Part 1—Feeling no need to explain: We're going to end today's report with a question about, and also from, Abraham Lincoln.
That question will come later. We're going to start with Ruth Marcus' column concerning Roy Moore.
We're starting with Marcus for a very good set of reasons. Ruth Marcus isn't dumb, or crazy, or crazily tribal, and she isn't dishonest.
These may sound like left-handed compliments. Within the context of our modern press, these statements constitute the highest praise.
Marcus is neither dumb nor crazy. Indeed, she's thoroughly experienced, and she's perfectly bright.
That said, we'd have to say she's stampeding a bit when it comes to the case of Roy Moore. Most specifically, we're struck by the fact that she seems to feel no need to explain.
Within the context of modern punditry, Marcus started yesterday's column in a way which rates as brilliant. For the most part, she drew a distinction between the several "accusations" being directed at Moore.
She focused on the accusation which is brutally serious—the claim that Moore molested a 14-year-old girl in 1979. She didn't conflate that accusation with the other "accusations," including the deeply troubling claim, meticulously researched by the Post, that Moore once bought a glass of wine for someone who was 18, or maybe 19.
(The victim told the Washington Post that she wasn't sure.)
Should a 70-year-old Senate nominee withdraw his candidacy if he bought a glass of wine for someone who was 19, or almost 19, in 1979, when the drinking age in Alabama was 19? In our view, the craziness of that suggestion lets us see the ridiculous place into which our national experiment has now fallen in a dangerous way.
Marcus sidesteps that crazy place. Still and all, we'd say she soon wanders into error.
She starts by making a perfectly accurate statement. She says the claim being made by Leigh Corfman, who was the 14-year-old girl in question, is "entirely credible."
We'd have to say that's entirely true! But as we kept noting long ago, "credible" isn't the same as "accurate," "proven," "true" or "established"—and Marcus, who's almost entirely sensible, soon blows right past that point.
She does so in this passage shown below. In it, she seems to assume that Corfman's claims have been established as fact. Having made that assumption, she criticizes a range of people who have left open the possibility that the claims could actually be wrong:
MARCUS (11/12/17): How can claims from “many years ago” be allowed to “destroy a person’s life”?In that passage, Marcus mentions the stories of the "three other women." In fairness, she notes that their claims only track Corfman's claim up to a point—up to a tremendously limited point, we'd be inclined to say.
Some answers: Because they are entirely credible. Because the girl, now a woman, has no conceivable ax to grind—she is a longtime Republican, a Trump voter even—and nothing to gain from coming forward. Because three other women related similar, although less disturbing stories, underscoring Moore’s interest in younger girls.
Because the presumption of innocence, while essential in the legal realm, does not mean the elimination of common sense outside it. (Thank you, Mitt Romney, for saying that.) The willing suspension of disbelief has its limits, or should.
Unless, that is, you are a politician dealing with a story you wish would go away. Then you turn instinctively to if-then-ism. “If these allegations are true . . .” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), leading—or not—his prove-it caucus. Disappointingly, among them were women senators who ought to know better. “If it’s true . . .” said Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. “If the allegations . . .” said West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito. “If there is any truth at all to these horrific allegations . . .” said Maine’s Susan Collins. Seriously, have you read this article? How can you think about serving alongside this man?
Corfman says that she was molested, indeed assaulted, by Moore. None of the other three women describes any such experience.
To that fairly substantial extent, their stories fail to establish a pattern in support of Corfman's charge, which is nonetheless fully credible. But Marcus is angry at people like Capito, Murkowski and Collins—people who have left open the possibility that Corfman's charge could perhaps be false.
Full disclosure! We'd have to count ourselves among the ranks of those people! We do that because "credible" differs from "true," and because Corfman is charging a very serious offense.
Her charge may be perfectly accurate, but for ourselves we can't exactly swear that it is. As the week proceeds, we'll add to the list of entirely credible accusations which have, in recent years, actually turned out to be false.
For today, let's consider some possible problems with Marcus' assumptions and logic. In particular, let's explore the fact that she seems to feel no particular need to explain.
"Seriously, have you read this article?" Marcus directs this question at Collins, referring the Washington Post's report about Corfman's charges. "How can you think about serving alongside this man?"
Tomorrow, we'll continue to detail an embarrassing fact. Just as a matter of fact, many of our most famous pundits don't seem to have read the Post report in question! (But then, what else is new?)
