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May 27, 2006

A Bit More on Gore

I'll leave the Jonah stuff alone after this post, but his response to me is a bit bizarre. We've now whittled down Gore's offense to having misrepresented his time in France as a period spent studying the existentialists rather than working to improve poor language grades. Note, by the way, that we're no longer wondering whether he went, which was the original allegation. But alright -- let's go to the tape. Here's the quote:

'This is my second visit to Cannes. The first was when I was fifteen years old and came here for the summer to study the existentialists — Sartre, Camus... We were not allowed to speak anything but French!'

First, lets note that the quote is truncated -- check the ellipses. I'll e-mail Arianna to see what the full graf looks like. Nevertheless, what can we actually learn here? Gore went to a language immersion program in France where he studied the existentialists. He characterizes it as coming to study the existentialists, his father's aim was to improve Gore's grades.

As I said before, when I was 17, I went to UCLA for the summer to take some philosophy courses. Well, at least that's why I went. Ask my father why I went and he'll tell you that I was inches away from failing out of school, and he was hoping time in a university environment would help me improve. So I went to UCLA to improve my grades in high school, but in my mind, I went there to take some intro courses in philosophy. Am I a liar? By Jonah's criteria, yes. And that's the problem.

It's not that, as Jonah writes, I deny the possibility that Gore "didn't exaggerate at all," it's that I deny the possibility that he exaggerated at all relevantly. Jonah is holding Gore to a standard of literalness he'd never deploy elsewhere, and he's doing so on one of the best-read op-ed pages in the country. He objects to my characterization of it as a smear, but when it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc. What else could be Jonah's motivation for blowing up such a questionable offense into the foundation for his weekly column?

Meanwhile, a couple weeks ago, Bush claimed the finest moment of his presidency was catching a 7.5 pound perch in his lake -- almost twice as large as the heaviest perch on record. I didn't really write about it because I didn't care. People misremember, and exaggerate, exciting events from their personal lives all the time. Bush does enough that I find genuinely intolerable that I don't have to expend energy on such insignificant offenses. Jonah can write a perfectly fair critique of Gore. He's not chosen to do so. Instead, he sought the easy route -- discrediting the man, rather than his ideas. That the "exaggeration" in question is so clearly a fair representation of a verifiable event in Gore's life makes it all the worse.

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If Gore runs again, you can look forward to a LOT of this. It's exactly the same kind of stuff the press used against him in 2000. The Dems HAVE to figure out a way to counterattack this kind of nonsense, or they're going to keep losing elections.

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD, ARNP | May 27, 2006 2:01:08 PM

My favorite part is where Jonah suggests that he wrote the column because his poseur alert is more "attuned" than the rest of our poseur alerts seem to be.

When, exazctly did he figure out that George Bush wasn't really a conservative? When do you think he'll figure out that W isn't really from Texas?

Posted by: tomboy | May 27, 2006 2:18:45 PM

Meanwhile, a couple weeks ago, Bush claimed the finest moment of his presidency was catching a 7.5 pound perch in his lake -- almost twice as large as the heaviest perch on record. I didn't really write about it because I didn't care. People misremember, and exaggerate, exciting events from their personal lives all the time.

Yet another reason why you're more intelligent and worth reading than about 95% of the liberal bloggers out there.

Posted by: Anono | May 27, 2006 2:25:12 PM

The "perch" thing was a mistranslation, Bush actually claimed to have caught a 7.5 pound bass.

Posted by: Jacob | May 27, 2006 2:31:15 PM

Media Matters ...a longish analysis of rightish media bias by Jamison Foster;h/t Christy Hardin Smith at FDL

I had a argument down below with Iron Lungfish about media criticism on blogs that I hope is not misunderstood. It is not that I think that media criticism of pundit smashing of fact-checking Jonah Goldberg is not important. I think it is very important and necessary. I think it is the most important activity bloggers, the party, individuals can do. Nothing else really matters, Al Gore can talk about global warming all day, if the media is out to discredit him or ignore him, policies will not change.

My point is that our present methods and strategies are disastrously not working. Bush should not have been elected in 2004, by any objective standard. Kerry folded early in Ohio, like Gore in Florida, because Kerry knew that the media was against him. I was astonished election eve by the sudden flip on MSNBC when everyone at the table decided a close election was over. And by saying it, they made it true.

