernal popular vote as well. Why not just count the number of states won? Or why not decide who wins based on the land mass of the voting precincts? Then your boy Al loses by a considerable margin.

It is, instead, a party that has panicked over the recent midterm elections and appears intent on beating a retreat -- all the way back to the comfy days of the New Deal.

Why panic? Terry McAuliffe said that November 5 was a good night for the Democrats.

What is the justification for such talk?

Crack addiction? Paranoid delusions? Schizophrenia?

It is this: A more pronounced, unalloyed, leftist message would have turned out the Democratic faithful.

All 30 of them. I realize there are more, but most of them are unavailable to vote since they are off breaking windows at a McDonalds somewhere in Europe or they apparently can’t be bothered to properly fill out a voter registration card since that would be acquiescing to the reactionary power of The Man’s fascist regime.



But there is an even greater chance that such a message would have propelled even more conservatives and centrists to the polls.


The results for the Democrats might have been the same, or even worse -- much worse.

The same? Hah! Worse, oh yeah.

The response from the party's left is to be expected -- although it hardly makes any sense.

Why is this time any different?

In the first place, it would have been impossible to take a hard antiwar position…

Because it is stupid and immoral?

… when, among others, such former and potentially future presidential candidates as Sens. Joe Biden, John Edwards, Tom Harkin, Fritz Hollings, Tom Daschle, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and -- yes -- Hillary Clinton voted the other way.

Not to mention about 30 more of the Democratic Senatorial colleagues who aren’t running for President.

Over in the House, another potential presidential candidate, Dick Gephardt, took the same position.

Why is there this incessant belief that President George W. Bush must be wrong 100% of the time by the left and its proponents? Must everything be automatically opposed no matter what? Isn’t that kind of, well, reactionary?

As for Al Gore, he questioned President Bush's timing, not his reasoning.

Perhaps because his reasoning isn’t easily challenged? Or is it because he’s still hung up like Richard Cohen is about President George W. Bush being selected?

What the Democrats should have done was embrace the war on terrorism and make it a non-issue.

Preferably because it is the right thing to do, and not just as a cynical political tactic. But, I realize that is asking a lot.

Then the party should have moved on and raised economic issues -- everything from the sick economy to corporate malfeasance to privatizing Social Security at a time when 401(k) accounts are shrinking before the eyes of the American investor.

Oh? Does Richard mean the sick economy inherited from Bill Clinton and Al Gore? And that’s funny, I cannot remember any Republicans campaigning on increased corporate malfeasance. And as to the scare tactics concerning a partial privatization of Social Security, well, I’m not going to go into it all here, but this is some of the most despicable rhetoric that’s been laid down in quite some time. Perhaps the Democrats are unaware that a person would be better off over any extended period of time by investing all their money in the stock market on the worst day each year than they are with the piss poor returns provided by Social Security.

As for the homeland security bill, Democrats should have forcefully made the case that anti-terrorism has nothing to do with the unionization rights of federal workers.

Correct. So why do they have to unionized?

Those arguments should have been made in a national advertising campaign.

With, gulp, soft money contributions?

If Bush could nationalize the campaign, so could the Democrats -- only they didn't.

Or perhaps they couldn’t, since they have no leader or common message.

With about $10 million, the party could have made the argument that it was for both the war on terrorism and the war for the average person -- his shaky economic prospects, his Social Security payments.

Do you ever get the feeling that Richard Cohen slept through the Carter presidency?

The failure of the Democratic Party to nationalize the campaign and to field a spokesman with a taste for battle …

Uh huh. No one in the Democratic Party has a taste for battle. Not even Al Gore or Bill Clinton or Terry McAuliffe.

…(Oh, where are the Torricellis of yesteryear?) …

In jail? Disgraced and shunned? Replaced by the Lautenbergs of yester-yesteryear? Is this a trick question?

…might have saved one, maybe two, Democratic seats …

Or not.

-- Carnahan in Missouri for sure, maybe Shaheen in New Hampshire.

Or maybe it would have helped to cement the reputation of the Democratic Party even more as the party of whiners and spoilsports like Garrison Keillor.

As for Texas, it showed once again that the rainbow coalition -- the left's impossible dream -- better have some pink at the top. Having a black Senate candidate and a Hispanic gubernatorial candidate resulted in defeat for both.

