Eric Alterman lies
Eric Alterman’s latest blog post (scroll down, MSNBC’s blog system is rickety) contains an assertion about Howard Dean’s Meet the Press appearence that’s so silly, and so intellectually dishonest, that it makes one wonder how hard the man researches the rest of his output.
Um, why do these chattering classes fail to notice that Howard Dean did far better on Tim RussertÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pop quiz than a fellow named Bush did three years ago? (And why was the media at fault then, but the candidate at fault now?) Another librulmedia plot, I guess.
Leaving aside the slap at “chattering classes” from a reporter who writes about nothing BUT chatter, this makes no sense. Do the “chattering classes” include the New York Times? If so, the paper handed over a chunk of its opinion page to a fluff piece by Jake Tapper, with the thesis that Dean’s MTP appearence “wasn’t so bad.”
So, who was bashing Dean in the first place? The Boston Herald on June 23 (“Dean claims he’ll ‘reform’ . . . something”), the Daily News on June 25 (“A DEMOCRAT LEAPS IN AND LANDS ON HIS FACE”), and the New York Times itself on June 22 (“Dean Fields Tough Questions on NBC”). A Lexis-Nexis search of newspapers and TV transcripts revealed three articles that reached probably less than 1.5 million people.
On Nov. 21, 1999, George W. Bush appeared on Meet the Press and was grilled by Russert. Immediate coverage did not imply that Bush had fared poorly, or been ripped apart. I have the transcript from ABC News, but it’s over 9000 words. It’d make more sense to quote Russert’s tough questions.
MR. RUSSERT: Let’s go right to it.
GOV. BUSH: Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: You were on the air with a commercial in Iowa and New Hampshire talking about your top priorities. Let’s show our viewers and get your reaction:
GOV. BUSH: OK.
(Videotape of television advertisement):
GOV. BUSH: I believe that government should do a few things and do them well. My top priorities will be to preserve Social Security and Medicare.
MR. RUSSERT: “Preserve Social Security and Medicare.” Specifically, how will you preserve Social Security?
GOV. BUSH: By first and foremost making sure that Congress understands that if I’m the president, all the money that’s supposed to be going to Social Security will be spent on Social Security. Secondly, to allow personal savings accounts. Part of the problem we have in Social Security is we’re not taking advantage of the compounding rate of interest. In other words, the government investment up to now has lagged way behind real growth and lagged behind the normal returns that people get in the marketplace or through safe bonds. People ought to be allowed to invest part of their moneys in personal savings accounts in order to make sure that there are benefits available in the long term.
Thirdly, thirdly, we’ve to keep the pledge to people who are now dependent upon Social Security, and fourthly, this is an issue that’s going to require presidential leadership. It’s an issue where a president is going to have to say, “I’m going to spend capital, political capital gain in the course of a campaign. I’m going to have to spend capital to bring both Democrats and Republicans together to solve this problem.” I believe the last decade has seen Social Security used as a political football as opposed to an issue that needs to be solved.
MR. RUSSERT: If people have private accounts and they take some of their payroll taxes and put them in those private accounts rather than the Social Security fund…
GOV. BUSH: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: …and the market goes bust, what happens to those people in that case?
GOV. BUSH: Well, there will be guarantees and I’m confident a plan will have guarantees, guaranteed benefit levels for all people. Secondly, over the long term, Tim…
MR. RUSSERT: That’s pretty risky, Governor.
GOV. BUSH: Well, over the long term, the markets and bonds have outperformed the current system. I mean, the current system can’t get any worse. It’s a zero growth and the key is that either we fix the Social Security system now or we either cut benefits drastically in a couple of decades and/or raise payroll taxes to the point which will really cause economic growth to slow down. This is an issue that’s going to require presidential leadership…
MR. RUSSERT: And tough, tough decisions.
GOV. BUSH: It’s not only going to require tough decisions, but from an executive perspective–something I’ve learned as governor of Texas, a governor has to spend capital on a few items. A president must determine what items that he intends to spend capital on and be willing to do so.
MR. RUSSERT: When the system was started, Social Security, there were some 42 workers for every retiree.
GOV. BUSH: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s now three workers for every retiree.
GOV. BUSH: That’s the problem.
MR. RUSSERT: Eligibility age–when Social Security was started, the life expectancy was 65.
GOV. BUSH: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s now 77.
GOV. BUSH: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you look at raising the eligibility age for the boomer generation?
