Paul Krugman, Benghazi and you: Right as increasingly heavy rain, Paul Krugman closes today’s column like this:
KRUGMAN (5/12/14): [T]he coming firestorm over new power-plant regulations won’t be a genuine debate—just as there isn’t a genuine debate about climate science. Instead, the airwaves will be filled with conspiracy theories and wild claims about costs, all of which should be ignored. Climate policy may finally be getting somewhere; let’s not let crazy climate economics get in the way.It’s very hard to doubt the highlighted statement.
In fact, there isn’t “a genuine debate” about any topic in our pitiful public discourse. To demonstrate that fact, let’s start with something Kevin Drum posted over the weekend—something we don’t understand.
Drum’s post—it concerned “Benghazi fever”—was extremely short. Headline included, here’s the whole shazam:
DRUM (5/10/14): Here Are the Origins of Benghazi FeverDrum includes links to Longman’s piece and to his own original posts on Benghazi.
Read what Martin Longman says today about Benghazi. If you want to understand the origins of Benghazi fever in the fever swamps of the right, I think he has it right. It was basically born out of shame at the initial conservative reaction to the attacks combined with rage that they finally got called on their vile behavior, which ended up helping Obama win reelection.
If you need to refresh your memory about the details—which you really should—see my real-time reaction here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 2.1, Day 2.2.
We don’t understand all the mind-reading about “the origins of Benghazi fever.” Was it really “born out of shame at the initial conservative reaction to the attacks combined with rage that they finally got called on their vile behavior?”
Maybe! But Drum makes no attempt to explain why he feels he knows this.
To us, the story-line seems a great deal simpler. On September 16, Susan Rice went on all five Sunday shows. On four of them, she discussed the attack in Benghazi.
Immediately after she appeared on Face the Nation, John McCain came on the same show and invented the narrative which has never really disappeared. To see how crazy our discourse is, let’s revisit what occurred on Face the Nation that day.
Rice cautioned Bob Schieffer, about ten times, that she was giving him a preliminary estimate. After her repetitive warnings, she told Schieffer this:
RICE (9/16/12): ...Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what—it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video.According to Rice, “extremist elements” armed “with heavy weapons” came to the scene of an ongoing demonstration. “It spun from there into something much, much more violent” as those “extremist elements”—which might have been “al Qaeda itself”—“escalated the violence.”
But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.
SCHIEFFER: But you do not agree with [the Libyan president] that this was something that had been plotted out several months ago?
RICE: We do not—we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.
SCHIEFFER: Do you agree or disagree with him that al Qaeda had some part in this?
RICE: Well, we’ll have to find out that out. I mean, I think it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.
By now, everyone agrees that there was no pre-existing demonstration. Extremists armed with heavy weapons simply came to the site and launched the killing attack.
That said, Rice didn’t say that a group of protestors somehow staged this deadly attack. She said it was extremists armed with heavy weapons who may have been al Qaeda.
That’s what Susan Rice actually said. But immediately after her appearance, on came McCain, spewing this world-class nonsense:
SCHIEFFER: And joining us now for his take on all this, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain.Right from the start, Schieffer’s performance was weak and very snarky. Misstating several things Rice said, he seemed to assume it must be true if the Libyan president said it.
Senator, you’ve got to help me out here. The president of Libya says that this was something that had been in the works for two months, this attack. He blames it on al Qaeda. Susan Rice says that the State Department thinks it is some sort of a spontaneous event. What do you make of it?
MCCAIN: Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration. That was an act of terror. And for anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignoring the facts.
Now, how long it was planned and who was involved, but there was no doubt there were extremists and there’s no doubt they were using heavy weapons and they used pretty good tactics—indirect fire, direct fire, and obviously they were successful.
Could I just say our prayers are with Chris Stevens and Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith who gave their lives. I met Chris Stevens in Benghazi during the fighting. He was putting his life on the line every day. He was living in a hotel. I was with him on July 7 when the Libyan people voted and he and I were down where thousands of people were saying to him, "thank you, thank you, America, Thank you."
So the last thing that Chris Stevens would want the United States to do is to stop assisting Libya as they go through this very difficult process of trying to establish a government and democracy
SCHIEFFER: Why do you think—is there something more going on here than a difference of opinion when the administration spokesman today says that she believes and the administration believes this was just a spontaneous act?
MCCAIN: How spontaneous is a demonstration when people bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons and have a very tactically successful military operation?
McCain, though, behaved like a clown.
“There was no doubt there were extremists and there’s no doubt they were using heavy weapons,” McCain insisted at one point, thereby repeating the very things Rice herself had just said. He then introduced a snarky joke which his side would repeat for at least the next year:
“Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration,” he said, acting as if Rice has said this, the stupidest thing in the world.
Rice never said that people staging the presumed demonstration had brought grenades and heavy weapons to the event. Quite plainly, she said the “extremist elements” who arrived later brought the heavy weapons.
Just that quickly, Saint McCain was mocking Rice for something she hadn’t said.
McCain was disgraceful this day. In part, he repeated Rice’s account, almost word for word, while acting as if he was contradicting her presentation. In part, he invented a snarky joke based upon a mischaracterization of what she had said.
Schieffer prompted McCain in this, then swallowed every word. Here’s our question:
Have you ever seen a major journalist or major news org criticize McCain for what he said and did? Have you ever seen a major Democrat or major liberal inform the American people about the way they got conned that day by this most honest of men?
Simple story! We have no “genuine debates” within our clownish political and journalistic discourse. Virtually all our debates take the form we see in this instance.
Routinely, powerful pols make claims which are clownishly wrong. Journalistic elites routinely decide to play along with such tales.
When this happens, your very bravest liberal warriors head for the high grass. During the fall of 2012, Rachel Maddow didn’t say a single word in Rice’s defense until President Obama finally spoke on behalf of Rice after the election was over. For two solid months, Rice was crucified by this ludicrous clowning as Rachel sat and watched, along with everyone else at The One True Liberal Channel.
(It’s also true that Candidate Gore didn’t say he invented the Internet, didn’t say he inspired Love Story and didn’t say he discovered Love Canal. In the crucial month of September 2000, he didn't lie about his dog’s arthritis pills or about the union lullaby. But all your favorite fiery liberals kept their pretty traps shut about those bogus tales too. This is not an aberration. This is the fundamental way your national discourse works.)
The professors could have spoken up in defense of Rice, of course—Professors Goldstein, Pinker, Lightman and Greene among so many others. The logicians could have spoken up—but they never dirty their hands with such trivia, plus they’re likely to be in the south of France. Beyond that, they wouldn't know what to say even if they wanted to serve. Simply put, they lack the most elementary skills, a point we’re trying to help you see in our weekend posts.
We don’t know where Drum got his theory about Benghazi, which seems complex to us. To us, this is a much simpler story. It basically started with McCain’s instant, unchallenged nonsense.
That episode of Face the Nation should never be forgotten. But alas! The sheer stupidity of that transcript was well beyond the grasp of our journalists and our professors.
McCain behaved like a clown that day; Schieffer was every bit as bad. But their clowning was light years over the heads of our honored elites.
There “won’t be a genuine debate,” Krugman said—but then, that’s true in every instance. Thanks to people like those we’ve named, that’s how our discourse works!