The media is deciding elections in this country. Consciously, deliberately, conspiratorally. Organizing, donating, voting no longer matters. If they want McCain to be President, McCain will be inaugurated.

We need new and drastic, even revolutionary strategies. We are attacking a mountain with toothpicks.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | May 27, 2006 2:47:16 PM

Well, applying the same standard to Jonah that he applies to Gore, we can describe him as a pathological liar, I guess.

Posted by: Carlos | May 27, 2006 2:48:28 PM

Interesting post Bob -- one thing, though. You write that "Bush should not have been elected in 2004, by any objective standard." Well, I don't know if there are objective standards, but political scientists do have models that attempt to predict elections under the belief that they're primarily structural events operating off the economy, consumer prices, employment, optimism, etc. The majority of those models said Bush would win in a close election. Now, under my subjective standard, he should have lost in a landslide, but that's different...

Posted by: Ezra | May 27, 2006 2:52:48 PM

I think one of the reasons these things - and with Gore, this seems to happen a good bit, which is my point - get blown into more than they need to be is not just that the people who don't care for Gore note them, but that Gore supporters brook little or no criticism of their guy. I don't quite get this myself - no one's perfect, and those I admire politically (Dean, "deeply flawed" Clinton, Jim McGreevey, come to think of it) are people who I'm happy to acknowledge warts and all. I don't care for Gore, and don't make much bones about it - I think he was a weak candidate because however well intentioned his motives, presentation overshadowed substance, and the presentation was the problem. I don't know what drives Gore to say some of these things in the way he says them, but "I came to Cannes before when I was a teenager" would somehow get the point across without raising flags. Or maybe it's just me. I think Gore embellishes, and sure, we all do to some degree. But Ezra, this is the first I've heard of your college classes at UCLA and you have enough self deprecation to point out that you were a less than stellar student. I took college courses in jr. high and high school. I rarely mention it. I did okay, but they were harder than I expected and while it was good preparation, I'm not sure I'd recommend it. Reminding people of one's intellectual superiority, name dropping, wearing your success on your sleeve - there's certainly an American strain of doing this, but a fairly strong backlash about rubbing it in. Especially in these Bush-ian anti-intellectual times. I don't like the times, but I'm not sure the best alternative is that sense of superiority that can sometimes come across from intellectuals (I was going to say left, but the intellectual right does it too, really). I'm not saying this is the reality with Gore - indeed, I don't entirely believe it - but I think it plays a large role in Gore's negative perception that's out there, and it's a bit of a bind (it's why, I think, Bush's anti-intellectual approach in 2000 was as successful as it was). If Gore runs (and I think he shouldn't), of course we can expect more of this - there's a storyline now, one the media understands and virtually anything can be run up this flagpole and someone will salute. What concerns me more is that the Gore defenders seem determined to enforce mass agreement and drum out opposition. If that's all it takes to fracture Dems and split a fresh, yet still fragile, coalition that's coming together, I really will be disappointed. I hope that, should Gore run and not succeed, that there will still be enough goodwill for whoever winds up being the candidate to see us through to election. If it is Gore, while I won't be thrilled, I'd certainly suck it up and deal with it enough to hope he wins. Even if I can't be wholly thrilled at the prospect. But getting him over the finish line is going to take a more realistic sense of his flaws, I think. Otherwise I suspect some hearts will be broken. Again.

Posted by: weboy | May 27, 2006 3:13:26 PM

Okay, I'm going to give away my age here - I am a year younger than Gore. Existentialism was taught in my AP classes in high school - in rural Georgia. I remember it particularly because I hated it -- at least the way my teacher taught it. It seemed so awfully soul-crushing.

Anyway, if it had already trickled down to rural Georgia as required knowledge for the college bound, I have no doubt Gore was also required to study it. Hope his teacher was better than mine.

Posted by: Emma Zahn | May 27, 2006 3:35:50 PM

I am new here so I will make a few select comments:

a) Ezra- I think you are wasting time defending against critiques by people who don't have anything else better to say. The short answer should be to just say whoever makes these kinds of arguments is full of it, and leave it at that. Sometime the gut works better than the point by point analysis. I fully believe Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 erred by not approaching these kinds of attacks with gut check responses, ie, Kerry in 2004 should have responded "I won't be lectured to by you Pres Bush or your croynies about courage- I can defend my behavior during vietnam. since you were never there- you can not."

