(updated below - Update II)
David Broder and David Ignatius both have excellent columns in this morning's Washington Post -- excellent because of how vividly they illustrate the shallowness and dishonesty for our opinion-making elite. Impressively, even though the two columns are ostensibly about completely different topics -- Broder writes about how terrible and self-destructive Congressional Democrats are being because they are too uncooperative and partisan (seriously) while Ignatius writes about the heroic efforts the Bush administration is undertaking to avoid war with Iran (seriously) -- they are actually identical both in their tactics and their "substance."
Both columns do nothing, literally, beyond mindlessly repeating what Bush loyalists have told them -- in Broder's case, the whole column simply recites what was told to him by RCCC Chair Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, and in Igantius's case, he does nothing but uncritically repeat what unnamed "senior administration officials" whispered into his grateful, flattered ear. There is not a critical thought expressed about any of it. Like the obedient puppets that they are, they simply adopt what they are told as their own opinions and then write it all down.
And therein lies the most important point: while the vast bulk of the country has reached the conclusion that the Bush-following Republicans are inept, dishonest and untrustworthy, the Beltway elite -- joined only by the 30% Bush-following dead-enders -- continues to view them as the truly Serious and Trustworthy adults, the ones whose knowledge deserves the highest respect and whose honesty, insight and good intentions merit blind faith. The Beltway conventional wisdom script continues to be written by the same Bush insiders who have been pulling their strings for the last six years.
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Ignatius' column has to be read to be believed. He announces in the first paragraph that he is here to rebut the claims from "the liberal blogosphere, and even the stately New Yorker magazine . . . . that the Bush administration is itching to drop a bomb on Iran." That is not true, argues Ignatius. How does he know that?
One reason and one reason only -- the only one Ignatius ever needs: "talking with senior administration officials this week, I hear a different line." Here is the real truth, says Ignatius:
They worry about Iranian actions, and they are disappointed that diplomatic overtures to Iran so far have resulted in little progress. They believe that Washington and Tehran remain on a collision course over Iran's nuclear program and its destabilizing activities in Iraq. But senior officials say they are seeking to avoid military conflict.
That is so very responsible and honorable of these anonymous Bush officials. They are, say they and therefore Ignatius, stalwart protectors of America, deeply concerned that they may have to reluctantly wage a war against Iran for America's security, but are desperately doing everything in their power to avert that tragic outcome -- just like these reluctant warriors did prior to oh-so-reluctantly starting the Iraq War. Ignatius mindlessly believed them then and, four years later, he mindlessly believes them now.
Every paragraph Igantius writes contains these phrases: "talking with senior administration officials" -- "senior officials say" -- "Officials continue to believe" -- "The bottom line, officials say" -- "The biggest danger, some U.S. officials believe" -- "The administration hopes" -- "one knowledgeable official argues" -- "An informed official told me" -- "Officials say."
Not one of these claims from officials to whom he extends anonymity utters a single thought adversarial to or at variance with the official Bush position. Every statement he recites depicts the Leader and his brave aides as facing down a mortally dangerous Iranian Menace and doing everything possible to save our Nation while avoiding War if they can. Why doesn't the Post just formally turn over Igantius' column to the White House and eliminate the annoyance and expense of a middle man?
The best part of the column is when Ignatius, after repeatedly assuring us that his secret friends in the administration are working feverishly on our behalf to avoid war with Iran, solemnly warns that they may have no choice after all -- if, for instance, something like this happens:
But one knowledgeable official argues that any "surgical strikes" against the al-Quds Force, as discussed by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, would come only in response to a high-casualty attack -- say, on U.S. forces in Iraq -- that could be traced to Iran.
That's reassuring. What are the chances that the administration will link the next "high-casualty attack" in Iraq to Iran? Roughly 100 percent, since the administration, these days, links every world ill to the Hitlers in Tehran. But when that happens, David Ignatius will step forward to assure us all that the Bush administration tried desperately to avoid this War and are bombing Iran only because they were forced into it. And he'll know that because "senior administration officials" took him aside in secret and told him so.
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Ignatius' behavior is tracked perfectly by Broder, whose lofty position as "Dean of the Washington Press Corps" Ignatius is perfectly suited to assume when the time comes. It may seem to you and the rest of the world that the country has turned against the Republican Party, but that is not so, proclaims Broder, by mouthing what Rep. Cole told him. Cole is actually satisfied with his party's standing and electoral prospects, and he has every right to be, says Broder. Why?
The answer: The Democrats are also looking like dogs. . . .
Cole, who admits Republicans hurt themselves in 2006 with scandals and out-of-control spending, said the poll confirmed for him a comment he heard this week from a Republican colleague. Speaking of the Democrats, he said, "My God, they're dragging themselves down to our level." . . .
It all adds up, Cole said, to a political environment reminiscent of 1992 -- a tough year for entrenched incumbents of both parties who suddenly saw their margins shrink or disappear. "The American people are rising up in disgust," Cole said, "and incumbents will pay. It's not anti-Republican anymore. It's anti-Washington."
Cole argues that the House Democratic leadership has made a strategic error by wielding its narrow majority to craft partisan bills that invite a Bush veto. That was the case with several resolutions to shorten the Iraq war, and it will be the case later this fall with a series of appropriations bills. Polarization is exactly what the voters hate, Cole said; they are looking for cooperation and agreement.
It is probably difficult to find a more submissive Congress in American history where the Congress was controlled by one party and the White House by the other. On every issue, the Democratic-controlled Congress has given the widely-despised President everything he wanted, and in some instances (such as warrantless surveillance), gave the White House gifts which they could not even get when Congress was run by Denny Hastert and Bill Frist. Poll after poll shows that the reason the Congress is so unpopular is because Democrats and independents are angry that the Congress has not done anything to restrain the President, both in general and particularly with regard to the war.
