Spinsanity: Countering rhetoric with reason
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Posts - May 21-27

5/25 - Brendan: The illegitimacy attack / Daschle-bashing (permanent link)
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One of the most interesting rhetorical attacks in the Jeffords controversy, apparently pioneered by Rush Limbaugh, is to call the Democratic takeover of the Senate "illegitimate". The brilliance of this is that it not only blunts Democratic attacks on Bush's presidency as illegitimate but allows Republicans to extend the "Democrats lost Florida and tried to steal it after the fact" narrative to the Senate.

On Wednesday, as Jeffords's switch was widely anticipated, Limbaugh attacked, calling the takeover illegitimate and an attempt to thwart the will of the voters.

Then, after Jeffords's announcement yesterday, Limbaugh repeated the attack (as Bryan mentioned yesterday - see below), which was then echoed by Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard on Fox News last night:

One thing that Democrats are always harping on is that Bush isn't legitimate. ... Now Bush and the White House is more legitimate than the Senate in Democratic hands. Bush lost the popular vote, but he won the electoral vote. Now, the voters last fall thought they were voting for a Republican Senate and now they have a Democratic Senate ("Special Report," 5/24).

Let's think rationally about this claim and how it subverts and undermines real questions about fairness in Florida. Voters voted for senators from their home state, not for senators nationally, and they only voted for one-third of them in the 2000 election. There is a legitimate argument that Jeffords ran in Vermont as a Republican last fall and won re-election as a Republican, so some would argue he should resign and seek re-election as an independent. But, that aside, Jeffords unquestionably won his election, whereas the outcome in Florida is much more unclear.

No matter. This isn't about logic - it's about rhetoric. And the hypocrisy/double standard accusation - you say A, but you do B, so your claim about A is illegitimate - is so powerful that the Democratic takeover is twisted into evidence that Democratic claims about Florida are illegitimate despite the takeover having nothing to do with Florida at all. It's a sad, sad discourse these days.

The demonization of Tom Daschle continues as well. Here's a classic Newt Gingrich statement from last night in which the ex-speaker attempts to rhetorically create an association between Daschle and two of the most liberal members of the Senate, Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton:

Daschle is now going to have to try to govern. I think he is going to find that extremely difficult and I think he is going to be hemmed in by Clinton and by Kennedy. It is going to be interesting to see how comfortable [John] Breaux and [Zell] Miller are when that triumvirate is running the Senate ("Hannity & Colmes," FNC, 5/24).

Gingrich is pretty obvious here. Ted Kennedy, while quite influential and a committee chairman, is not in the leadership, and Hillary Clinton is a freshman senator. But they are both widely seen as polarizing liberals, and thus politically advantageous to associate with Daschle.

Limbaugh continues to rant against Daschle too. He has quickly turned "Puff Daschle" into a widely used derogatory nickname among conservatives, like his "Algore" or the many nicknames liberals have for Bush (see, for example, SmirkingChimp.com).

And today, Limbaugh repeated a story from 1995 on Daschle arguing that Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Senator who switched from the Democratic to the Repubican Party, should resign his seat and run again in a special election. This is a legitimate point - Daschle did not call on Jeffords to do the same. But Limbaugh used it to say that Daschle "on a power-mad quest", that he is "a man of negotiable principles", that "he'll do and say anything", and that he's "a hypocrite and proud of it". Do these sound like accusations made against any other prominent Democratic politicians?

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5/24 - Bryan: Jeffords war of words (permanent link)
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Hang on tight, kids - it's going to be a fast and furious ride on the rhetoric roller coaster for the next few days.

Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords announced this morning that he is leaving the Republican Party and becoming an independent. He has told Democrats he will vote with them to make Senator Tom Daschle the new Senate majority leader. The reaction has been predictable: now that Jeffords is no longer one of the flock, pundits are showering him with some of the harshest jargon I've ever seen.

Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online: "[The] White House and the GOP generally will be guilty of professional malpractice if they don't punish Jeffords for pulling the rug out from under them. I know that it's illegal to sew a half-starved weasel into his small intestine, but there are some other options."