It's not 2000. Since 2004, the rose has been off the conservative bloom. 6 years of GB makes the criques of Gore to say the least bizzare, small minded and a big waste of time- in other words, irrelevant. Why not discuss American Idol as it has about as much connection.

Everytime someone from the crazy right talks- I think the response shouldn't be to apply logical tit-for-tats as you are doing. The response when you hear feeble critiques of Gore such as this should be "Yeah, because Republicans don't lie about gas prices, Iraq, corruption, Shiavo and social security." They don't lie to evangelicals either (said with sarcasm).

In other words, bring the conversation back to what they are trying to avoid. Of course, you have to realize that they are trying to avoid the real conversations. But, the left plays into the misdirection hook-line-and sinker. As an outsider, it is funny to watch you (the left) first announce the right is engaging in misdirection, say okay here it comes, and then still get hit by and talk about the misdirection as though you don't know that's what they are doing.

Afterall, the issue here is global warming right? So why have you dedicated two postings to a minor consideration? What does the crazy right have to talk about right now?

b) Weboy's mental ju-jitsu: "It's your fault I hit you." It's meant to continue more of the battered wife syndrome that has infected the left since the Reagan revolution. The idea that you are trying to defend against this feeble minded attack says more about the left's continued weakness as a movement than it does about the right- which I can at least respect for trying to hoodwink you. What I can't respect is us falling for the hoodwinking. Let's stop the madness.

Posted by: craig | May 27, 2006 4:21:45 PM

his poseur alert is more "attuned" than the rest of our poseur alerts seem to be

Well, he's certainly been studying poseurs, liars, & con artists in a full-immersion program for many years, so he's fluent in fakery, at least. I guess that when you look at it in light of his complaints about Gore's education in French, he's like a Parisian complaining about the crudity of provincial or foreign French speakers.

Posted by: latts | May 27, 2006 4:37:17 PM

What the progressive left isn't doing that it probably should be doing about the media storylines:

The blogs dig in on the facts, analyze the bias and stupidity, and nobody (outside the left blogosphere) hears/sees.

When these attacks of stupidity occur from the right, we should bundle up the work done by the various blogs, send the copy to the writer, his editor, the major competition of that media outlet, and perhaps to the publisher. And include the major Dem. political figures in the distribution, along with major liberal/progessive magazines. Get the info out.

Make embarassment and competition play in our favor by publicly exposing their asses. Broder at WaPo isn't being called to account because his editors, the publisher, and the competition don't know how off base and contradictory his comments recently are compared to what he wrote earlier, a revealed by several blogs.

We are doing fine on playing defense with media attrocities in our own ballpark, but we don't take that defense material and turn it into full scale offense against the distorters, liars, trivia-mongers, and assorted other media freaks.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 27, 2006 4:47:21 PM

When these attacks of stupidity occur from the right, we should bundle up the work done by the various blogs, send the copy to the writer, his editor, the major competition of that media outlet, and perhaps to the publisher.

I agree completely, although I suspect that faxes would be better for media outlets. Democrats need a response arm that is attached to its existing institutions (not the political ones like Congress so much as think tanks, etc.), comprehensive media training for pols and think-tankers (i.e., shills, at least once they're trained), and much, much better connections between the various interest groups & institutions. If Soros wanted to do some real good with his billions, or if Gore decided not to run, setting up such a media-operations arm would be the absolute best thing that they could do for their party.

Posted by: latts | May 27, 2006 5:07:52 PM

if you spend your whole day trying to defend against every crazy assertion that the right makes, you will spend your whole day trying to defend against every crazy assertion that the right makes. stop defending, and learn to play offense.

Posted by: craig | May 27, 2006 5:08:41 PM

"if you spend your whole day trying to defend against every crazy assertion that the right makes, you will spend your whole day trying to defend against every crazy assertion that the right makes. stop defending, and learn to play offense."

For instance, I heard that George Allen and John McCain went to a party together in 2002 where kittens were killed with hammers. I want to know what Jonah thinks of that!