GOV. BUSH: Yeah, not for the short term, and that may be an option for the boomer generation.
MR. RUSSERT: For the long term?
GOV. BUSH: As part of a trade-off or as part of an opportunity for the boomers and pre-boomer boomers to be able to manage their own accounts. You see, what you just said is absolutely true. There are a lot fewer payers than there are going to be payees. And, therefore, we’ve got to be smart on how we use invested money to get a rate of return that allows for benefits to be available a couple of decades from now.
MR. RUSSERT: What about a means test where billionaires and millionaires would not get the same benefits as everybody else?
GOV. BUSH: Well, I think if you’re paying in the system, you ought to be able to get something out of the system. And millionaires and billionaires sometimes pay into the system.
MR. RUSSERT: Other than looking at raising the eligibility age, what other tough decisions have to be made?
GOV. BUSH: Well, there’s all kinds of tough decisions. The key tough decision is how much money you’re going to allow to go into personal savings accounts and how much will be available for a basic plan as an insurance policy for the long term. Here’s the key, in my judgment: A president must be willing to tell both Republicans and Democrats, “I’m going to spend capital myself. I expect you to work with me to come up with a bipartisan solution to solve Social Security.” The problem is oftentimes leaders come up and try to be all things to all people. There’s agendas, you know, 35 different items in the State of the Union addresses. What I’ve learned as governor of the state of Texas, and I’ve learned as a key leadership principle, is to set a few items and to tell both Republicans and Democrats, “I’m willing to spend capital on those items. I’m willing to stand by your side to come up with a solution.”
MR. RUSSERT: Even if it means raising premiums and reducing benefits for the next generation?
GOV. BUSH: Well, I hope we’re able to avoid that. But the most important thing is, even if it means taking political flack, even if it means, you know, a short-term drop in the polls, leadership in my judgment is about setting priorities…
MR. RUSSERT: Will you present a…
GOV. BUSH: …and be willing to spend capital earned as a result of getting elected to office.
MR. RUSSERT: Will you present a specific plan to the voters so they can judge you on it before the election on Social Security?
GOV. BUSH: I will set a specific set of principles by which I’ll be making decisions and I will make this pledge, that I will spend political capital necessary to bring Republicans and Democrats together to solve this problem. It’s something that must be solved today precisely because of the problem you just pointed out.
So, Bush was able to explain why he favored partial privitization. He wasn’t caught unaware.
MR. RUSSERT: Health care–let me show you an advertisement that the American Medical Association took out all across the country talking about Texas. And I’ll put it on the screen: “In 1997, Texas became the first state to pass a law holding HMOs accountable for their actions. Governor George W. Bush allowed the bill to become Texas law.” And, in effect, it allowed Texans to sue HMOs. “Two years later, a Bush spokesman said the governor believes the law has ‘worked well’.”
GOV. BUSH: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Will you support as president a law to allow everyone in the country to sue their HMO?
GOV. BUSH: Yes, let me describe–so long as it looks like the Texas law. And here’s what we did in Texas. We said that if you’ve got a dispute with your HMO, that you should be allowed to take your claim to an independent review organization. And if that independent review organization rules in favor of you, the patient, and the HMO refuses to accept that ruling, ignores the finding, then that becomes a cause of action. In other words, we put in place a dispute resolution mechanism, and if the findings of the objective and independent organization are ignored by the HMOs, then you bet people ought to have a claim of action.
MR. RUSSERT: A right to sue?
GOV. BUSH: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Republicans in Congress don’t like that. They voted 3-to-1 against it.
GOV. BUSH: Well, we just disagree. I think it’s important for people to have access to the courts of law if, in fact, there is a–if, in fact, one they have had an opportunity to have their claims heard, and if the findings of the arbitration panel, called an independent review organization, are ignored, there ought be a cause of action. People ought to have some kind of access to express their concerns, both in an arbitration panel, and, ultimately, in the courts.
Listen, I’m a tort reformer. I’ve fought for tort reform in the state of Texas. I signed seven pieces of major tort legislation because our civil justice system was unfair. I thought the plan that we passed in Texas was fair. And that’s the kind of leader I’ve been in Texas. I’ve been balanced and fair.
MR. RUSSERT: But you didn’t sign it into law, you let it become law. But in retrospect, you believe the right to sue an HMO in Texas has worked?