Yet here is David Broder turning over his column to a blatant Republican hack to announce the opposite of reality -- that the Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they are being too partisan, because they are not cooperating with President George W. Bush enough. As I said recently when writing about David Brooks:
The first tactic is merely the most commonplace conceit of the standard Beltway pundit: Brooks takes whatever opinions he happens to hold on a topic, and then -- without citing a single piece of evidence -- repeatedly asserts that "most Americans" hold this view, and then bases his entire "argument" on this premise. Thus, the only way for Democrats to have any hope of winning elections is to repudiate their radical, rabid Leftist base and instead follow Brooks' beliefs, because that is "centrism." This is actually a defining belief of the Beltway pundit, and it is as intellectually corrupt as an argument gets.
There is now this new invention called "polling data" which reveal what "most Americans" actually think about virtually any topic. Yet when Beltway pundits claim that "most Americans" think X (and, invariably, X = "the opinion of the Beltway pundit" which = "conventional Beltway wisdom"), they rarely cite polls because those polls virtually always contradict what they are claiming about what "most Americans" think.
Disagreements among the parties make David Broder feel sad and blue. Therefore, every column he writes is based on the factually false premise that Americans generally share this view, and that those obstreperous Democrats are going to suffer greatly unless they start giving the President more of what he wants. And to make this argument, he turns over his column to a GOP loyalist to announce how Democrats are in real danger for fighting too much.
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This is all the Beltway punditry ever says -- Democrats had better submit to the Bush administration's demands lest they justifiably suffer for being too partisan. Ignatius did exactly the same in his column last week where he warned Democrats that they would pay a steep price unless they capitulated on FISA, and this is what Ignatius said back in February, 2006, when it was first revealed that the Bush administration was breaking the law in how they spied on Americans' communications:
As quickly as you can say the words "Karl Rove," the debate over the National Security Agency's anti-terrorist surveillance program is degenerating into a partisan squabble. Rather than seeking a compromise that would anchor the program in law, both the administration and its critics are pursuing absolutist agendas -- insisting on the primacy of security or liberty, rather than some reasonable balance of the two. This way lies disaster.
That is the core ideology of the Beltway political class. Even when the President gets caught breaking the law, it is the duty of Democrats to "compromise" by going to the White House and figuring out how to write nice legislation to make the whole thing legal. If they don't do that, it means they are listening to the vile radicals who control their party and they will lose, and they deserve to.
It is a perfect reflection of our political process to go and read the two Sunday Op-Eds by the Washington Post's Very Serious and Well-Regarded columnists and see that both of them contain nothing but one quote after the next from Bush loyalists, reciting the Bush storyline perfectly and without a molecule of critical thought.
That is how our opinion-making elite functions -- still. They go to their favorite GOP Beltway friends, write down what they say, and then announce that the only way for Democrats to avoid disaster is to repudiate their rabid, angry, radical partisan base and to join in with the heroic efforts of the honorable, Serious Bush warriors to protect America and find Serious solutions to our problems. That trite storyline -- and the slothful, deceitful template for advancing it -- never dies, even as the entire country outside of their Thirty-Percenter comrades has abandoned it. Anyone who has doubts about whether that is true should just read each paragraph of the Ignatius and Broder columns today.
UPDATE: Needless to say, David Ignatius -- before the Iraq War -- wrote a column dismissing the claims from war opponents that post-Saddam Iraq would be problematic (h/t Thomas C):
Many analysts warn of the disasters that await in this postwar Iraq, but frankly I'm not convinced. . . .
In truth, Iraq is probably more ready for democracy than any nation in the Arab world. . . .
And the talk of Iraq's internecine strife is overblown, too.
Etc. etc. Any honorable and decent person with a minimum amount of self-respect would go into hiding for a few years after writing such a painfully and destructively wrong pro-war tract, but Ignatius continues to pontificate as if he is the Oracle of Foreign Policy Wisdom while the people who were actually right about Iraq are irresponsible, unserious partisan losers.
Meanwhile, weeks ago, there was an article in the Politico -- of all places -- reporting that even House Minority Leader John Boehner and other GOP officials -- of all people -- are angry with Rep. Cole for his "unrealistically rosy assessments of an ever-eroding landscape for congressional Republicans" (h/t reader TT).
Even they know that Cole's GOP-boostering claims are false, and Cole himself "continues to insist that his job is to operate as a cheerleader at times for the beleaguered party." Everyone -- even Republican stalwarts -- know that Cole's "things-are-great-for-the-GOP" tripe is garbage: everyone, that is, except for David Broder, the easiest mark in town, who writes his entire column today based on Cole's pro-GOP cheers.
UPDATE II: Today, the Infallable One -- He Who May Not Be Questioned -- Gen. David G. Petraeus "has stepped up accusations that Iran was stoking violence in Iraq and said Tehran's ambassador to Baghdad was a member of the Revolutionary Guards Qods force" and "accuses the force, the elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, of inciting bloodshed in Iraq and of training and equipping militias who have attacked U.S. troops." Now that He has decreed this, we may not question it. That, one hopes, goes without saying.
But don't worry. David Ignatius has been assured by Honorable, War-Avoding Officials inside the Bush administration that the only way we will bomb Iran is if our Leaders are forced to -- only in the Extremely Unlikely Event that there is "a high-casualty attack -- say, on U.S. forces in Iraq -- that could be traced to Iran." Could we possibly have a worse, more government-worshipping pundit class?