Presumably, Marcus has read the report in question. She seems to regard the charges it details as established fact, as plainly true.
That said, you'll note that Marcus' logic may perhaps take a wrong turn at this point. You'll note that Marcus didn't write this:
"Seriously, have you read this article? How can anyone possibly think that Corfman's charges might not be true?"
You'll note that Marcus didn't say that. Nor does she ever attempt to explain why she seems to assume that the charges are true.
She savages Collins, Murkowski and Capito for withholding belief. But what an absent-minded slip! But she never explains the basis on which she herself does believe that the charges are true!
Marcus never tries to explain why Corfman's claims should be regarded as established facts! Instead, she announces the "correct response," then takes a pitiful turn:
MARCUS (continuing directly): The correct response came from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who—without hedging —termed the allegations “deeply disturbing and disqualifying” and called on Moore to withdraw.That feels good! For starters, we're told what "the correct response" to these allegations is.
If-then-ism is the rhetorical cousin of what-about-ism, a bid to deflect attention by questioning whether those complaining about “x” were equally inflamed by “y,” when “y” involved someone on their side. If-then-ism represents a similar effort to avoid casting a politically inconvenient judgment.
It is better, sure, than the jaw-dropping alternative: so-what-ism, remarkably flagrant among Alabamians in response to the Moore report. “Much ado about nothing,” State Auditor Jim Zeigler told the Washington Examiner. Joseph did it with Mary, he observed. Except, um, minor theological point here—did he?"
As in days of olde, it comes to us from Saint McCain, whose responses were always treated as correct, for instance when he was blatantly misstating basic facts about the vile Candidate Gore. To the pundit corps of that insane era, "he always gave the best advice," as sacred Homer once said of noble Nestor, the seasoned charioteer.
Marcus is taking her scripture from Saint McCain. On the other hand, note this:
We now know what "the correct response" is—but we're never told how we can know that this response is correct! Instead, Marcus takes that pitiful turn. As many of her colleagues have done, she cites one of the dumbest statements which has been offered in support of the accused. Instead of explaining her own view, she invites us to laugh at one of the dumbest bunnies she can find Over There!
By any normal sensible standard, that's a terrible way to proceed. But it gets us where we want to go. We ourselves now offer a point:
We're so old that we can remember what happened in The Spring of 99, which served as a sequel to The Summer of 42. Members of Marcus's guild, mainly the lovesick boys, stood in line to swear on their Trojans that the well-dressed Kathleen Willey was the most honest person on earth—that what she was saying about Bill Clinton was blindingly obvious, true.
Uh-oh! By the time Robert Ray issued the formal report which ended the reign of Kenneth Starr, the worm had turned on that testosterone-driven group judgment. In that formal report, Ray formally reported that his team has considered charging Willey with perjury, she had lied to them so!
As told in pearls on 60 Minutes, Willey's original story had been "entirely credible." But we're so old that we can remember what happened:
As it turned out, it almost surely wasn't exactly true.
That didn't stop the boys, and even a few of the girls, from staging one of their trademark stampedes. The boys and girls are stampeding again, even now as we speak.
They're stampeding this time against Roy Moore, an extreme political throwback who we can't seem to beat at the polls. And so we adopt our increasingly common stance, in which we try to get him locked up, or at least thrown off the ballot.
For ourselves, we tend to think of Abraham Lincoln at times like this!
Corfman's claims are, in fact, "entirely credible." That doesn't necessarily mean that they're true. although they certainly may be.
These distinctions rarely bother the clan when they start a stampede. Meanwhile, Lincoln regards the scene from inside his famous memorial.
In a visit to Gettysburg, he said a war was being fought, a war in which many people were dying, so that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
He seemed to think that dissolution of the original union would signal to the world that government of the people couldn't succeed. That's the bet that Vladimir Putin, and his niece, are making again today.
Can government of the people succeed? As the various boys and girls misstate various obvious facts, our nation's current devolving state suggests that Lincoln may have been wrong if he thought that horrific war had somehow settled that question.
As in 1999, so too in yesterday's Washington Post! Ruth Marcus, who entirely isn't a nut, forgot to explain why she thinks she knows those accusations are true!
In response, Lincoln came to us late last night with a question. Can a modern, continental nation continue to function this way?
Tomorrow: "Corroborated [sic] eyewitnesses backing up the case?"
So stated, with fervor, on Meet the Press! Sunday of the chimps!