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Tilting at Windmills

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April 2, 2009

THE GOP SMEAR MACHINE FINDS NEW TARGETS.... Rupert Murdoch's New York Post ran a painfully misleading piece on Monday attacking Harold Hongju Koh, the Yale Law School dean President Obama nominated to serve as the legal adviser to the State Department. By yesterday, Fox News was running segments about Koh wanting to impose sharia law on the U.S., and Glenn Beck was lying to his audience, telling them that Koh might "sign our rights over to international law." All of this, of course, is ridiculous.

At the same time, some of the same right-wing smear artists went after Dawn Johnsen, Obama's choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel. Despite obvious qualifications, Republican senators are openly discussing the possibility of filibustering the nomination, in part because she has the audacity to be pro-choice.

If you're looking for two case studies in how unhinged conservative activists, their cable news network, and their congressional allies try to destroy reputations, the efforts to destroy Koh and Johnsen are classic cases. They follow predictable patterns: manufacture a lie, convince news outlets with no integrity to promote the lie, and let the gears of the smear machine work their magic.

Dahlia Lithwick does the requisite fact-checking, debunking the smears, before explaining why these tactics are so offensive.

This kind of vicious slash-and-burn character attack, the kind in which the nominee is attacked as a vicious hater of America, is hardly new. The little trick of upending Dean Koh's legal arguments and recharacterizing them as the nefarious plotting of Dr. Evil is a surprise to nobody at this point. But we can be bothered even if we're not surprised. When moderate Americans and the mainstream media allow a handful of right-wing zealots to occupy the field in the public discussions of an Obama nominee, they become complicit in a character assassination. [...]

As Neil Lewis observes today in the New York Times, the attack on Johnsen (who is an acquaintance and used to write for Slate) also started out with an attack from a handful of conservative blogs. The posts asserted that a 20-year-old footnote in a brief Johnsen had authored "equated pregnancy with slavery." And this bizarre claim rapidly became a holy truth to Senate Republicans at her confirmation hearing, even when they couldn't quite recall where they had read it or why.

There is no rest stop on the misinformation superhighway. Some senators apparently cannot be bothered to fact-check the claims they have read in the blogosphere. And that makes the rest of us responsible for fact-checking them as needed and for getting angry when good people are smeared for views they do not hold. One needn't read all of the thousands of pages Koh has written over his career to find an opinion or argument with which you disagree. But the fact that his critics must fabricate Koh's opinions in order to take issue with them suggests that they haven't read any of them.

I'm doubly bothered by the radio silence in the mainstream media because Johnsen and Koh represent two of President Obama's bravest choices. Both have been outspoken critics of Bush administration excesses, and they have done so openly and unequivocally. They were willing to use strong words like torture and illegal long before most of us could bring ourselves to do so. President Obama could have named a pair of mild-mannered tax attorneys to these high government positions. Instead, he opted to pick precisely the sorts of people we most need there: fierce advocates who care deeply about these agencies and the law as it applies to them.

There is no excuse for this character assassination. The conservative movement is obviously incapable of shame, but now would be an excellent time for some.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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Both have been outspoken critics of Bush administration excesses, and they have done so openly and unequivocally. They were willing to use strong words like torture and illegal long before most of us could bring ourselves to do so.

And so the wingnuts are attacking them. I don't know why that doesn't surprise me.

Posted by: Screamin' Demon on April 2, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Exactly. "Johnsen and Koh represent two of President Obama's bravest choices." In other words, they might actually call the Bush administration to account for their many crimes and violations of the Constitution. Therefore, they must be stopped with any and all weapons available, including outrageous slanders and lies. I detect the fine hand of Dick Cheney here.

Posted by: dalloway on April 2, 2009 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

"There is no excuse for this character assassination."

Of course there is -- they aren't Republicans. Anyone who doesn't know this is all the justification needed is either dishonest or hasn't been paying attention.

Bipartisanship!

Posted by: Obama / Steelers / etc on April 2, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Of course there's no excuse for character assassination, and talking about 'shame' and the 'conservative movement' in the same sentence- as in it doesn't have any - is hilarious. Shameless mendacity has been the hallmark and trademark of these power-hungry ideologues forever. Wagging a finger at them won't make them stop their slimy tactics.

Steve, you just keep coming off as pretty naive.

Posted by: RICH on April 2, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

The Administration's choices for OLC have been perfect: Dawn Johnsen is uniquely qualified, having actually run that office before and having focused intense scholarly attention on it since then; David Barron and Marty Lederman both are former OLC attorneys (and are wicked smart); and all three have been vocal and articulate critics of OLC's decline into partisan hackery under Bush. Instead of picking the equivalent of John Robertses, Obama picked three people who are on the record as leading advocates for change at OLC. Brave indeed.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on April 2, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Considering that in the 2004 election the "pro-military" right smeared a decorated war veteran who volunteered to serve overseas in combat(when many of his comtemporaries were doing everything they could to avoid that, including their nominees) as a cowardly, opportunistic liarwhi didn't deserve his medals, nothing these lying and dishonorable hacks do or say suprises me. I am still offended - believe me I am offended - but not suprised. Scum. Pure scum.

Posted by: GiggsisGod on April 2, 2009 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

...Glenn Beck was lying to his audience...

To lie connotes a willful deviation from reality. Since Beck is already detached from reality, he has no way of knowing if the words that come out of his mouth are truthful or not.