GOV. BUSH: So long as there’s the independent review organization in place, Tim. And I let it become law because I was sending a clear signal, that if the IRO provisions had unwound and they weren’t as protective as I thought they’d be of keeping doctors and entities out of the courts, that I’d come back and ask for an amendment, but the plan has worked according to what we thought it would be.
MR. RUSSERT: This is not the first time you disagree with Republicans in Congress. Let me show you what you said about balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. You said that: “I’m concerned about the earned income tax credit… I don’t think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor.” Tom DeLay, fellow Texan, leader of the Republicans, countered: “Bush needs a little education on how Congress works… I don’t think he knew what he was talking about.”
GOV. BUSH: Well, DeLay’s a good friend of mine. As you know, we’re both Texans. I’ve known him a long time. I like him and respect him and I hope I’m working with him. I hope I’m working with him. I hope I win.
MR. RUSSERT: Can you move him along on HMOs and right to sue…
GOV. BUSH: I think we can work together. I do. And that’s going to be one of the tests of my leadership. I will tell you point-blank, I hope not only do I win but I hope I’m working with a Speaker Hastert and a Majority Leader Lott. I think it’ll be easier for me to get my agenda of entitlement reform, lower taxes to keep the economy growing, a stronger military to keep the peace, and education reform.
Shades of a problem, here … Bush says he can solve legislative roadblocks with friendship, but it’s consistent with what he campaigned on.
MR. RUSSERT: You also raised some eyebrows in the Republican Party when you made a comment about cultural policy, espoused by the Republican Party. Let me show you a clip of your speech and get your reaction:
(Videotape, October 5):
GOV. BUSH: Too often, on social issues, my party has painted an image of America slouching toward Gomorrah.
MR. RUSSERT: “Gomorrah,” the biblical city of disrepute, of immorality. What are you talking about? What have the Republicans been emphasizing they shouldn’t be?
GOV. BUSH: Well, I’ve been talking about how we’re been emphasizing the problems and not the solutions. In that speech I went on to say there are Republican governors all across the country who are facing problems of despair and hopelessness, and who are addressing those problems in incredibly positive ways. It was really–my speech there was an attempt to say we Republicans need to be proud of our philosophy. We ought not to be defensive.
MR. RUSSERT: But why Gomorrah? “Slouching towards Gomorrah”?
GOV. BUSH: We got defensive. Well, it’s just part of the poetry of my speeches. It was imagery. I wanted people to hear what I had to say and they listened. It had nothing to do with Robert Bork, by the way, but it had everything to do with making sure that our party be confident in our philosophy. As you know, Tim, this is a world where people are assigned labels so I assigned myself a label with the help of some press and that is “compassionate conservatism.” And it’s important for Republicans and conservatives in America to be proud, to be optimistic about our philosophy because I truly believe it is a more hopeful philosophy, and I believe it’s a philosophy that’s going to lead to a better life.
MR. RUSSERT: When you put your policy into practice, it sometimes creates difficulty within the Republican Party?
GOV. BUSH: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: For example, John McCain, your opponent, met with Log Cabin Republicans, gay Republicans. Would you meet with them?
GOV. BUSH: Oh, probably not.
MR. RUSSERT: Why not?
GOV. BUSH: Well, because it creates a huge political scene, I mean, that this is all–I am someone who is a uniter, not a divider. I don’t believe in group thought, pitting one group of people against another. And all that does is create kind of a huge political, you know, nightmare for people. I mean, it’s as if an individual doesn’t count, but the group that the individual belongs in is more important.
MR. RUSSERT: But you’re against gay marriage?
GOV. BUSH: I am against gay marriage because I believe that marriage is for men and women.
MR. RUSSERT: What about gay adoption?
GOV. BUSH: I don’t support gay adoption either because I believe that society ought to aim for the ideal, and the ideal is for a man and woman to adopt children. I’m a strong proponent of adoption. I put plans in place to expedite adoption here in the state of Texas. I understand that sometimes a gay person, for example, will adopt a child, an individual. And I fully recognize that government–in a private way, and I fully recognize government should not be a policeman knocking on doors, you know, demanding some kind of, you know, credential as to their sexual orientation.
MR. RUSSERT: But a stable gay relationship, longtime?
GOV. BUSH: Well, I just believe that we ought to–a person in my position ought to be promoting the ideal, and the ideal world is for a mom and dad to adopt a child.
