Stampeding the herd, Washington-style

Published 2:59 pm Wednesday, January 3, 2007

In the end, the most significant aspect of the Iraq Study Group may be that none of its esteemed members publicly doubted the wisdom of conquering Mesopotamia in the first place. President Petulant appears determined to ignore its recommendations for dealing with the “grave and deteriorating” crisis anyway. Why the hawks-only lineup? Because under the upside-down rules of Washington discourse, dissenting from this crackpot scheme indicated an unseemly lack of interest in career advancement, marking one as unsound. During a stampede, the safest place is the middle of the herd.

Maybe this will change after the Democratic-controlled Congress convenes. After all, recent polls have shown that roughly 12 percent of Americans support the White House’s putative plans to “surge” (translation: escalate) by throwing another 20,000 to 30,000 troops into the Iraqi meat-grinder, although it’s unclear whose side those soldiers will take in its civil war.

Shoot, you could get 12 percent to agree that Condi Rice is a space alien.

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Change, however, won’t come easy. Not only does the president retain the power of commander in chief, enabling him to confront Congress with a fait accompli — French for “kiss my grits” — before they’re sworn in, but the Washington media elite follows the same inverted logic: nobody who grasped the folly of invading Iraq in 2002 can be trusted to run with the herd.

On his iconoclastic Web site The Daily Howler, Bob Somerby highlighted a characteristically lame discussion on MSNBC’s “Chris Matthews Show.” Andrea Mitchell, wife of former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, was guest host. Also featured were Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Joe Klein of Time, Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times and Andrew Sullivan of The New Republic.

What a lineup! Newsweek fired Klein for lying about his authorship of “Primary Colors.” Sullivan, a transplanted Brit, opined after 9/11 that the “decadent left … may well mount what amounts to a fifth column” against fighting terrorists. He’s now stridently antiwar. Bumiller’s a White House correspondent who confessed being scared to ask the president a tough question “on prime time live television … when the country is about to go to war.” Tucker is disarmingly pretty. Here, she’s the token progressive.

It’s a perfectly representative group of DC pundits: trimmers and court jesters all.

So would Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presumptive presidential candidacy be damaged by her pro-war vote? (Actually, President Bush vowed that attacking Iraq was a last resort, although nobody believed him.)

The panel agreed that Clinton might be able to finesse the issue. Then Tucker said something remarkable. “I also think that the peacenik wing of the Democratic Party may have learned a lesson from their failures in Connecticut, where Ned Lamont lost in the general election to Joe Lieberman,” she said. “The simple fact of the matter is, every serious Democrat who was in the Senate at the time voted for the war.”

Nobody contradicted her. The panel digressed to the titillating topic of Clinton’s odd marriage, and whether she fits the “traditional model of what a woman should be.”

Excuse me, but why do we need these people?

“Peaceniks?” Who’s that? Almost nobody opposed going into Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden. It’s the administration’s failure to finish the job that’s put the United States in danger of simultaneously losing two wars.

On Iraq, Somerby provides a fact check: “In the Senate vote of Oct. 11, 2002, 21 Democratic senators voted against the war resolution.” (Also one Republican and an independent.) Among the nays was Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who recently questioned the wisdom of a commission composed “entirely of people who did not have the judgment to oppose this Iraq war in the first place, and did not have the judgment to realize it was not a wise move in the fight against terrorism.”

(Chairman James Baker privately warned Bush against it.)

Also voting against Iraq were Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Kent Conrad, D-N.D.; and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Failure in Connecticut? Because antiwar Democrats won Montana, Virginia and four other states, all will chair key Senate committees in 2007. Not serious people, Tucker thinks. Presumably along with the 126 Democratic congressmen (and six Republicans) who also voted against this bloody experiment in far-right utopianism.

Actually, it’s unlikely Tucker really thinks that. Most often, the stances taken by TV pundits have more to do with establishing their own position within the herd than any outside reality. They can’t be bothered to get even basic facts straight, even amid a disaster substantially caused by the news media’s failure to apply appropriate professional skepticism to begin with.

“Because our modern elites are so constantly wrong,” Somerby believes, “they must constantly disappear those who were right. Result? Inside a Washington hearing room, 10 well-known people who were wrong from the start tell the nation what to do next.”

Far too often, alas, the news media are no exception.