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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dick Morris -- symbol of our brilliant, expert pundit class

More than anything else, I believe political opinion is shaped by what Americans hear from the pundits and so-called "political experts" who pompously parade across their television screens (and, to a lesser extent, their newspaper pages) and opine with such certainty from their perch of elevated wisdom. For that reason, the decayed and hollow state of our political dialogue is due in large part to the vapid, ill-informed, and just plain ridiculous pundit class with which we are burdened. That fact cannot be emphasized enough.

On October 9, the day North Korea announced that it had tested a nuclear weapon, political consulting guru Dick Morris went on Hannity & Colmes as the featured guest to melodramtically announce that this event changed everything with regard to the election, and that from that point forward, the only issue that would really matter from then until the election -- the only issue which politicians in both parties would be able to discuss -- was how our country was going to handle the grave North Korean nuclear crisis we faced. Remember, this was less than a month ago.

Both Hannity and Morris put on the most gravely somber and serious faces they could muster, and proclaimed that no other issue would matter in the election because the "North Korea nuclear crisis" -- which Morris repeatedly compared in historic importance and danger to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 -- would so dominate our country's political debates for the next month at least that no politician in either party could even talk about anything else, because everything else was dwarfed by comparison and all other issues would seem petty.

The entertainment value alone makes this worth reviewing -- I watched the interview at the time and couldn't believe what I was seeing, even from Fox and Dick Morris -- but perverse entertainment value aside, this is what happens day after day from our conventional wisdom-spouting pundits. After Morris and Hannity breathlessly ran through all of the mean things we must immediately do to both North Korea and China -- arm Japan and South Korea with nuclear weapons, confirm John Bolton as U.N. Ambassador, threaten to take away the Olympics from China, etc., this is what ensued:

HANNITY: That's a great way to put it. Rearm Japan. Confirm Bolton. For the president to call a special session, do you agree with that? And what about the effect on the election? . . .

MORRIS: That's why Bush is right to do the six-party. For the election, think back to 1962. At about this time in October, President Kennedy learned that there were missiles in Cuba.

HANNITY: True.

MORRIS: And he was at the time laboring under a big negative from the Bay of Pigs invasion. And he reacted brilliantly and well and solved the problem.

President Bush now has an amazing opportunity, political and national, to really change things. Foley is gone now. Who cares about Foley, when this North Korean, craziest, most dangerous regime in the world have nuclear weapons? And Ollie is right: They're sell them to the Iranians or anybody else or Al Qaeda. And basically, if Bush handles this well and he shows strong, determined, presidential leadership, he could save himself.

HANNITY: Let me ask you this. Do you think — because you and I have discussed this both on the air and off the air. We agree this is the defining issue of our time. Here's my question. Do the American people, 29 days out of the election, understand the significance of this issue, of Iran, of nuclear proliferation, and the war on terror? Do they get it?

MORRIS: War on terror maybe not. They're complacent. But, boy, they understand what it is for North Korea to have nuclear weapons. There are millions of households out there who have guys who went to fight in Korea.

HANNITY: Sure, sure.

MORRIS: This is very much on the American radar. . . . I just want to say this line. Right now, we're at a point basically equal to Munich. Nonproliferation has broken down decisively with North Korea getting the bomb. If we are complicit in that and we don't stand up in that, it's like taking no action in the face of Hitler marching into Austria and seizing...

COLMES: How can they use this as a way to get themselves re-elected?

MORRIS: If either political party takes this disaster of North Korea having a test as the occasion for a blame game, of who's to blame, they'll be hurting themselves very badly, much more than they're hurting the other side. There is plenty of blame to go around, and I know a lot about it because I was there when a lot of it happened in the White House. But it is not useful to talk about it; it's not useful to focus on it.

COLMES: But my question is: How will the public perceive it? How are they going to look at it?

MORRIS: The public is going to look at it and say, "Who is going to solve this problem?" We, a country, Democrats and Republicans have a problem, and we need presidential leadership.

COLMES: But at 29 days between now and the election, we're not going to solve this problem in 29 days, are we?

MORRIS: Yes, we may. John Kennedy solved the Cuban missile crisis in an almost identical period of time. And the ability of the president to pressure China on this issue is enormous. And I think that we don't have to solve the problem — North Korea is not going to surrender in 29 days — but it has to be well on the road to solution.

And, by the way, it takes away from the Democrats the normal criticism and from the Republicans the normal campaigning. Bush can't go out now and talk about tax cuts. Democrats can't go out now and talk about Foley. The issue is North Korea. . . .

HANNITY: What both of us said last week, boy, things can change on a dime in an election cycle.

MORRIS: Yes, absolutely.

It's just not possible to be more wrong than this. It's like listening to clowns talk politics. The North Korean story lasted all of 24 hours, if that. Not a single candidate talks about it other than in passing, at most. Compare the prediction from the political genius/guru Morris -- "Bush can't go out now and talk about tax cuts. Democrats can't go out now and talk about Foley. The issue is North Korea" -- with the fact that Bush stresses only two issues when campaigning (tax cuts and the "war on terror," with a little gay marriage flavored in now), while Democrats talk about Iraq, corruption and, in some states, domestic issues like jobs and health care.

For better or worse, North Korea -- the issue Hannity and Morris agreed would subsume the election and would be Bush's defining historic moment -- doesn't even make the list of issues anyone cares about in virtually every poll. And all of that leaves to the side the absurd omission of Iraq in their discussion of the issues that will determine the outcome of the election -- the issue which virtually everyone acknowledges happens to be the most influential issue by far.

Punditry and "analysis" of this type really is the backbone of American political dialogue. Most of the people who have been anointed as our mainstream pundits and experts know nothing. The better ones do nothing but mindlessly recite ossified, thoughtless conventional wisdom that they exchange with one another, while most of them are driven by all sorts of personal agendas that cause them to propagandistically spout their own desires and beliefs masquerading as political analysis. This sort of fact-free babbling of the type exemplified by "political consultant and polling expert" Dick Morris here is not aberrational, but commonplace (after North Korea vanished the next day, we were told that it was New Jersey's gay marriage that would save the Republicans; this week, John Kerry's joke will).

If shallow and agenda-driven analysis of this type is what is shaping American political opinion -- and it is -- it is to be expected that the public will remain essentially ill-informed and confused. Fortunately, all that is saving us in this election is that this administration's ineptitude, deceit and corruption have become so severe and so glaring that even this consuming punditry cloud of obfuscation is no longer thick enough to conceal it. Americans have finally seen it clearly on their own -- not because of anything which (with rare exceptions) anyone in the media or our pundit class has done, but despite all of that.

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