This strikes me as an incredibly racist thing to say about Texas specifically and America in general. Maybe they lost because people just liked what the other candidates stood for a little more. Does the failure of every black or Hispanic person have to be caused by racism? How pathetic will this statement look when Condoleezza Rice is our Vice President?

The Democrats sorely lacked two things ...

One dangling on the right and one dangling slightly lower on the left.

-- their own issues and someone to advance them.

Nonsense. Maybe people don’t like the Democrat position on the issues – things like scaring old folks on Social Security, bowing to the will of the public sector employee unions, or an unwillingness to deal effectively and decisively with Saddam Hussein – no matter who’s advancing these retreating positions. I’ll grant you that Jean Carnahan, nice woman that she is, was way out of her depth in the Senate, but Walter Mondale? He’s a former Vice President! Frank Lautenberg is a former Senator! Bill Clinton’s out stumping in public and Hillary Clinton is raising gobs of money in private. Why did this great lack of issues and personalities only manifest itself in a way that the inside the beltway pundits could only recognize beginning on November 6?

That does not add up to an ideological drubbing but rather to missed opportunities.

So Richard wants to keep believing it was just tactical mistakes. He’s beginning to sound a lot like Terry McAuliffe.

Last week's results do not mean that suddenly the country wants right-wing judges, privatized Social Security, government support of organized religion or, for that matter, a foreign policy with a chip on its shoulder just spoiling for a fight.

And if we were a 73-27 country instead of a 53-47 country, it’s still not clear to me that we’d want all these straw men either. Right-wing judges? How about having judges – period? Privatizing Social Security, bring it on, but it’s nowhere near meriting the scare tactics used against the proposals offered, and please don’t tell me that the lock box is the answer. And government support of organized religion? Come on, grow up. And as for foreign policy, Richard may not like it, but at least President George W. Bush has one.

For some reason, the media loathe saying, "No big deal."

Bums on seats, Dick. Bums on seats.

Just as everything at CNN gets hyped as "breaking news," so every election is a "historic" ideological realignment that will change the country forever (or maybe until the next election) and even alter the course of El Niño.

But wouldn’t right-wing judges, privatized Social Security, government support of organized religion or, for that matter, a foreign policy with a chip on its shoulder just spoiling for a fight, constitute a “historic” realignment?

This election was nothing of the sort -- and it would be folly for the Democratic Party to think what the voters were really missing was a starker alternative.

Sure Dick, it was just a flip of the coin that it didn’t go the other way. A flip of the coin and 6% of the electorate.

Nov. 5 was a triumph for George Bush and Karl Rove and a clear defeat for the Democrats.

A moment of clarity. Cherish it.

But the GOP won with money and tactics -- a great get-out-the-vote effort and, yes, the lift provided by Bush's personal popularity.

Not with any ideas, or exhibitions of courage to defend America, or an absence of sleaze – especially when compared to Clinton, Kahn, and Torricelli -- just money and war-time presidential popularity. Why, Bill Clinton’s probably regretting that he didn’t start a war now that he can see how popular it would have made him.

The victory, though, was no knockout -- just a match won on points.

Votes, not points.

For the Democrats, there's no reason to act woozy and stumble to the left. The party has been in that corner before. It's where it usually loses.

Last I heard, Nancy Pelosi was going to be the minority leader in the House, Tom Daschle was going to be minority leader in the Senate, and Al Gore is still the leading Democratic contender for president headed into 2004. Being a Democrat is going to suck for a while.

Fine by me.


Carnival of the Vanities #8

Is up here and here!

If you like what you see here, you'll love all the items Bigwig has linked there. And if you don't like what you see here, what better reason to go read what Bigwig has linked there.


Lake Woebeback

Where the hatred is strong, the interns are good looking, and all the taxes are above average.

Garrison keels o'er complaints about his complaints:

The hoots and cackles of Republicans reacting to my screed against Norman Coleman, the ex-radical, former Democratic, now compassionate conservative Senator-elect from Minnesota, was all to be expected, given the state of the Republican Party today. Its entire ideology, top to bottom, is We-are-not-Democrats, We-are-the-unClinton, and if it can elect an empty suit like Coleman, on a campaign as cheap and cynical and unpatriotic as what he waged right up to the moment Paul Wellstone's plane hit the ground, then Republicans are perfectly content. They are Republicans first and Americans second.

Sounds like someone needs a timeout.

Link courtesy of the Eleven Day Empire.

