Don’t Throw Stones at Barking Dogs

Members of the media stand on the South Lawn of the White House, February 2017. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Scorched-earth partisan combat is tempting, but it ultimately backfires.

A favorite Churchill quote has been on my mind lately: “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”

The reasonable takeaway for political warriors is that you should refrain from hating the opposition because such vitriol can distract you from your own purposes. Of course, that lesson is much more easily understood than it is internalized in the rough-and-tumble world of Trump-era politics, but both sides of the political divide could stand to take it to heart.

On the right, it would be wise for President Trump to somehow restrain himself from tweeting aggressive rejoinders to each and every move by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team. Similarly, Trump’s protectors in Congress would do well to resist the lure of nightly appearances on Fox News. Fighting Mueller’s fire with fire might incite the base and provide grist for nightly GOP opinion journalists, but it won’t move the White House closer to Rudy Giuliani’s stated goal of completing the Russia investigation as soon as possible. The president’s occasional propensity to misstate facts and/or overreact in response to criticism does not help his cause in this case, either.

I understand that this advice runs counter to Trump’s stated preference for an overwhelming show of force in response to criticism. Yet it would be prudent for a president with a special counsel breathing down his neck (and opponents eagerly waiting to begin impeachment proceedings) to be more flexible at times — especially if he intends to allow Mueller’s investigation to run its natural course.

To be sure, however, the president’s hyper-aggressive responses to the multitude of dogs barking at him pale in comparison to the Left’s incessant attacks on just about any idea or individual associated with him. Over-the-top appeals to emotion are part of the progressive Left’s DNA; you can see their striking appeal on just about any college campus these days. But they’re also an extension of Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s widely quoted quip that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

The reasonable takeaway for political warriors is that you should refrain from hating the opposition because such vitriol can distract you from your own purposes.

Alas, the modern Left never misses an opportunity to indulge.

Some of you may recall the vitriol pouring forth from the lips of Democratic leaders at the funeral of former U.S. senator Paul Wellstone in 2002. Here, what was supposed to be a solemn ceremony for a departed politician shamelessly degenerated into a campaign-style rally. GOP leaders were jeered and liberal icons were cheered. Even the left-leaning media reported the bitter partisanship as a bridge too far. The voters saw it the same way, electing Republican Norm Coleman over Walter Mondale in the race for Wellstone’s seat. A private Democratic poll confirmed that the circus backfired on the Democrats nationally as well. Maybe the rule should be “no stones” allowed at a funeral.

The anti-gun/anti-NRA agendas on display at various events held to honor victims of mass shootings are a more recent case in point (e.g., CNN’s post-Parkland national town hall). But real dogs are never enough — today’s “resistance” persistently pursues bogus dogs. For context, recall the following counterfeit reports by media and politicians alike:

  • On Trump’s Inauguration Day, a Time reporter erroneously tweeted that a bust of Martin Luther King had been removed from the Oval Office. Social-media reaction was brutal — until the reporter corrected his error.
  • A week into the new administration, the Washington Post reported “mass resignations” at the State Department. Social-media reaction was again vicious — until it became clear that the four departures the Post was referring to were pro forma resignations of the kind traditionally submitted at the beginning of a new administration.
  • Late last year, ABC’s Brian Ross reported that the president had directed Michael Flynn to contact the Russians prior to the election. A later clarification (Trump’s instruction had been given after the election) could not save Ross from a four-week suspension without pay.
  • On December 8, 2017, CNN breathlessly reported that candidate Trump and son Donald Trump Jr. had been given access to hacked documents from WikiLeaks prior to their publication online, before it was shown that said access had been offered after the documents’ publication.
  • One day later, the Washington Post famously misrepresented a sold-out Trump rally by publishing a photo of an empty arena . . . hours prior to attendees’ being allowed to enter.

One may ask why the media feel the need to go after the president with false or exaggerated stories when his administration produces more than its share of genuinely rich targets. The answer, of course, takes us from Emanuel’s cynicism back to Churchill’s admonition. You see, emotional opportunism of the variety seen at Wellstone’s funeral tends to cause the aggrieved to lose focus, retreating into ultra-partisanship and the delusions it can engender. Recall Hillary Clinton’s effort to “expand the map” two weeks prior to Election Day, when she thought victory was assured. The media bought it. Emotions were at a fever pitch. Clinton was on a roll, and cocky. All she could see was a basket of “deplorables” on the other side. She couldn’t lose — and then she did. A loss of focus, indeed.


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