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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Gregg Easterbrook is Wrong

Will Vehrs
TNR's Gregg Easterbrook is back from a brief hiatus. He must have had a bad experience holiday shopping at the mall. How else to explain this mean-spirited item?

The "decorative turkey" in George W. Bush's hands in the Thanksgiving pictures from Baghdad should in fact make people angry. Hundreds of American dead, thousands of Iraqi dead, and the White House is staging phony photos on Iraqi soil? The occupation of Iraq may be justified, but White House use of the war as a political prop is becoming unseemly. And think: somebody had to fly a fake turkey to Iraq. Voters are not stupid; this sort of thing may backfire on Bush.
I don't know where to begin in expressing my outrage at this commentary. All across America, millions of families pull a fully-cooked turkey out of their oven on Thanksgiving and photograph it with family and friends before carving. That's a little impractical at an Army mess hall, so a decorative, "fake" if you will, turkey is put on display while the real turkey is placed in steam trays to be served to troops moving through the chow line.

If somebody like Easterbrook is willing to do some research--check out several Army mess halls (or Navy dining facilities, whatever you guys call them, Tony)--to discover if "fake" decorations are used at Thanksgiving and finds that the Bush "photo-op" was totally staged and could not have happened anywhere else, then I might have at least a smidgen of respect for his point of view. But even then, why should troops thousands of miles from home be denied this little bit of Americana on a national holiday? Bush also got photographed behind the steam trays when he was serving the "real" food--what was that? Phony?

Easterbrook is right; voters aren't stupid. They know Bush went to Iraq for Thanksgiving and most will give him credit for a nice gesture. They won't read a lot into it, unlike pundits who seek a nefarious purpose whenever it suits them.

On a more positive note, I concur with Easterbrook's tribute to the late Senator Paul Simon (D-IL):
His commitment to the pastoral world of downstate Illinois was genuine; when Simon left the Senate he went back home, to Springfield, to live out the remainder of his days there. So many prepackaged politicians rhapsodize about the soil and the good folks of home, but never return to these things; Simon did, using his final years to found a public-policy institute at Southern Illinois University.
I can't think of a better tribute to a politician than to say he (or she) was "genuine."

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

David Brooks is Right

Will Vehrs
Tony, some big-time bloggers are taking on David Brooks' column on Howard Dean that appears in today's New York Times.

Their sensibilities were offended by this passage:

Everybody talks about how the Internet has been key to his fund-raising and organization. Nobody talks about how it has shaped his persona. On the Internet, the long term doesn't matter, as long as you are blunt and forceful at that moment. On the Internet, a new persona is just a click away. On the Internet, everyone is loosely tethered, careless and free. Dean is the Internet man, a string of exhilarating moments and daring accusations.
Jeff Jarvis offers to take Brooks on a tour of the Internet, insinuating he's getting his information from an AOL chat room; Andrew Sullivan quotes Jarvis approvingly.

Brooks is the pundit who declared on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer that he reads first thing every morning. Brooks knows a thing or two about blogs, about "Fisking." and about the power of links. The mistake I think Jarvis and Sullivan make is to confuse blogs and the Internet. There are probably more AOL screen names in Vermont than reasonably even-handed political blogs in the whole world. Howard Dean didn't rise to be the Democratic titan that he is by favorable reviews from the top bloggers. He rose by capturing the mood of highly partisan Democratic bloggers, Democratic web sites, angry message board posters, MeetUp emailers, and a host of other Internet applications. These are not places where "Fisking" matters, where people say, "Wow, these bloggers really deconstructed Dean's changing positions, I better re-evaluate my support."

I daresay that if you challenge a Dean position or a quote from the candidate in the comments section of a Dean-leaning blog--or if you challenge Bush in a Bush-leaning blog--you won't get a spirited defense. You'll get called names, accused of apostasy, and treated to a shrill listing of the other's guy's defective positions.

"Fact checking your ass," and "Fisking" are noble endeavors, especially when practiced with equal fervor against Republicans, Democrats, Independents, or Greens. But let's get real--only a small number of outlets practice that type of honesty. They are a tiny subset of the fierce Internet partisans who never find fault with their candidate, partisans who would sooner challenge the question and the questioner than the whatever their candidate happened to say. Crusading bloggers fight a constant battle against these ideologues. Sullivan, with his "Poseur" awards and the like, ought to see this clearly.

I reserve a special level of disagreement for Josh Marshall. Josh doesn't challenge Brooks' "diss" of the Dean Internet phenomena so much as declare Brooks a whack job for criticizing Dean. Josh Marshall, the blogger who never met an anti-Bush screed that he didn't like, shocked--Shocked! that a Democrat might be criticized. Ye Gods.