Our broken political discourse

A survey of comments about the Lewis Libby matter reveals the accountability-free nature of punditry.

By Glenn Greenwald

Published July 10, 2007 2:19PM (EDT)

(updated below)

Washington Post National Political Reporter Shailagh Murray opined on Monday:

Washington: What can possibly be gained by congressional hearings into the Libby commutation? Clearly Bush had the authority to do this, and he did it. Q.E.D. I'm old enough to remember when President Ford appeared before a congressional committee to explain his pardon of Richard Nixon. But Bush is no Ford, and unlike the Ford pardon, I don't think this action is going to look better over time.

Shailagh Murray: YAAWWN. That's my view of the Libby flap. What on earth did people expect Bush to do?

YAAWWN. What could possibly be more boring or irrelevant than the President of the United States protecting one of his most powerful aides, now a convicted felon, from going to prison, thereby ensuring that that aide has no incentive to disclose what he knows? Can we get back to what really matters to Americans, like John Edwards' haircut and probing investigations of his stylist?

From the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll:

5. From what you have heard or read, do you think President Bush was right to commute Libby's sentence, do you think he should have gone further and granted him a full pardon, or do you think he should not have intervened at all on Libby's behalf?

Right to commute sentence - 13%

Should have granted full pardon - 6%

Should not have intervened at all - 66%

No opinion - 15%

As usual, the true "fringe" in our country are Bush followers and their establishment media allies. Compare that fact about American public opinion on the Libby matter to this, from Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC: "They're going to try to really tamp this down and appeal to the polling which indicates that most people think, in fact, that [Libby] should be pardoned. Scooter Libby should be pardoned."

And compare it also to this, from Republican blogger Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds, on July 2:

FITZMAS: NOT WITH A BANG, BUT WITH A WHIMPER. Bush spares Libby from Prison.

My prediction: Bush will rise in the polls as estranged conservatives warm to him in light of lefty indignation.

From the USA Today/Gallup poll today:

1. Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?


May 10-13 -- 33/62

June 1-3 -- 33/62

July 6-8 -- 29/66

Then again, when the Dean of the Washington Press Corps says things like this, from back in February, and never retracts or amends it or acknowledges his error, what can we really expect:

It may seem perverse to suggest that, at the very moment the House of Representatives is repudiating his policy in Iraq, President Bush is poised for a political comeback. But don't be astonished if that is the case.

Like President Bill Clinton after the Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994, Bush has gone through a period of wrenching adjustment to his reduced status. But just as Clinton did in the winter of 1995, Bush now shows signs of renewed energy and is regaining the initiative on several fronts.

More important, he is demonstrating political smarts that even his critics have to acknowledge.

It's always the same storyline, and it's always false. Bush is winning. The Republicans are strong. The primary defeat of Joe Lieberman will doom the Democrats. Opposition to warrantless eavesdropping and the Military Commissions Act will make Democrats look "soft on terror" and cost them the election. Americans hate hearings and investigations and pursuing them will make Bush stronger. Protecting Lewis Libby from prison will make Bush's approval ratings rise because (according to the National Political Reporter of the Washington Post) it's such a boring, irrelevant story. YAAWWN.

That might be the best motto I've heard for our national political press since Richard Cohen proclaimed that "it is often best to keep the lights off." Hey, national political reporters: what do you think about stories involving criminality at the highest levels of our government? YAAWWN.

UPDATE: As Jonathan Schwarz noted at the time, the same Shailagh Murray, during the Washington Post chat she hosted back in January -- when the "surge" was being debated -- spat this out when she was asked by a reader why Washington politicians are ignoring the large majorities of Americans who want the war to end:

Would you want a department store manager or orthodontist running the Pentagon? I don't think so. The reason that many politicians are squeamish about hard and fast goals of any kind in Iraq is that there is no simple response or solution -- it would have emerged by now. A withdrawal by year's end carries enormous, very serious implications.

The e-mail Schwarz wrote to her in response is worth reading.

As Gen. Apathy noted in comments, having read the entire Murray chat from yesterday: "Every answer she gave was smarmy, sarcastic, pedantic and lacking any serious insight." Indeed, the whole thing reads like a tongue-clucking rant from a 12-year-old Maureen Dowd, which is saying quite a bit since Maureen Dowd, in her full-blown adult self, is more than sufficiently adolescent.

I've written about this many times before, but this really is the predominant mentality among the Beltway elite. They are drowning in snotty condescension and suffocating cynicism and think that they are too superior, sophisticated and all-knowing to take any of it seriously.

Acutal belief and conviction -- such as anger over the ongoing lawlessness of our government and the President's protection of his own aide, a convicted felon -- is only for the stupid masses and the partisan hysterics (those whom Murray dismissively refers to as "department store managers or orthodontists" whose views are too ignorant to be considered). Sophisticated hard-nosed media stars know better; they know that Lewis Libby's felonies and Bush's protection of him is nothing more than what Richard Cohen called "dark politics," all in good fun. How dreary to think that any of these "flaps" matter ("YAAWNN").

Along these lines, let us not forget (I know I certainly won't) that the Managing Editor of Time Magazine, Rick Stengel, went on national television several months ago and announced that he was "so uninterested in the Democrats wanting Karl Rove [to testify], because it is so bad for them" and claimed that "that's not what voters want to see," even though all relevant polling data showed exactly the opposite by overwhelming margins. And despite being informed of his factually false claims, Stengel refuses -- even months later -- to correct or retract what he said. We should just assume that Stengel's cynicism and dense indifference towards government corruption is representative of what the "American people" think, even when it isn't, because they are just overly excitable "department store managers or orthodontists" and it's best to let the Richard Stengels of the world speak for them.

At least under the Bush presidency, nobody is less interested in uncovering government criminality and corruption -- nobody is more bored by it or eager to keep it concealed -- than our establishment political press. As the joint commentary of Murray and Stengel demonstrate, they are as devoid of integrity as they are insight.

Glenn Greenwald

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