Posted by: Violet Slandre | May 27, 2006 6:13:09 PM

"...we should bundle up the work done by the various blogs, send the copy to the writer, his editor, the major competition of that media outlet, and perhaps to the publisher."

Advertisers/sponsors? Local papers that syndicate the columns? MSNBC gets 1000 letters, no biggie; local affiliate or paper in Denver may be more responsive.

I am enthusiastic about local organizing and efforts. The national arena is going to be tough, tho I know that is Ezra's job. But even state senators and representatives are critically important...another round of redistricting is not that far away.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | May 27, 2006 6:42:52 PM

Sadly, No! is right, there are much better things to do... like join Bloggers Against Torture! Hehe.

Posted by: elendil | May 27, 2006 6:54:00 PM

The "perch" thing was a mistranslation, Bush actually claimed to have caught a 7.5 pound bass.

...a claim that, if it were true, would be completely and utterly unremarkable. That's like saying "The best moment of my presidency was winning a free large Coke in McDonald's Monopoly game!" Just not impressive, not in the least. A 7.5 pound bass is fair to middling, at best. Especially in a stocked pond.

Posted by: Yasonyacky | May 27, 2006 6:56:24 PM

Actually it was a 7.5 pound pollack. You forgot Polland.

Posted by: LA Confidential Pantload | May 27, 2006 7:36:47 PM

They are so terrified that Gore will run. Why else put forth this dribble as some sort of serious critique?
If Gore continues to do as he has been doing for the past few years, speaking truth to power, he can beat anyone.

Posted by: marcus | May 27, 2006 10:40:49 PM

Ezra, you are making the classsic liberal's mistake when you try to reason with Goldberg. The purpose of Goldberg's smear is is to deploy two themes:

(1) Gore is a liar, and
(2) like all Democrats, he is a fag.

From the right wing, "French" means fag, and an interest in philosophy is fag all the way. The Republican out-riders tar every Democrat as a fag every chance they get. Goldberg chose to write about Gore in France because it's a way to call him a faggy-pants sissy. The facts have nothing to do with it.

Goldberg does it to you, Ezra, and you don't even notice. He says that Ezra Klein is getting excited and "it's not a good look for him." What does that phrase mean? It means you're a sissy, a girly-man, a fag.

There's nothing "bizarre" about Goldberg's column. You say his reasoning is flawed, and he says he can fuck you in the ass whenever he wants. Who do you think wins that exchange?

Posted by: JR | May 28, 2006 9:00:35 AM

Sadly, JR is right-- the right in general just doesn't debate point-by-point, but instead uses meaningless blather to recreate the same negative images of Democrats again and again, like those damned find-the-picture things that were so popular a few years back. We're trying to work with the blotches & dots on the page, while their people are looking for, and finding, the picture they've been trained to expect.

Posted by: latts | May 28, 2006 9:41:02 AM

Good responses to Jonah use humor that will piss off wingnuts and make non-wingnuts laugh:

"Jonah just wishes that, like Al Gore, he could speak foreign languages... a man who actually served his country in time of war, instead of, like Jonah Goldberg, staying home and wanking."

Posted by: Worst. President. Ever. | May 28, 2006 10:10:55 AM

The right reinforces an image. They aren't worried about whether that image is true. It's a loaded discussion much along the lines of "are you still beating your wife."

Ms Klein, like most of the left, your approach is to defend how you aren't beating your wife rather than belittle the absurdity of the discussion and character of the person bringing forth the discussion. You can be polite, and, yet utterly clear in your distain for the faux process. Yet, you choose instead to ignore that you are engaged in a faux process. Disciplined responses by the left would be a great thing.

You can see this approach everywhere on the right. I have noted that you discuss, for example, the illogics of Andrew Sullivan as though Sullivan is worried about being logical. Clearly, he is not. If someone can tell me, for example, how he can justify supporting the Dubai deal (with a country with strong ties to terrorist organizations) b/c to not support the deal is in his words " based on xenophobia", but he also says that it is okay with him to build a wall to keep out Mexicans (apparently nothing Xenophobic there). I could go on with the logical inconsistencies in his arguments (including on gay issues)- but what would be the point?

