Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 18, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

"THEY'RE CLOWNS"....Atrios has some excerpts from Jonathan Alter's appearance on the O'Franken Factor this morning:

"The level of incompetence is so staggering here, and yet there's this gap between how astonishingly incompetent and we can go over particulars in the last year if you want to how astonishingly incompetent they've been and the perception is still of them as solid citizens..."

...

"The only way you can sort of start to let the public know is to say, no, they don't know what they're doing. They're clowns."

...

"I was among those people who was deceived. When I was told by administration officials that [Iraq was] working on a nuclear weapons program Paul Wolfowitz told that to me directly. It did cause me some alarm and cause me some sense that it was not worth the risk to not take Saddam out."

Now, Alter is a columnist, not a news reporter, so no one can gripe about the fact that he's expressing a strong personal opinion here. In fact, my gripe would be exactly the opposite.

To see what I mean, take a look at Alter's latest Newsweek column. Go ahead and read it. I'll wait.

My problem is that Alter presumably sees the Bush administration up close on a daily basis and is paid to express his opinion about them, but he's not really doing it. His column is typical column stuff: thoughtful, nuanced, critical of the administration but still optimistic that Iraq will be peaceful someday, and with a conclusion that has just the barest hint of partisan preference ("...restoring America's prestige is a means to an end, and the presidential election, a referendum on which man can best change the picture that the whole world sees").

But guess what? It turns out that's not what he really thinks. What he really thinks is that the Bushies are "astonishingly incompetent," they are "clowns," and they are accomplished liars. He is gobsmacked that in so many parts of America "the perception is still of them as solid citizens."

Why should he be so surprised? His advice on the radio was that "The only way you can sort of start to let the public know is to say, no, they don't know what they're doing. They're clowns." But if that's the case, why doesn't he write that in Newsweek? After all, he's the guy with both inside access and a big megaphone, and if he doesn't say it, who will?

Kevin Drum 7:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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