Posted by: Grumpy on April 2, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

A lot of people have forgotten the Republicans' behavior during the Clinton years (or are just too young). It won't be long before "everyone knows" Michelle Obama killed Vince Foster. By the way, have you noticed how shrill she is?

Posted by: ArkPanda on April 2, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

I just watched the Fox hit job on Koh. AAAHHH!!! THE STUPID!!! If he ever said anything about Shari'a applying in U.S. courts, it probably had to do with Islamic commercial law applying to the interpretation of international contracts or something. The notion that a liberal American legal scholar like Koh would favor amputation for theft or stoning for adultery is utterly moronic, even for Fox. I know they're just trying to use whatever smears they can get away with, but how can they even get away with that one? I can't wait for the confirmation hearing questions.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on April 2, 2009 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Far worse than the GOP character assassination is the fact that the Dems are still afraid to speak up for their own and fight back. In this respect, it's as if the election never occurred.

Posted by: John H. Farr on April 2, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

The conservative movement is obviously incapable of shame, but now would be an excellent time for some.

What it's time for is time for the rest of us to recognize clearly that "the conservative movement" is not conservative.

These guys are far right radicals. They are not here to "conserve" the system, our constitutional republic, they are here to overthrow it, to impose a militaristic, theological dictatorship. I know a fair number of Germans who were of age to be aware of what happened under Hitler in Germany, and they all say that the majority of Germans at the outset thought Hitler was a "conservative" because he constantly said he was. History demonstrates they were wron, and history will prove we are wrong if we do not see them for the fascist revolutionaries they are.

Once you understand this about them, their "shameless behavior" makes perfect sense. As well as all their other outrageousness.

They call themselves "movement conservatives." That alone should demonstrate that they do not really see themselves as "conservative." The rest of us have allowed them to hijack that word while they have expelled all the real conservatives from their movement.

They don't need to be "dealt with." They need to be smashed!

Posted by: TCinLA on April 2, 2009 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Far worse than the GOP character assassination is the fact that the Dems are still afraid to speak up for their own and fight back. In this respect, it's as if the election never occurred.

Indeed. Where's the pushback from the Administration? Why aren't they out there loudly defending these nominees?

Posted by: terraformer on April 2, 2009 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

"...Johnsen and Koh represent two of President Obama's bravest choices. Both have been outspoken critics of Bush administration excesses, and they have done so openly and unequivocally. They were willing to use strong words like torture and illegal long before most of us could bring ourselves to do so....fierce advocates who care deeply about these agencies and the law as it applies to them."

I couldn't think of better reasons for the vicious, scumbag traitors called 'conervatives' to try and destroy these two. It's not so much them as what they represent - rule of law equally applied (as opposed to Stalinist party aggrandizement) and national and personal character, ethics, and morality (as opposed to accrual of power and wealth above all else). Plus, the Repukes know the value of the OLC and "legal advisor," and they know that these two will be issuing the opinions that'll be the end of the Repukelican culture of corruption which is the air they breathe. Johnsen and Koh are the low hanging fruit where Republicanists can distort the people's call for reasonable and ethical government behavior, because reason and ethics are anathema to Republicanist existence.

And Mr. Benen, please attend to above notes on milquetoast calls for "shame." Shame is a complex social corrective which requires external teaching for internalization. And sociopaths (I would add those who've consciously or unconsciously adopted sociopathic behaviors) do not respond to shame at all. But meekly calling for vicious emotional cripples to self police their behavior invites ridicule.

Posted by: Conrads Ghost on April 2, 2009 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

To add to the above, apparently Johnsen and Koh unequivocally called BushCo out on its shit. Isn't that enough for Republicanists to assassinate their character? And isn't that enough, Mr. Benen, for you to come up with something a little stronger than "shame, shame"?

Posted by: Conrads Ghost on April 2, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

The irony is that the far right would be the ones to bring in Sharia law. The could justify it in a heartbeat.

Posted by: Bob M on April 2, 2009 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

Sadly, the MSM doesn't have to be "convinced" to follow the lead of insane rightwing nutjobs. They've been holding the media's leash since David Gregory became Karl Rove's personal lapdancer.

Posted by: Curmudgeon on April 2, 2009 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

What TCinLA said at 11:31 AM (but with fewer references to Hitler).

Posted by: MartinD on April 2, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Once we simultaneously impose Sharia law and implement the gay agenda, we expect to win global domination on style points alone.

Posted by: The Liberals on April 2, 2009 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

re: nomination of Koh and Johnson.

Please explain to me why the Democratic lead Senate is not able to block the Repubublicans from a filibuster of these nominations?Can't reconciliation be used. The old "up or down vote" widely used by the Republicans just one year ago?
Thank you

Posted by: mljohnston on April 2, 2009 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Ironically, if you want a person at OLC who's going to make sure that Obama doesn't abuse/try to expand executive power beyond constitutional bounds, it's going to be Dawn Johnsen. You'd think republicans, for all their talk about fascism and nanny states, would be in FAVOR of as strong a check on the executive as possible.

Posted by: Ryan on April 2, 2009 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Could someone point me to an issue on which the GOP isn't outright lying? Defaming Obama's nominees, cap-and-trade costs, 'world currency', the deficit in 2070, Obama 'overreacting' to the worst financial crisis of my lifetime, the list goes on. It seems like every time I turn around there is a brand new lie, even when there are legitimate facts they could be using. What is their problem? Is there something in the coffee at their caucus meetings?

Posted by: biggerbox on April 2, 2009 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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