The same is true here- what is the point? Are you changing the big picture or merely chopping one limb on a tree in the forrest?

I think fundamentally you and others rep a generation of left leaning people who need to go through a metamorphosis. I am in the private sector, and, more specifically, I work with negotiations and bargaining. Your approach is that of someone in a weak bargaining position. More, to the point, let me ask you a question- do you think the US is a conservative or liberal country? In my mind, I will tell you that I don't think its either one- its all in how you market yourself and who negotiates better. The conservative, in general, bargain better with the American people because they understand the power of psychology and perception when it comes to sealing the deal. They are 'fair and balanced' because they market themselves a such. They are 'compassionate conservatives' because that's what they say they are. In a way, the irony is that they are the revenge of relativism gone mad. Rational negotiators will make decisions regarding who to choose for a service or product on what seems like faulty logic. However, this is only true in the sense in which you assume, as you do here, that the decision making process is a matter of lining up each sides arguments pro- and con- and from there obtaining an answer. The better negotiator focuses on both teh economics and the other interests/pressures operating on the other parties at the table.

Posted by: craig | May 28, 2006 11:48:24 AM

This is an email that I sent to Goldberg (before having read this post):

First of all, I'd like to say that arguing about whether or not Al Gore went to France when he was 15 is about like arguing how much the perch George Bush caught actually weighed: it's ridiculous, particularly since there are so many other things (of substance) that ought to be taking center stage in our nation's political discourse. But since you've made a point of it, writing an LA Times piece whose main thrust is bolstered by your incredulity of Gore's childhood summer vacation (followed by at least 2 posts on NRO), I've decided to respond, as a "fair-minded reader," no less.

I've lived in France since 1999, with the exception of the academic year of 2000-01, and when I first arrived here, my French was far from perfect. After a month-long intensive language class, I began my courses, some of which were at the Sorbonne. Prior to coming, I had only taken 4 semesters of French in college. Nonetheless, I took courses in philosophy, literature and cinema. We discussed existentialism, modern German philosophy and new wave French cinema. The classes I took (those that were not at the Sorbonne) were tailored to foreign students between the ages of 18 and 21. Our French was not beautiful or refined or even terribly nuanced, but we did our best to express ourselves and tackle the ideas we were studying.

I wonder if you have actually ever taken French before. If you had, you'd probably know that one of the first books assigned to students of the French language is Albert Camus' L'étranger. There are at least two reasons for this. First, it is a short book -- my folio edition is 121 pages long. Second, the language used is fairly simple and easy to understand. The book opens like this: "Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas." (Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know.) This was the first book, after The Little Prince, that I ever read in the original French. Another book that I read while I was still mastering the language was Sartre's La nausée. Composed of 248 pages (again, in the Folio edition) of not very difficult language, it is also an accessible read for French students. Anyone who had actually read either of these books would know that. We're not talking about speeding through Ricoeur's 3-volume Temps et récit or Lacan's collected works. We're talking about short novels written in a simple style that have long been favorites of curious teenagers. Al Gore is a smart man. If I could study existentialism when I was a teenager, after only 4 semesters of French, then I'm sure he could as well.

So did I go to France to study modern philosophy and new wave cinema? Yes, I did. Did I also go to improve my French? Of course. I'm not saying that I was ready to give lectures at the Sorbonne on twentieth century French philosophy when I was 19, nor would I argue that my grammar and pronunciation at the time would have made a native speaker do anything but cringe. That's not the point. Eventually, I did end up giving a few lectures at the University of Paris (Paris VII - Denis Diderot); they were on American culture, and the first was about electoral politics. My students and I discussed the role of the media in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. I told them about the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and comments about how Gore had claimed to have invented the internet, among other canards. They were surprised that such attention had been given to what seemed to them to be irrelevant pap, particularly when there were so many more important things to be discussed (tax cuts, the war in Iraq, global warming, civil liberties, etc.).

I wasn't really sure what to tell them, except that unfortunately, America doesn't seem to be very interested in actual issues, and that sordid attacks with no real relevance to important issues at hand sell more newspapers and ad space on cable TV. I'm sorry to see, Mr Goldberg, that you've decided to use your prominent position in the American media to be part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

Posted by: sean | May 28, 2006 3:32:47 PM

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