DOWNDATE: Maybe Mr. Keillor's original list of complaints should have been titled, "Lake Woeisme." Kevin Walker of the Claremont Institute kindly passed along this article by Bruce C. Sanborn that takes Mr. Keillor's original complaints to task. Here's an excerpt:

In their one and only debate, on the day before Tuesday's election, Walter Mondale addressed Norm Coleman as "Norman." That didn't work. On the next day the voters made Norm Senator-elect Coleman. At that point, Minnesota's Democrat "humorist," Garrison Keillor, made an ammo run to T.S. Eliot, and as Coleman walked away with his new title, Keillor squeezed off a burst, attacking Coleman as a soulless, passionless, joyless, slick, glib, hollow man. Keillor then flipped his gun into spray mode and called Minnesotans "low-rent" and "dumb" for electing Coleman. Over the years Minnesota conservatives have frequently had reason to reflect that Minnesota's state bird is the loon, and that Minnesota is the home of the loony left. However, the loon gives off a hauntingly beautiful call, and on November 5 the loon gave a beautiful call of victory out to George W. Bush, the Minnesota Taxpayers' League, and Brian Sullivan.

Garrison Keillor grew up in small-town Minnesota. In the column he wrote for Salon (the one in which he shot those insults at Coleman and Minnesotans) Keillor engaged in a small-town practice he professes to hate. Keillor treated gossip as political commentary: "St. Paul is a small town and anybody who hangs around the St. Paul Grill knows about Norm's habits. Everyone knows that his family situation is, shall we say, very interesting, but nobody bothered to ask about it, least of all the religious people in the Republican Party. They made their peace with hypocrisy long ago."

There's more there about Mr. Keillor's rants that make the Prarie Home Complainant sound about as sophisticated as Mr. Garrison from South Park.

Monday, November 11, 2002

The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. LXIII

(Ed. -- The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

There are times I despair of having to take up keyboard and search engine and go at Richard Cohen yet again. My life, and your reading, would be so much better if he would publish something interesting every once in awhile. I’m not asking for brilliance, originality, wit, wisdom, purposeful prose or prosaic poetry for goodness sake. Just something that isn’t like the latest sitcom, recycling the same old story lines in a slightly different setting. Alas, though this week’s story line features stacks of facts, whacks and smacks, ad hominem attacks as Dick, like Drax, goes for Max Q, I still find it all a bit of a bore. If Eminem is the new Elvis, I guess I could be the new Barry Mann and start putting the bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp on little Richard.

I have mentioned before the relative obscurity in which I toil through Dick’s sterile soil. But all is not lost. Emily Jones sent along a link for a Googlefight which gives “Charles Austin” 1,510,000 hits, whereas “Richard Cohen” gets 882,000 hits. Since this site comes up #1 for a Google search on “Charles Austin,” I’ll assume – in spite of what Sitemeter tells me – that most of the people out there linking Charles Austin are, in fact, linking this site and not the rose (which would smell as sweet were it named Richard Cohen – though it would probably be thornier and less hardy), nor the actor who hosts Hollywood CyberPro, nor the high jumper who won a gold medal in the 1986 Olympics, nor the artist, nor the operatic singer, nor Charles Austin Beard, nor Charles Austin Gardner, nor Charles Austin Brook, nor Charles Austin Gaines, nor any of the other approximately 1,480,000 hits Google has recorded. But, I digress.

Mr. Cohen seems to think that the broadcast networks should not be entitled to the $1B they took in for commercials in the election last week. Naturally, he was a worse idea in The 30-Second Democracy:

I stayed up very late Tuesday night to see who won and who lost.

Me too! I stayed up until Jim Talent was announced as the winner in Missouri. And I made it to work on time the next day, whereas Richard still couldn’t get his column in on time two days later.

I learned that George Bush won and Tom Daschle lost.

Richard can be taught! Such a clever Dick.

The Republicans won the Senate and the Democrats lost it…

To be fair – and honest -- can we really say the Democrats lost it, since they never actually won it? Tom Daschle only became the majority leader because Jumpin’ Jim Jeffords decided to caucus with the Democrats. George Mitchell was the last Democrat to lead an elected Democratic Senate majority.

… and Karl Rove, the White House's political guru, has been anointed a genius -- which he very well may be. But not mentioned in anything I watched was the real winner of the 2002 campaign…

President George W. Bush and the American people!

… the television industry.


