Dover Bitch

Friday, July 06, 2007

Don't worry, be quiet

A pair of somnolent editorials this week from the Washington Post show just how pathetic the entrenched Washingtonian media establishment is today. David Ignatius and David Broder have really outdone themselves.

First Ignatius, who laments the "political disharmony" we face in a divided America, so bad another 9/11 might not snap us out of it:

Based on the tone of the national debate today, it seems likely that the American public would react angrily -- but not just at the terrorists.

Liberals would blame the Bush administration for making America a more vulnerable target. Didn't the war in Iraq inflame Muslim terrorists around the world? Wouldn't we have been safer today if we had focused on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan rather than embarking on a costly war that has sapped the military and CIA and added to America's enemies? These arguments aren't imaginary: We hear them every day, almost as rehearsals for the post-attack finger-pointing.

Those "liberal" arguments are based on facts. Is Ignatius claiming that the war hasn't "inflamed Muslim terrorists around the world?" The evidence for that isn't "imaginary," either. From Ignatius' own paper:

The war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat, U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded.

Is Ignatius claiming that the war hasn't "sapped the military and CIA and added to America's enemies?" Also from Ignatius' own paper:

Four years after the invasion of Iraq, the high and growing demand for U.S. troops there and in Afghanistan has left ground forces in the United States short of the training, personnel and equipment that would be vital to fight a major ground conflict elsewhere, senior U.S. military and government officials acknowledge.

More troubling, the officials say, is that it will take years for the Army and Marine Corps to recover from what some officials privately have called a "death spiral," in which the ever more rapid pace of war-zone rotations has consumed 40 percent of their total gear, wearied troops and left no time to train to fight anything other than the insurgencies now at hand.

Ignatius continues:

And how would conservatives respond? They would blame liberals, who, in their view, have weakened America's anti-terrorism defenses. Couldn't we have stopped the bombers if critics hadn't exposed the National Security Agency's secret wiretapping program? Wouldn't aggressive CIA interrogation techniques have yielded more intelligence that might have prevented the tragedy? Didn't congressional demands to withdraw from Iraq embolden the terrorists? I can hear the voices on talk radio and cable news right now.

Where is any evidence that would support these "conservative" claims? There isn't any and there probably wouldn't be any. Those are all hypothetical accusations that not only lack supporting evidence, but are probably examples of things America did illegally, immorally and, in the end, to no avail. But Ignatius and the media would air them all in some sort of perverted show of artificial balance against the points that liberals have been making... Legitimate arguments, not "rehearsals for the post-attack finger-pointing."

Ignatius obviously isn't writing to point that out, since he can't even appreciate a legitimate argument or identify a ludicrous debate. He just wants everybody to get along.

America's political disharmony is scary. But so is the lack of practical preparation for the next attack. With all the emotional discussion of Sept. 11 -- all the commissions and studies and new federal agencies -- you might expect that we had gotten that part right. But we haven't.


In a politically healthy nation, the news from Britain would have a galvanizing effect. Politicians and the public would pull together and take appropriate steps to prepare for future terrorist attacks on America. There was a moment of shared purpose after Sept. 11, 2001. It's frightening how totally that mood of national unity has dissipated. I can think of lots of people to blame for the current polarization, but that's not the point. The point is to get serious, and to get ready.

Aside from the fact that the "liberal" arguments he presented have merit and the "conservative" ones all lack any supporting evidence, what is Ignatius' real beef? That liberals won't just agree with conservatives and the president on how to fix Bush's DHS, which Ignatius even describes as "woefully unprepared."

Steve Benen responds:

It all sounds very nice, except for the details, which in this case are non-existent. As Ignatius describes it, Americans simply need to get unified. Unified behind what? Behind unity.

I don't doubt that Ignatius means well, but his argument is lazy and hard to take seriously. It's easy to urge Americans to get together; it's a challenge to lay out an agenda for them to rally behind. It's simple to tell people to stop arguing; it's hard to talk about solutions. The column reads like Broderism at its least persuasive.

Lazy doesn't even cover half of it. After all, here's how Ignatius semi-apologized for his and his colleagues' failures in the run up to the Iraq War:

In a sense, the media were victims of their own professionalism. Because there was little criticism of the war from prominent Democrats and foreign policy analysts, journalistic rules meant we shouldn't create a debate on our own.

As it is, that comment is one of the most infuriating and emblematic excuses of the 21st Century Washington press corps. They were "victims of their own professionalism." Just let that sink in for a minute and then square it with Ignatius' latest column.

His "journalistic rules" tell him to sit back and wait. There's no point, when the Republicans come forward with one of their schemes, in arguing with it. Just like his imaginary debate above, Ignatius understands his job is to allow political hacks to set the boundaries of the debate, even if one side's claims have no supporting evidence whatsoever.

And now, having abdicated any responsibility to critically analyze, for the benefit of the American people, the administration's proposals, Ignatius says it's bad for the country if the Democrats do, either. Whom does that leave? Nobody. Ignatius is calling for an end to scrutiny of the Bush administration's policies entirely.

Then, there's Broder, who's afraid that the general public might actually have something to say about anything:

Former senator Fred Thompson has begun his unannounced quest for the Republican presidential nomination by telling audiences in New Hampshire that Washington is badly out of touch with the country.

As a senior campaign adviser put it to The Post's Michael Shear, Thompson believes that "the politicians have lost their connection with what people really want and what they really expect."

Few if any of the other 17 men and one woman vying for the presidency would be bold enough to challenge Thompson's claim. The belief that official Washington is deaf to the people's wishes is a staple of political rhetoric for both Republicans and Democrats -- even those, including Thompson, who have operated inside the Beltway for decades.

Let a reporter who is not running for anything suggest that exactly the opposite may be true: A particularly virulent strain of populism has made official Washington altogether too responsive to public opinion.

From Aristotle to Edmund Burke, philosophers have written of the healthy tension that normally exists between the understanding and strategies of leaders and the sentiments and opinions of their people.

In today's Washington, a badly weakened president and a dangerously compliant congressional leadership are no match for the power of public opinion -- magnified and sometimes exaggerated by modern communications and interest group pressure.

Without explaining why the immigration bill deserved to be passed, Broder uses the unpopular bill's demise as evidence that Congress is too beholden to the people. His other evidence is that Congress has taken away Bush's nearly unilateral ability to negotiate new trade deals.

No mention of Washington ignoring the overwhelming numbers of Americans who want us out of Iraq. No mention of the overwhelming numbers of Americans who wanted justice served for Scooter Libby. No mention of Bush's multiple vetoes over stem cell research. No mention of the overwhelming numbers of people who aren't happy with anything that Bush and Cheney are doing or what Congress is letting them get away with.

So, Ignatius doesn't want the Democrats or the media to question Bush. Broder doesn't want Congress or the people to question Bush. Between the two of them, nobody should question Bush. Whatever Bush says is best for us is best for us and we should have the courage to support him. But, if we, the people, still don't like it, says Broder, well, we should just be ignored:

The point is pretty basic. Politicians are wise to heed what people want. But they also have an obligation to weigh for themselves what the country needs. In today's Washington, the "wants" of people count far more heavily than the nation's needs.

You can win elections by promising people what they want. But you win your place in history by doing what the country needs done.

Politicians should lie to us whenever they face a constitutionally-mandated moment of accountability, if they want a shot at personal greatness. That's what the "Dean" of the Washington press corps has learned by watching democracy up close.

Also, that he has the rare ability to know what the country needs done. So does Bush.

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