Thursday, April 28, 2011


Politico's Jonathan Martin and John Harris argue that President Obama felt compelled to answer the birthers' charges himself because the rules have changed:

By directly and coolly engaging a debate with his most fevered critics, Obama offered the most unmistakable validation ever to the idea that we are living in an era of public life with no referee -- and no common understandings between fair and unfair, between relevant and trivial, or even between facts and fantasy.

... It's hard to imagine Bill Clinton coming out to the White House briefing room to present evidence showing why people who thought he helped plot the murder of aide Vincent Foster -- never mind official rulings of suicide -- were wrong. George W. Bush, likewise, was never tempted to take to the Rose Garden to deny allegations from voices on the liberal fringe who believed that he knew about the Sept. 11 attacks ahead of time and chose to let them happen.

... [Obama] did so, senior ... advisers say, because of the radical reordering of the political-media universe over the past 15 years, or so. The decline of traditional media and the rise of viral emails and partisan Web and cable TV platforms has meant the near-collapse of common facts, believed across the political spectrum.

... On Wednesday, [Obama] finally gave in and affirmed a new truth of politics in the Internet era: Nothing can be dismissed and anything that poses a political threat must be confronted directly.

There's just one problem with this argument: Sure, the media landscape has changed somewhat since Clinton (who suffered real damage from all the attacks on him but, yes, was able to keep them mostly out on the fringe, although it was a rather large fringe). But the media landscape really hasn't changed at all since the inauguration of George W. Bush -- and yet it's true that Bush didn't have to debunk 9/11 trutherism personally.

Why not? There were plenty of viral e-mails and partisan Web platforms throughout his presidency. There was partisan cable. There was, um, Air America. And yet we never had a majority of Democrats polling as 9/11 truthers. We never had truther legislation in multiple states, or passing any state legislatures. We never had a Democratic presidential candidate rising to the top of the polls on trutherism. (Yes, Howard Dean flirted with it, but he then dropped it, and it was never an issue for him at all, much less his #1 issue, the way birtherism is Trump's.)

What Politico calls "a new truth of politics in the Internet era" is a new truth for Democrats only. The difference between how Democrats and Republicans have been treated in the 21st century is a consequence of the fact that there's no clear dividing line between the right-wing fringe and the non-fringe -- between, say, World Net Daily and Fox News -- which means that the (alleged) non-fringe fuels the fringe. Fox has been obsessed with birtherism lately, whereas no big-name lefty media outpost of the Bush era (think Huffington Post, Keith Olbermann, the Daily Kos) was ever obsessed with 9/11 trutherism.

That's the difference. And as far as I can tell, that's going to continue to be the difference. (Apart from Andrew Sullivan, and one Kos diary, how much Trig trutherism have you seen on our side? And is Andrew Sullivan even on our side?) So there's no "new truth of politics" for Republicans -- still.


By the way, Martin and Harris allow Karl Rove to get away with this grotesque distortion of the truth:

Rove also said that while most mainstream Republicans have distanced themselves from birtherism, some Democrats didn't do the same about whether Bush knew about Sept. 11.

“Our situation was different than this because you had guys like Howard Dean saying that was ‘an interesting theory,’” the Republican recalled.

Hey, Karl: name some other "guys like" Dean in the Democratic Party (I'll link Dean's one truther-curious quote again to put this in perspective). Go ahead -- I'll wait for the list. By contrast, the list of Republican birthers, of varying stripes, is as long as your arm -- and those two links are far from complete, because they don't include every state legislator who's sponsored or voted for a birther bill. Karl Rove, you are to the truth what a vampire is to sunlight.

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