R. L. Vallee, Vermont's Republican national committeeman: "His legacy will be that of a turncoat."

Newsmax.com news/opinion piece speculating Jeffords may run for Governor of Vermont: "Our source recalls that Jeffords refused to debate his Democratic opponent, Ed Flannigan, in last November's Senate campaign, noting that the Vermont maverick îis a terrible communicator and can barely speak in complete sentences.'"

One partisan site has rigged up a stamp of the Senator calling him "'Judas' Jeffords" and branding him with a large red "J" on his forehead.

The attack on prospective Majority Leader Daschle is also escalating. If you thought Rush Limbaugh's "Puff Daschle" nickname was bad, it's going to get a lot uglier. The first shot: William Safire calls him "ultra-partisan" in the New York Times today. The dependably partisan Wall Street Journal chimes in with an editorial accusing Democrats of a "permanent campaign of spin [that] trumps everything" and claiming Daschle's "politics to date has consisted of delay, deter and berate." And Rush himself declared today that "Puff knows he's the illegitimate majority leader" because of a "screwed-up turncoat acting in his own selfish self-interest."

Pundits have plenty of choice words for Republicans as well. Robert George at the National Review places the blame squarely on the shoulders of Trent Lott, saying it "should be the final nail in [his] coffin," and "there is absolutely no reason why he should be rewarded for this feat by retaining his current position - or even assuming the title of minority leader."

We'll keep you posted as the war of words heats up.

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5/23 - Ben: Clinton "vandalism" another false scandal (permanent link)
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A story in Salon today on the supposed Clinton Administration "vandalism scandal" is an excellent testament to how the Washington media can get caught in its own spin cycle and report rumors than turn out to be false. Months later, when the truth comes out, you won't find one-tenth as much attention focused on what the media got wrong.

Major props to Salon for the article, which features a General Accounting Office (GAO) report that was requested by Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) in response to a furor in January that departing Clinton Administration employees vandalized the White House and Old Executive Office Building on their way out. Amongst the allegations were graffiti, sliced telephone wires, and removal of the letter w from computer keyboards. The GAO report, however, found that "there is no record of damage that may have been deliberately caused by the employees of the Clinton administration."

As Salon correctly points out, the media coverage in January started with rumors, and soon turned into a race of D.C. reporters more concerned with not being left behind on a juicy story than with finding the facts. Without any direct evidence that the supposed vandalism had taken place, numerous media outlets soon followed Matt Drudge's lead in repeating the story, including the Washington Post, which put the story on its front page.

Turns out, however, that there's little to no story to report. And with a few exceptions, such as an apology by Fox News host Tony Snow, media coverage of the GAO report has been very quiet. Most disturbingly, however, some in the media don't seem to even blame themselves. Salon quotes Washington Post columnist Lloyd Grove, who first reported on this non-scandal, as blaming White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "The person who really needs to explain what he was doing was Ari, why he let the story percolate, and why he juiced it with his coy responses," Grove is reported to have said. "I think it's a fair point to ask to what extent Mr. Fleischer's credibility has been damaged by this."

We here at Spinsanity think the point isn't so much whether Fleischer has suffered that Washington ignominy of "credibility damage," but why reporters like Grove blame the sources who encourage rumors rather than themselves for not doing their jobs and finding the facts.

5/22 - Brendan: Nuclear nonsense (permanent link)
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Here's a tactic of note in the so-called "energy crisis" that Bryan debunked yesterday: smuggling in nuclear power. The Bush plan argues that the "crisis" requires more nuclear power, among other sources. Today, Dick Cheney spoke in support of this at the Nuclear Energy Institute, saying "We think that [nuclear power] does have a significant contribution to make going forward". The problem is that, even if there were an energy crisis, the case for the glowing green stuff is weak. And given that there actually isn't a full-blown "crisis", the argument totally falls apart.

This week, The Economist surveyed the state of nuclear power. Its report shows that nuclear power is not competitive on price with other power sources despite massive government subsidies. This is far from the free market solution Bush usually declares his allegiance to. In fact, two Cato Institute experts denounced Bush for this very reason, arguing that government should not pick winners in the energy market. Yes, nuclear power does not generate greenhouse gases but the Economist shows that, even with a hypothetical carbon tax, it only matches the price of coal - meaning that if you don't count the subsidies it's not even close. Plus, don't forget about the serious issues involved in safely storing nuclear waste (which are as yet unresolved).

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