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Thursday, September 07, 2006

How do morons get newspaper columns?

I was reading the Newark Star Ledger on the train today and saw an op-ed piece trying to rip the Bush adminstration for comparing Islamic fundamentalism to fascism. Since I think that the parallels are quite striking, I was interested in seeing how this liberal columnist would differentiate between them.

It turns out that this was more of a lesson in willful deception and misdirection than in any logic.

The anti-fascist oxymorons
Paul Mulshine

MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell was chatting recently with President Bush's counselor Dan Bartlett about the administration's recent effort to recast the so-called "war on terror" as a remake of World War II.

"Well, I think what you saw today, Norah, was a very specific articulation of the type of enemy we're here to face," said Bartlett. "What the sound bite you used by the president demonstrates is that the ideological struggle of the 21st century, the terrorist organizations that we're after in this war on terror, is very similar to ideological struggles that we faced during World War II when we fought Nazism and communism."

I ran this by Murray Sabrin, the Ramapo College professor and sometime libertarian candidate for various offices.

"What a nitwit!" said Murray. "These people are incredibly stupid. Now they're telling us we fought the Russians in World War II. You can't make this stuff up."

No, you can't. It's not merely that the Bushies have no idea who the enemy is in this current war. They can't even decide who the enemy was in World War II. In fact, they seem not to have the slightest clue to the history of that era.

Mulshine's main complaint seems to be that Bartlett said that we fought communism in World War II, during a Hardball segment, and therefore he extrapolates from this that the administration "can't even decide who the enemy was in World War II.." And he needed to interview a libertarian professor to make sure that, indeed, we didn't fight communists during World War II.

Unfortunately, if one looks at the MSNBC website, you will see that the quote is slightly incorrect:
BARTLETT: Well, I think what you saw today, Norah, was a very specific articulation of the type of enemy we are here to face. As the soundbite you used by the president demonstrates, is that the ideological struggle of the 21st century, the terrorist organizations that we are after in this war on terror is very similar in ideological struggles that we faced during World War II and when we fought Nazism and communism.

That little word "and" sure makes a big difference. I wonder if Mulshine will retract his entire column, based on this lie - and it almost had to be a lie, because unless he transcribed Hardball himself, he must have copied and pasted the quote from the MSNBC website and deleted the "and."

But let's look at the rest of his argument:

Later in that same interview, O'Donnell played a clip of Donald Rumsfeld:

"Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated or that it was someone else's problem," said Rumsfeld. "I recount that history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism."

It is in fact true that in the run- up to World War II many argued the fascist threat was exaggerated. But here's the problem for Rumsfeld: They were almost entirely conservatives. The Republicans, chief among them Sen. Robert Taft, were isolationists.

"The president intends to get us into war," said Taft in October 1941. "He doesn't want it now, but step by step he'll lead us in."

It was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who were hot to trot against Hitler. The Republicans wanted to stay out of the war. It's not hard to see why. They were right-wingers. Up until Pearl Harbor, they thought the threat to America from the Soviets was greater than the threat from the Nazis.

But to hear Bush tell it, you'd think the exact opposite was the case. "The world ignored Hitler's words and paid a terrible price," Bush said the other day, ignoring the unpleasant fact that "the world" in question was made up al most entirely of conservative Republicans.

So Mulshine is not arguing that Bush is wrong, just that Bush is defending the actions of 1940's era Democrats and warning against the actions of the Republicans of the time.

He goes on from there, arguing that true conservatives would not act the way that Bush is acting. But he never addresses whether it is wrong to look at Islamic fundamentalism as the enemy, or as comparable to fascism - which is of course the entire point of Bush's latest talking points. In his rush to prove that the "Bushies" are morons, Mulshine completely ignores the real issue.

UPDATE: Mulshine answered my email with a transcript from the Federal News Service that shows his version of the conversation. He adds:
Note that even with the “and” the quote was nonsensical since there was no time other than World War II when we fought Nazism.

Without seeing the interview itself I cannot determine which is the correct quote. I have no reason to disbelieve his quote from FNS is accurate (one must subscribe to see it.)

Mulshine's note is weak, though, because in the context of "Hardball" (as opposed to a press conference or a speech) this does not betray a lack of knowledge of World War II and he based his entire column on the "fact" that Bartlett and by extension the Bush administration is ignorant of history.

I tend to doubt that the FNS transcript is as accurate as MSNBC's, but even if it is, the fact that Mulshine chooses to interpret it as an indication of mass idiocy of the Bush administration rather than a simple slip of the tongue in the heat of the moment during an interview speaks volumes about his interest in the truth.

And if he was interested in the truth, he would have acknowledged the discrepancy and offered to act as a reporter and find the actual tape, with an eye towards correcting his column. While I am wrong in assuming malicious motives to his quote, and I am happy to print his answer to me, I would have been far more pleased to see an indication that he had an interest in clearing this up, rather than implying that his transcript is more accurate than MSNBC's.