It came away about $1 billion richer.

Richer? Is revenue now the same as profit in Richard’s utopian kingdom? And are any of the over-the-air broadcast networks actually making money these days?

That was the cost of airing those 30-second political spots, many of them odiously negative, that inundated television throughout the campaign season, especially in its waning days.

Richard’s opposition to freedom of speech when it comes to political campaigns is well known.

It was also about double the amount spent in the last midterm election (1998), when things were bad enough already.

But why was 1998 so bad? Say, isn’t that when Enron and Global Crossing and WorldCom hit their inflection points?

This year, about 1.5 million of these ads were aired.

Ads are bad, m’kay. And if you do ads, you’re bad. ‘Cause ads are bad, m’kay. Don’t be bad, m’kay.

In fact, surveys tell us that your chances of seeing one of those ads while watching local TV news were four times greater than your chances of seeing actual political coverage.

Which means my odds of seeing one of these ads was nil since I don’t watch local news or national news on the major over-the-air broadcast networks. I don’t watch sitcoms because they are dull, predictable, and utterly inane. So, why would I watch the local news or the over-the-air broadcast networks?

At the same time, your chances of seeing a political story on a network news show was declining -- down about 72 percent from the 1994 midterm election.

Or in my case, down to 0%. But notice what Richard is doing here. When it suits him, he’ll post his numbers back to 1998, and if that doesn’t work he’ll go back to 1994. But what was so wonderful about the network coverage in 1994? Why is that the baseline against which media coverage of every midterm election will now be measured?

Increasingly, what average Americans know about politics they get from some 30-second spot.

So they should just step aside and let people like Richard run things for them, is that right? If the ads were 60-seconds long, would the "average" American be twice as smart about politics? Seems like the solution to whatever problem Richard is trying to get at here is fairly straightforward.

So what? So this. These ads are often distortions -- some of them outright lies.

Lies? Politicians will, gulp, lie?

They are often exercises in miniaturization and simplification, a sort of political sniper attack.

Gosh, Dick worked that whole gun confiscation nut thing in there so subtly. You did notice that didn’t you.

Politicians have learned to fear their effect.

Fear of a Flack Planet.

Voting for tax increases of almost any kind -- no matter how urgently needed -- can be lethal: "Jones Voted for Tax Increases 13 Times."

Shocking! Richard has trouble accepting that we simple people are not fond of having our taxes raised, especially when people like Senator Byrd get to establish the “need.”

Yes, he did.

So, how exactly is this like a sniper attack?

But did he vote for a whopping increase in the income tax or a modest increase in the cigarette tax?

Yes, most likely.

Was it a penny on the property tax or a penny on the telephone tax?

Yes again, most likely. To paraphrase Senator Dirkson, “A penny here and a penny there, and pretty soon we are talking about a lot of money – especially for those of us out here paying those taxes.”

And what about the "taxes" that are not called by that name -- like allowing the cable company to rip you off?

Huh? This is a gratuitous angry white van thrown in to confuse and obfuscate.

The content of these ads is one thing, their cost something else again. A spot in the New York market goes for as much as $20,433; in Los Angeles it's $16,682. The least expensive of the top 10 markets is Boston. The cost of an ad there is $9,502. As you can see, this can soon get expensive.

Ok. But why is this bad?

The ads and the cost of them have polluted and distorted the American political system.

The air in the political backwaters was apparently so much purer in the long-gone days of smoke-filled rooms before TV.

They not only weaken the backbone of your average politician -- how will that vote look on TV?

Having the voters know what you have done is just so unfair!

This year the California governor's race cost something like $90 million -- much of it for TV.

Wrong. It didn’t cost a dime. The fact that Gray Davis and Bill Simon spent $90M isn’t the same thing at all. If it was, then Arnold Schwarzenegger can just buy the governorship in four years for $90M, right?

Your average House member is dialing for dollars almost every day of the week.

And what, pray tell, is an “average” house member? Richard seems hung up on dealing with “average” Americans and “average” House members. I guess from his perch in elitedom, we must all look alike to him.

And who is he or she calling? People, organizations and companies with money.

They would have to be pretty far below “average” to be calling people, organizations or corporations without money to raise funds. I wonder what Willie Sutton would have thought of Mr. Cohen?

If there is a single reason Democrats and Republicans sound the same, it's because they both rely on the same sources of money -- the rich.

