When guardians attack: This day was always going to come.
More precisely, this day was always going to come if Candidate Sanders became the Democratic nominee, or if it seemed he was getting close.
"If history teaches us anything," it teaches that it's better for this day to come sooner rather than later.
It would have been better for Democrats, and for Michael Dukakis himself, if the attack on the Massachusetts prison furlough program had come during the primary campaign, rather than later on, during the general election.
Alas! The attack came later on, with Candidate Bush changing William Horton's first name to "Willie." But the attack will always come, as it did this very day on the front page of the Washington Post.
The attack was written by Griff Witte, a well-regarded Princeton man (class of 2000). Near the end of the original version of A Moveable Feast, Hemingway described a different form of the attack which was always going to come.
A Moveable Feast is a memoir of the first, happy years of Hemingway's first marriage. Four pages from the end of the book, the end of the marriage starts like this:
HEMINGWAY: During our last year in the mountains new people came deep into our lives and nothing was ever the same again. The winter of the avalanche was like a happy and innocent winter in childhood compared to the next winter, a nightmare winter disguised as the greatest fun of all, and the marvelous summer that was to follow. It was the year that the rich came into our lives.The next four pages end the book, with Hemingway composing a self-absolving though brilliantly fashioned account of the way he betrayed his first wife. It all started, Hemingway said, when the rich came into their lives, chasing after his own emerging success.
That's largely what happened today on the front page of the Post. This day was always going to come. This morning, with hard-copy headline included, it started like this:
WITTE (2/25/20): Rivals rip Sanders' past praise of CommunistsThat headline might make readers think that the piece is about what Sanders' "rivals" have said. In fact, Sanders is being "ripped" today by the Washington Post itself, in a way which is thoroughly familiar and was always going to come.
The mayor of tiny Burlington, Vt., was back from Nicaragua and eager to share the good news.
The country’s Soviet-backed government—forged via armed rebellion—was cutting infant mortality, reducing illiteracy and redistributing land to peasant farmers. Its Sandinista leaders, branded terrorists by the U.S. government, impressed him with “their intelligence and their sincerity.”
Three years later, Bernie Sanders was fresh off the plane from Moscow, reveling in the beauty of the land and the contentedness of the people.
It's better that it's coming now. But it wouldn't hurt to understand the way these formats work.
As he starts, Witte almost seems to forget that our own nation, the United States, was "forged via armed rebellion" too. We're currently being told that you never forget your first (president), but our first president engaged in years of armed rebellion, as many other people have done.
Today's attack really began when Anderson Cooper came into our lives. On Sunday, he interviewed Sanders on 60 Minutes. The exchange in question was presented as shown:
COOPER (2/23/20): (Voiceover) Back in the 1980s, Sanders had some positive things to say about the former Soviet Union and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.We don't get to see the actual question Cooper asked in real time. But understand this:
Here he is explaining why the Cuban people didn't rise up and help the U.S. overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro:
SANDERS (videotape from the 1980s): He educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society, you know?
SANDERS: We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?
COOPER: A lot of political dissidents were imprisoned in Cuba.
SANDERS: That's right. And we condemn that. Unlike Donald Trump, let's be clear, you want to—
I do not think that Kim Jong Un is a good friend. I don't trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin, not a great friend of mine.
In this exchange, Sanders was being asked about things he said more than thirty years ago. Viewers were offered one tiny example of the allegedly troubling things he said.
If our society's guardians hadn't abandoned their posts a long time ago, viewers might be wary concerning the capacity of such presentations to shed much more heat than light. That's especially true if major news orgs can edit the interview in which the topic is raised.
Alas! Our guardians quit us a long time ago! Our journalists are routinely fatuous, are often tools of power. Our academics (including our "logicians") are strongly inclined to be lost in the weeds of super-specialization.
Given the general silence of our journalists and our academics, very few people ever step forward to challenge the ways of our upper-end press corps. We the people have rarely been schooled in the ways of selective presentation.
Our guardians walked away long ago. In their place are people like Witte, people who adopt the trappings of the guardian role.
This has led to many heavily tilted attacks on past presidential candidates. Note the sanitized way Witte remembers one of these past attacks:
WITTE: Sanders is not the first would-be president to confront scrutiny over long-ago travels. When he ran in 1992, Bill Clinton faced questions over a 1969 trip to the Soviet Union. John F. Kerry, the Democrats’ 2004 nominee, took heat from Republicans for a 1985 visit to Nicaragua—the same year that Sanders visited.In that passage, Witte crafts an insinuation about Candidate Sanders' motives back in the 1980s. As he does, he forgets to remember the way Candidate Clinton's motives were slimed when the rich came into our lives during the 1992 Clinton-Bush campaign.
