Politics & Policy

Historical Amnesia Night

Carter and Clinton, without the historical baggage.

One way the anchors and reporters give away their We-Are-Fa-mi-lee bias at the Democratic hootenanny is by praising ex-presidents for how well they toss red meat to the crowd, and forgetting entirely how these men ran the federal government in their time. They offered no reality check on the speeches of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton last night by comparing the addresses to Carter’s malaise days or Clinton’s brazen deceptions. History is as blank as Tim Russert’s whiteboard.

Carter’s speech was viciously negative. Unlike Bush, Kerry “showed up” for Vietnam. He will “restore maturity and judgment”–which are sorely lacking–to the White House. Bush has an “unbroken series of mistakes and miscalculations.” Every Republican and plenty of independents watching at home must have remembered Carter’s inept foreign-policy adventures, like the disastrous failed Iranian-hostage rescue attempt, and wondered where Carter got the audacity to use these damning words against someone else. Ten countries went under the Communist yoke as Jimmy Carter was smooching Leonid Brezhnev after arms-control talks; but last night, the Cold War was won not by Ronald Reagan, but by a long bipartisan consensus. And what about the part where “truth and trust” are so important in foreign policy? What would that say about President Clinton’s record of bombing after depositions and before impeachment votes?

But the network anchors saw greatness. CNN’s Joe Johns asked Rep. John Lewis why Carter could be so negative considering the Kerry camp’s concerns about tone, and Lewis said, “Jimmy Carter is simply the elder statesman of the party, an honest man, truthful, and when those words come out of his mouth, he’s viewed as such.” Anchor Aaron Brown pleaded, “Let me build on that,” and oozed, “The Kerry campaign’s concern is they don’t want it too personal and they don’t want it shrill, and it’s hard to imagine shrill and Jimmy Carter in the same sentence.”

Then there was the Clinton speech. NBC signed off Monday night with these dazzled words:

Tim Russert: …he laid out a case which really did build around the whole notion of John Kerry as a strong Commander-in-Chief. And it was playing off his wife who as a liberal Democratic Senator from New York called for increasing the Defense budget by doubling the size of proposed troop strength. It was an extraordinary night for the Democrats–how they’re trying to position their party.

Tom Brokaw: And when he talked about the tax cuts he really did refer to the number of uniformed police who are going to be cut from the program. That was fairly started during the Clinton administration.

Russert: And he said, I’m the recipient of the tax cut and I also avoided going to Vietnam. And by using those own personal weaknesses, if you will, he only reinforced the uniqueness of John Kerry. Very clever speech.

They didn’t compare Clinton’s speech to Clinton’s presidency. In their last terms in the White House, were the Democrats known for doubling troop strength? They didn’t see any problem with Clinton equating his draft finagling (signed up for ROTC, never showed up, went to play strip poker at Oxford) to Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard (where Democrats are still suggesting the dentist doesn’t remember him). They didn’t compare Clinton’s class-war gibes about how he’s pampered by the Republicans now that he’s super-rich to his insistence that Republicans “need a divided America, but we don’t.”

Twelve years ago, on Monday night of the Republican convention, the media quickly seized on Pat Buchanan’s speech. Peter Jennings concluded, “There’s a lot in there that’s not accurate,” insisting people tune him in the next night for the corrections. One test of media seriousness is whether they take all these sorry spending-cut refrains from Clinton’s speech last night and compare them to the actual budget. Republicans favored cutting 300,000 kids out of after-school programs, or cutting 88,000 police officers? The fact-checkers might just take a holiday for the Democrats.


Despite Ted Kennedy, you can’t really say that Tuesday night is Liberal Night at the convention. Every night is Liberal Night. Here’s one way to measure the liberalism of the Democratic establishment collected in Boston: If you take the official DNC list of evening (7 to 11 p.m.) speakers, you will find 27 currently elected members of Congress. If you take each member’s lifetime American Conservative Union voting score into account, including Senator Kerry’s and Senator Edwards’s, you get a total score of 297, which averages out to just under 11 out of 100. That’s a pretty liberal party.

Of those 29 congressional speakers, only two have a conservative rating above 20: Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate minority whip, has a 21, and Rep. Jim Turner of Texas (who spoke shortly after 7 last night) has a 39. Fifteen of them are under 10: John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Mikulski, Elijah Cummings, Dick Durbin, Mike Honda, Steny Hoyer, Tammy Baldwin, Ed Markey, Greg Meeks, Kendrick Meek, Juanita Millender-McDonald, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, and the very pro-abortion Louise Slaughter. The other ten are between 10 and 19: Edwards, Bob Graham, Hillary Clinton, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden, Tom Daschle, Bob Menendez, Jim Clyburn, Jim Langevin, and the formerly anti-abortion Dennis Kucinich. But don’t expect the “L-word” to tumble out of your TV speakers as they parade to the podium.

Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center.

Tim GrahamTim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center, where he began in 1989, and has served there with the exception of 2001 and 2002, when served ...


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