Actually, no. The Democrats are far more dependent on the “rich” for their contributions than are the Republicans. In the top twenty categories of political donations, 14 of the top recipients were Democrats and 6 were Republicans. The reason they sound alike is the mad rush for the middle of the road.

So now we come to yet another of Tuesday night's unheralded winners -- Sen. John McCain.

Hmm, I must have missed that one.

The Arizona Republican will soon become chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Along with Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), McCain has introduced a bill that would require radio and TV stations to air a minimum of two hours a week of political programming in the campaign season.

Since these two hours will most likely be at 5:00 AM on Saturday and Sunday, it doesn’t really mean much to me, except in principle. And in principle, this reeks. The damn prols aren’t interested in what the politicians have to say, so the politicians are going to force feed it to them. And they will like it. Or else the politicians will increase it to four hours in the next election cycle. And if that doesn’t work, then a monitor will be added to make sure the prols watch.

The proposal is the brainchild of Paul Taylor, executive director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns.

So that’s where all these numbers came from. No doubt, Mr. Taylor’s heart is pure.

Does the bill have a chance?

Heaven forfend!

Not in the immediate future.

A simple no would suffice.

The owners of local TV and radio stations are a powerful lobby.

The fact that they may be right to oppose the bill on principle doesn’t seem to merit Richard’s consideration.

Two years ago, they made almost $7 million in political contributions.

And according to the top donor in the last election cycle was the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), 99% of which went to Democrats. But like Mr. Taylor’s heart, their motives are doubtless pure as the huskie marked snow.

What's more, they are just the sort of people politicians are loath to anger. They own the 6 o'clock news, after all.

And did I mention that the next largest donor in the last election cycle was the National Education Association, and 92% of their money went to Democrats? In fact 6 of the top 9 donors in the last election cycle are unions, and only the Teamsters managed to give less to the Democrats than the NEA, and they came in at 83% for the Democrats. So if Richard wants to talk about somebody being owned, well perhaps he should start a little closer to home.

But the American people own the airwaves.

Own? I think it’s a lot more complicated than this.

The broadcast spectrum is limited.

Sort of like Richard Cohen’s perspective. Should Richard’s perspective be controlled and parceled out by the new Federal Richard Cohen Perspective Commission?

The broadcast media, unlike (thank God) newspapers, are licensed.

A classic “free speech for me, but not for thee” moment. It’s rare that Dick’s this obvious about it.

The government assigns frequencies. It has the constitutional right to require that broadcasters give us something in return.

Huh? The constitutional right? I thought the constitution was primarily for limiting the scope of government and protecting the rights of its citizens. Where exactly is this constitutional right enumerated? Mr. Lileks noted that Walter Mondale was just making shit up with respect to the constitution last week and now Richard wants to do so as well.

They could start by devoting two hours to discussions of political or ideological issues.

I smell a Prime Time hit! There are apparently some very obvious reasons why Richard Cohen isn't a regular on any of the talking head shows.

Certainly, the McCain-Feingold-Durbin bill is no panacea for a political system that has the ethics of a hooker and the attention span of a goldfish.

Much less a political system that struggles with the legitimate compromises and tradeoffs that must be made in a free society. I do find it somewhat telling to read what Richard thinks of the profession he has devoted his professional life to reporting on. Perhaps that explains a lot.

But if it weans candidates even a bit from the 30-second spot and relieves them of the burden of always having their hands out, then American democracy will be better for it.

Or not. After all, the current McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform legislation is working so very well.

We can only hope that the new Republican congressional leadership gives it more than 30 seconds of consideration.

Presumably, it could take as many as 35 seconds to say no in a polite, respectful manner, befitting the new bipartisan atmosphere in Congress. Or Trent and Denny could take about 2 seconds and say, “Hell no.”

And what about cable?


Only Because I Haven't Seen It Anwhere Else

Is Marc Bulger this year's Tom Brady? If he is, will Kurt Warner be playing in Arizona next year?



Several folks have linked to this article from the Washington Post that notes how the Democrats keep misunderestimating people like President Reagan and President George W. Bush.