But Clinton was in Moscow as a student tourist, while Kerry went to Managua as a senator preparing to vote on whether to back President Ronald Reagan’s plan to spend millions of dollars funding the ruling Sandinistas’ rivals, the Contras. While there, Kerry challenged the government over its curbs on individual liberties, and he carried back to Washington a proposal for peace.
The reasons the mayor of Burlington, Vt.—population 38,000—would repeatedly cross the world’s great geopolitical chasm are less straightforward.
He forgets to recall such moments as this, as reported in the New York Times:
ROSENTHAL (10/8/92): President Bush tonight accused Gov. Bill Clinton of not telling the truth about his visit to Moscow as a student in the late 1960's and sharply criticized the Democratic nominee for demonstrating against the Vietnam War while he was studying in England.For starters, please don't miss the absurdity of what President Bush said. He said he didn't have the facts, but there was something he really thought, though he wasn't going to say it!
In an appearance on the CNN program "Larry King Live" that was broadcast around the country and abroad, Mr. Bush made one of his strongest attacks yet on Mr. Clinton's opposition to the Vietnam War...
Asked by Mr. King what he thought about Mr. Clinton visiting the Soviet Union while he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford in 1969, Mr. Bush seemed to choose his words carefully. He avoided any direct accusation but at the same time clearly conveyed the impression that he had suspicions and disapproved.
"I don't want to tell you what I really think, because I don't have the facts," he said. "But to go to Moscow one year after Russia crushed Czechoslovakia, not remember who you saw? I really think the answer is, level with the American people."
As it turned out, the rich had been going through Candidate Clinton's passport files hoping to find some evidence of treasonous conduct. In December 1992, then-attorney general William Barr found "that there was possible evidence of White House involvement in a criminal act," though the subsequent multiyear investigation did not produce criminal charges.
In the childish language we love so well, the episode came to be known as Passportgate. For the late Robert Parry's history of this appalling episode, you can just click here.
That's the sort of thing which happens when the rich come into our lives during White House campaigns. When they trigger new episodes, people like Witte tend to erase such events from our collective memory.
For whatever reason, Cooper wanted to know about things Sanders said back in the 1980s. As everyone surely knows, inquiries of this type will often shed vastly more heat than light.
That's especially true when agents like Witte bring their own selectivity in. Witte's report includes a lot of paraphrase, a great deal less quotation.
What did Sanders actually think about Nicaragua and the Soviet Union back in 1985 and 1988? We don't know, and the chances are very slim that anyone will ever find out.
Once an episode like this is triggered, the downward spiral begins. Regarding Sanders' past thoughts about the (Gorbachev-era) Soviet Union, Witte makes us wait till paragraphs 50-52 before we get to read this:
WITTE: [Back in 1988], Sanders expressed hope that, after “a dismal history,” the Soviet Union could be redeemed by moving “forward into some of the early visions of their revolution, what their revolution was about in 1917.”As the rich tend to do when they enter our lives, Witte sells Sanders' rapture about "the beauty of the land and the contentedness of the people," though only in paraphrased form, in his second paragraph 2. He saves the direct quote about the Soviet Union's "dismal history" until paragraph 50.
William Taubman, an Amherst College historian of the Soviet Union who was living there at the time, said Sanders’s comments need to be understood in the context of the moment, which was dominated by then-leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of opening and liberalizing his nation.
“He was not doing what the real suckers might have done, which was to say, ‘Gosh isn’t it wonderful?’ ” Taubman said. “I don’t think he was a dupe.”
The rich alwaye enter our lives during White House campaigns. Because our guardians abandoned their posts a long time ago, we tend to be quite unschooled in the face of this behavior.
Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Bill Clinton went to Moscow!
Gary Hart seems to have a girl friend! (We know because we hid in the bushes outside his home!) Candidate Muskie wept!
This is the way these lifeforms function. The people who should be warning us have long since abandoned their posts.
It's better that this has started now. But what follows won't be pretty, and it will be very dumb.
Tomorrow: Guardians ignored
Also this one: Hillary Clinton was "extremely careless!"
Incredibly, the Maddow Show explicitly took James Comey's side. So our guardians work.