Wednesday :: Apr 16, 2008

Post-Parsing Fools


by Turkana

Here's how it works. Bill Clinton is quoted:

"I think there is a big reason there's an age difference in a lot of these polls," he said. "Because once you've reached a certain age, you won't sit there and listen to somebody tell you there's really no difference between what happened in the Bush years and the Clinton years; that there's not much difference in how small-town Pennsylvania fared when I was president, and in this decade."

"So I think it's important that we get to the truth of this," Clinton continued, going on to compare his and Bush's record on jobs, family incomes, and other measures.

Which suggests a belief that those who buy into conflations of the Bush and Clinton presidencies are a bit naive. Because such conflations are rampant, among some Obama supporters. In fact, Barack Obama himself made a similar conflation, in San Francisco. It didn't receive the same amount of attention as some of his other comments, but here's what Obama said:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.

And as others have pointed out, the Clinton years were not actually all that bad. And they were not actually all that bad for Pennsylvanians. Which left Pennsylvanians so bitter that after having voted for Reagan twice, then the first Bush, before taking a chance on Clinton in 1992, they voted for Clinton again in 1996, then for his Vice President in 2000, then for Democrat John Kerry in 2004.

Now, I agree with Big Tent Democrat, who has been arguing that Hillary Clinton should have let others carry the ball on the whole bitter/cling controversy. I agree because it was going to get enough publicity on its own, it would have looked better had she not touched it, and should Obama win the nomination, her comments will be used against him. But I can understand why she couldn't keep quiet. I can understand Bill Clinton's remark. I can understand that the Clintons are sick of hearing their eight years in the White House dishonestly conflated with the Bush era, or denigrated in comparison to the Reagan era. I wasn't much of a fan of the Clinton presidency, but these conflations piss me off. Because, among other things, they serve to vastly understate how terrible the Reagan Administration really was, and how terrible the Bush Administration really is.

Now, just to be clear- I was depressed when it became clear Bill Clinton would be the 1992 Democratic nominee. Of course, having supported Tom Harkin, depression was inevitable for me, in 1992. But by mid-summer, I did end up excited at the prospect of finally ending twelve years of Reagan-Bush atrocities. But once he was in office, Clinton's triangulations pissed me off. Particularly on issues involving the deforestation of the Pacific Northwest. In fact, I was so pissed off that I didn't even vote for Clinton, in 1996. Being pragmatic, however, I did wait for the television networks to make clear that Clinton was winning enough eastern states to assure his reelection before I went and voted for my idealistic favorite. But had Bob Dole had any chance at all, I'd have voted for Clinton. Because as angry as I was, I understood the difference between an inadequate Clinton presidency and what would have been a terrible Dole presidency. And on deforestation issues, Dole would have been at least as bad, and probably worse.

So, when Obama or his supporters conflate Bill Clinton with Reagan or Bush, it does anger me. Because it is dishonest and manipulative and simply wrong. And when discussing why there is an age divide between supporters of Hillary Clinton and supporters of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton expressed his frustration at that conflation, and at those who tolerate it. There are many ways to describe what Bill Clinton was expressing, but Boston reporter Scott Helman interpreted it thusly:

Older voters gravitate to Hillary Clinton because they're too wise to be fooled by Barack Obama's rhetoric, former president Bill Clinton told Pennsylvania voters today.

Of course, Clinton didn't say anything about people being fooled. Clinton's words could at least as easily be interpreted as having meant that older people have less patience with revisionist political gamesmanship. Or that older people have a more personal understanding of what actually happened in the 1980s and the 1990s. But Helman went with the word "fooled." A reporter's choice of phrasing. Then, the Huffington Obama Post turned it into this:

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And, inevitably, this framing showed up on the Daily Kos Obama Recommended List- and I didn't even bother wading into the inevitable shrill caterwauling in the comment thread. But that's how post-parsing works: take a candidate's statement, turn it into something it wasn't, turn that into something inflammatory, then scream bloody murder at the flames.

I have no problem with partisan support of favored candidates. There are plenty of valid reasons to prefer Obama to Clinton, just as there are plenty of valid reasons to prefer Clinton to Obama. But I do have a problem when partisan support causes deliberate dishonesty. Particularly from a prominent website. And I do consider those who fall for such deliberate dishonesty to be foolish. You can quote me on that.

Turkana :: 10:14 AM :: Comments (39) :: Digg It!