The problem to me seems to be that the "elite" media have confused intellectualism with intelligence. Look at Al Gore for instance. A policy wonkishness such as that displayed by Al's repeated invocations of the Dingell-Norwood bill was used as a clear indicator of Mr. Gore's superior intelligence. In fact, it was nothing of the sort. Al may be an intellectual (though I sincerely doubt it), but there is substantial evidence that he really isn't all that intelligent. While there can be no disputing that most, if not all, true intellectuals are very intelligent, it is not true that one must be an intellectual to be intelligent. Many of us devote our energies to a vast smorgasbord of public and private endeavors that preclude us from reading and reflecting as much as we'd like, but that doesn't make us any less intelligent. At least I hope not!

No doubt all of us are familiar with the concept that there are many types of intelligence, not just the one kind that is occasionally referred to as "book smarts" in my family. The primary kind of intelligence valued by the "elite" seems to be that which is most useful in debates. Perhaps, if any of them had ever had "real" jobs, they might realize that while this is occasionally important, being successful in the marketplace requires a lot more than scoring debating points or being more suitably nuanced in your arguments than your opponent. Most of the people I deal with day to day are customers, employees, or peers in my company. Trust me, winning arguments with your customer or demonstrating your superior intellect to your employees or peers in a confrontational manner are not highly valued skills in my profession. It would also seem that many of our public policy intellectuals, or at least those with syndicated columns in the NY Times and the Washington Post, believe that unless one can quote from the Federal Register by chapter and verse, one cannot be construed as intelligent -- or at least, intelligent enough to to be qualified to lead. Ah, but leadership is another matter entirely, and one attribute which intellectuals are not really known to possess, by and large.

How many intellectuals have been successful leaders? And how many successful leaders have been intellectuals? Remember to distinguish between intelligent and intellectual as you make up your list. I believe that men and women who have been successful leaders -- e.g., Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Alfred the Great, Charlemagne, Saladin, Timojin, Napoleon, Washington, Lincoln, Grant, Lee, Sherman, Carnegie, Ford, Morgan, Churchill, Eisenhower, Patton, Thatcher, Reagan, Welch, and dare I say President George W. Bush -- are highly intelligent, but none of these people were intellectuals. When composing a similar list of accomplished intellectuals -- e.g., Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Da Vinci, Erasmus, Pascal, Goethe, Voltaire, Mill, Kant, Marx, Dewey, Poincare, etc. -- very few leaders pop up.

Interestingly, on the dark side there are a number of leaders that are regarded as intellectuals -- e.g., Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro -- but I don't buy it. I'm not really qualified to discuss their qualifications as intellectuals, but outside of their rapidly shrinking fan base, they don't seem to be thought of as intellectuals too often. They were undoubtedly smart people, though their particular genius for leadership seemed to require a level of repression and murder for which there are few advocates today. I wonder how successful any of them could have been in a free society, in the marketplace of ideas where the battle is for hearts and minds, rather than seeking submission and coercion in their own populations through force and terror?

If you are aware of any intellectuals that were also good leaders or vice versa, please leave me a comment.


Molly's Folly

Molly Ivins has been the epitome of a mean-spirited partisan hack for quite some time now. There's very little point in reading her any longer, because she writes nothing original or witty. It's all a screaming irrational rant about how the world doesn't work the way she wants it to -- mostly because of President George W. Bush these days. But I would like to use one sentence of her latest screed lamenting the Democrat's defeat to illustrate two larger points:

Another reason to be of good cheer about the larger picture is that the Democrats deserved to lose.

Oh? Funny how I don't remember reading that sentiment from any of the usual suspects before the election -- even though it was just as true on 4 November as it was on 6 November. Would Molly and Richard and Maureen and Paul and E.J. and Thomas and all of their friends have intentionally deceived us concerning their true feelings about the Democrats before the election to help further the Democrats cause? If they had been sequestered on 5-6 November and been asked to write their columns without the benefit of knowing how the elections turned out, does anyone think they would have written what they have -- even though, as I have already noted, the facts they are stating about the Democrats were just as true before the election as after? Actually, this helps illustrate the difference between truth and facts, but that's a whole 'nother story.

The second point is that this sentence could easily be misconstrued if taken out of context. Molly doesn't want the Democrat's to lose -- not by a long shot. But like so many other partisans blinded by hatred, she has misviewed the political spectrum once again. Molly seems to think that she's in the "true" center and therefore that the real problem is that the Democrats aren't far enough to the left. Ultimately this is just a variant on the theme that the damn prols are too stupid to comprehend what's important. Why else would a slogan like, "It's the economy stupid," not be seen as extremely insulting to everyone?

So much for populism. Keep digging Molly.

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