MR. RUSSERT: Hate crimes…
GOV. BUSH: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: …an issue that many gays look to Texas as, they believe, non-supportive of them.
GOV. BUSH: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: There was legislation in Texas which said if a hate crime is committed, black, Hispanic, women, creed and sexual orientation would be protected. Police would be given special training. Civil claims would be allowed. George W. Bush did nothing to encourage that legislation. Why?
GOV. BUSH: Well, first of all, a lot of senators here in Texas were against the bill. Secondly, because we have a hate-crimes law in place in Texas. That’s something–I realize this issue’s become politicized. We had several national candidates come trooping through our state demanding some kind of action. But Texas has a hate-crimes bill.
MR. RUSSERT: But…
GOV. BUSH: Wait. Let me finish.
MR. RUSSERT: …opponents say it’s not adequate…
GOV. BUSH: Well, let…
MR. RUSSERT: …and the Supreme Court has said you can be much more specific by…
GOV. BUSH: Well…
MR. RUSSERT: …listing the groups specifically.
GOV. BUSH: The opponents may say it’s not been adequate, but the most high-profile hate crime we’ve had in the state of Texas shows the law is adequate. After all, two of the three defendants will be put to death in our state.
MR. RUSSERT: This is the James Byrd dragging case?
GOV. BUSH: Yes. Yes, sir, up there in Jasper, Texas. Two of the three defendants who brutalized this man were found guilty by a jury of their peers, and under Texas law will be put to death. I can’t think of a more harsh punishment for hate crimes. And I support the death penalty, by the way.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you be open to a national hate-crime law which said blacks, Hispanics, women, gays and creed…
GOV. BUSH: See, here…
MR. RUSSERT: …should be covered specifically in order to tell society, send a message to society, as a fellow named James Mayfield–you know who he is?
GOV. BUSH: Yes, I do.
MR. RUSSERT: Pastor of the Terrytown United Methodist Church, your pastor…
GOV. BUSH: Very good research on your part, I might add.
MR. RUSSERT: Your pastor, Governor, said, “Let’s send a message that Texas is not a hate state and pass this law.” Will you listen to your minister?
GOV. BUSH: The best way to send a message, in all due respect to my minister, who I love dearly–for Texas to send a message is to hold people accountable for their behavior. I also have problems trying to figure out how we prosecute thought in America. I mean, hate is hate. Hate is hate. It’s like when the guy walked into the Columbine High School and, unfortunately, shot two men, one white and one black. Now what’s the difference between that crime? Hate is hate.
That sounds dumb. It sounds like he wasn’t sure exactly how many people were killed at Columbine, and Russert didn’t press him on it. Of course, Russert never asked about Columbine in the first place.
I couldn’t find any more examples of misteps in the interview, so by the Greg Palast standard, I’ve done my job. What was the reaction to the Bush MTP interview?
Howard Kurtz spotlighted it on the Nov. 27 edition of Reliable Sources.
Well, joining us now, Matt Cooper, deputy Washington bureau chief for “Time” magazine, Melinda Hennengberger, political reporter for “The New York Times” and in New York, Rich Lowry, editor of “National Review.” Welcome all.
Matt, why was there so much media buzz about George Bush surviving an hour on “Meet the Press”? Is there a Tim Russert primary?
MATT COOPER, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “TIME” MAGAZINE: Maybe that should be the next one. Well, look, George Bush has had problems. You know, there’s been a suggestion and a lot of media stories and I think it’s been detected in some polls of voters, too, some concern about his experience, his knowledge of foreign affairs and of course he’d had this interview a couple weeks back where he flubbed a few questions.
KURTZ: The pop quiz.
COOPER: This crazy pop quiz that one reporter threw at him which he flubbed it and seemed to get a little flustered on camera by it.
KURTZ: So was this more of a final exam?
COOPER: I think there was something to that and I don’t think that’s a crazy thing to, you know, report about and show interest in. I mean an hour’s worth of tough questions from a good reporter like Tim Russert is, you know, is a useful barometer of where a candidate is.
KURTZ: Melinda, you’ve interviewed Governor Bush on the trial, no cameras. How successful were you at finding the inner W.?
MELINDA HENNENBERGER, POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: I don’t think I can make that claim. I think one thing that he does do and maybe one reason why we’re looking so closely at something like the Russert interview is that he does tend to stick to the stump speech really closely and he on several occasions, if you say but the question I asked was, he’ll say do you mind if I finish? And he has a real talent, I think, for sort of running the clock out and…
KURTZ: Was that frustrating in trying to get him off the script, so to speak?
HENNENBERGER: Sure. Sure.
The Washington Post didn’t take on Bush (“In TV Talk, Bush Draws Some Lines,” Nov. 22, 1999), nor did The St. Petersburg Times, (“Bush speaks on TV about abortion, gays,” Nov. 22, 1999). The New York Times did take some shots – William Safire wrote a Nov. 22 column called “A Lightweight He’s Not,” noting that Bush impressed by not being a moron.
The political news of the week is that George W. Bush can comport himself confidently under sustained, serious questioning.
But asked to be consistent about applying economic penalties to China as well as Russia after human rights abuses, Bush waffled. His mind-set is not where his speech text is: “We have got to work with the Chinese” he replied. “We need to be very harsh with China, but I don’t think we have the same amount of — maybe we got the same amount of export-import bank loans, I can’t answer that question in specific. . . .”
It did not trouble me that Bush flunked Russert’s subtle test about the number of missiles agreed to in Start II, or that he ducked a commitment when provided the answer in the follow-up: “If Start II brings it down to 3,500,” the host asked, “would you be willing to do down to 1,000 with Start III?” Such figures are drilled into memory before a negotiation; a better criterion in judging his capacity is his realism about the next step: “I want to work with the Russians to dismantle the nuclear warheads and weaponry that’s in place that already is a part of the first Start series.”
In all, a respectable performance. Anybody can read a speech; few politicians can come out of a full hour in the ring with Russert relatively unscathed.
Now, about his pronunciation of the word nuclear . . .
The Boston Globe sent out David Nyhan, in a Nov. 23 piece called “DUBBYA CAN RUN, BUT HE CAN’T HIDE”:
George W. Bush rolled out for a friendly sparring round on “Meet the Press” Sunday was prepped, barbered, and wound up.
This was a home game in Austin for “Dubbaya,” with interlocutor Tim Russert playing jocular guest to His Young Majesty’s gracious host. It was very palsy-walsy. You don’t play tough-guy with the front-runner unless you’re Andy Hiller, whose next one-on-one with any member of the Bush dynasty will not come before the year 2044.
With what we are coming to recognize as Boy George’s permanently furrowed brow, his jut-jawed assertiveness, and slightly off-putting habit of repeating words and whole phrases as he searches the 53-year-old old memory bank, Young George laid out his vision of the world and how that fits in with what he calls “my job as future president of the United States.”
Some of the rest of us might prefer an election before the coronation. But Dubbaya is forcing the calendar. “I intend to be the president,” he confided. And just in case Russert entertained any Hiller-esque inclinations, Bush was ready for any potential stumpers: “I realize people will replay my statements on shows like this three years into my presidency.”
He’s not only past the inauguration of 2001, he’s already into 2004, when he’ll be running for reelection! Here’s a guy who’s ready for the history books. How do I know? Just listen: “I’m a history major at Yale. I learned a lot of good history there.” A real intellectual on top of everything else.
But the Boy George of the Bubble Boy campaign, sequestered so long by his Austin mafia, is now hip-deep in voters in New Hampshire, trying to stem the erosion caused by the John McCain rip tide. Bush’s big early lead in New Hampshire proved to be Kennedy-esque. As used to be said of Ted Kennedy in the year he ran for president, he peaked the day he announced.
On November 30, Anthony Lewis devoted his column to Bush’s performance. On Dec. 19, the “Critic’s Notebook” painted the performance as another step in a PR campaign:
During the Republican debate in New Hampshire early this month, Gov. George W. Bush looked so squinty-eyed and ill at ease on camera that it was easy to visualize him as a cartoon figure with wheels slowly cranking inside his head. But last Thursday on “Larry King Live” he was a political consultant’s dream: he was at ease joking about baseball and flattering the host; his eyes widened with sincerity when he talked about the “heavy heart” he had when Karla Faye Tucker, who had a religious conversion while on death row in Texas, was executed. It was suddenly possible for a viewer to comprehend the charm that people who have seen him in person have noted, but that had been missing from his television appearances. Before that, pop quizzes about foreign leaders and reading lists had caused him to send a panicky look into the camera; during an hour-long interview with Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” he had seemed prepared and cogent, mostly in comparison to the low expectations he had carried along.