Josh Marshall

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The Zogby poll out of Iowa continues to have Dean, Gephardt and Kerry grouped in pretty much a tie (Numbers: Kerry 23%, Dean 22%, Gephardt 19%, Edwards 18%). But the bigger news is out of ARG's New Hampshire poll (Numbers: Dean 28%, Clark 22%, Kerry 18%) Clark remains a half dozen points behind Dean. But look at Kerry -- back at 18%. A week ago he was at 10%.

Now, of course, the precise numbers in these tracking polls are volatile. But trends over time are usually on the mark.

A couple days ago over lunch I was talking to a friend about the Kerry campaign. And I said the big question about Kerry was whether an unexpectedly strong showing in Iowa could whip Kerry back into contention in New Hampshire.

My friend said no, can't happen. And though I'd proposed it as the big question, I instantly agreed.

But clearly I shouldn't have.

The reason it seemed improbable (to me at least) that Kerry could surge back in New Hampshire is, paradoxically, precisely because he used to be so far ahead there.

I can see Clark surging there, or perhaps Edwards, or even Gephardt. But that's because their support was never that high. Someone who's left Candidate X and is looking for someone new will probably look for someone ... well, new, not someone they were supporting before they moved on to candidate X.

Nice theory. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be true. Kerry is quickly moving back into contention in New Hampshire.

Also on the Kerry front, see this article in The New Republic about Kerry's field organizer Michael Whouley -- who may be playing an important role in the shift.

A quick note on some game-playing on Andrew Sullivan's site on the Drudge/Clark business.

I don't want to get into all the particulars. But two points stand out to me.

One is that Sullivan doesn't seem bothered by the fact that Drudge not only took the quotes out of context but actually reordered them to change their meaning. Why no concern over that? That seems like a problem.

Then he goes on to tendentiously misconstrue most everything Clark said. His final judgment is that Clark's stance was basically identical to Bush's but that at the key moment he wimped out and got cold feet about the war. He also tosses in the self-justifying canard that the whole issue was one of getting the permission of France.

I'll leave it to you to read the testimony or not read it and make your own judgments about what Clark says. My read is that it's pretty clear that Sullivan's readings in several cases are just tendentious misconstruals.

But this really isn't about Clark, who can stand or fall on his own. (Like any candidate he has inconsistencies in his positions over time -- just not the extreme, cartoonish ones that certain operatives keep trying to push.) This is about a bigger question, a more fundamental debate.

To Sullivan and those who share his view, if you believed that Iraq remained a serious and unresolved security question for the United States which had to be confronted, and you didn't support the war that the president chose to fight, that means that you had a failure of nerve (add in here, of course, the standard Munich references.)

But that's only true if you had an extremely myopic view of the Iraq question and believed that quite literally everything had to give way before it.

That was always a foolish read of the situation, and for some it was a dishonest one too.

For my part, the fundamental issue and the issue of urgency was finding out the status of Iraq's WMD programs. Once we'd done that (and we'd largely done that before we went to war, particularly on the nuclear arms front) the question became one of much less urgency -- one which we had to balance against a series of other priorities.

What priorities? Al Qaida, for one -- which the Iraq adventure set back. More importantly, I think, was creating an international order in which American power is durable and enduring.

As Fareed Zakaria (another weak-willed peacenik) wrote about a year ago, in the process of solving the Iraq problem the administration created an America problem. As he wrote ...

[T]he administration is wrong if it believes that a successful war will make the world snap out of a deep and widening mistrust and resentment of American foreign policy. A war with Iraq, even if successful, might solve the Iraq problem. It doesn’t solve the America problem. What worries people around the world above all else is living in a world shaped and dominated by one country—the United States. And they have come to be deeply suspicious and fearful of us.

I think it's pretty clear now that we haven't solved the Iraq problem -- or perhaps we got rid of one Iraq problem and created another. But even if we had solved it, I think the bargain that Zakaria sketches out was a bad one, especially after it'd become quite clear that the threat from Iraq was minimal.

These are complex questions, ones not easily reasoned through by the standard nah-nah-nah. But there are some folks who can't get over their 1939-envy, their hunger for the Orwell moment. But this wasn't one of them. It never was. And the failure to understand that -- whether by deception or myopia or an honest mistake or the simple need for drama that is the curse of intellectuals -- has done us real harm.

A little more unfinished business on the Drudge/Clark smear.

As I've already told you several times yesterday and today, Drudge got hold of some quotes from Clark's September 26th, 2002 congressional testimony and distorted them out of recognition by highly selective quotation.

In a subsequent post last night I quoted a passage from a piece which ran on the KnightRidder newswire. Here's the passage ...

Clark's congressional testimony was further distorted Thursday by cyber-gossip columnist Matt Drudge, who quoted selected portions of Clark's testimony and added sentences that don't appear in the transcript on his Web site Thursday. Drudge didn't respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Now, I figured the authors of the piece had done their homework on this one, particularly the point claiming he had "added sentences that don't appear in the transcript." But it seems that that's not quite true. Drudge did something almost as bad, but not quite.

With the help of TPM's crack editorial assistant Zander Dryer we compared the Drudge quotes with the ones in the actual transcript.

By our read, all but one was right there in the text. And we assume the one they're referring to is this one ...

There's no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat... Yes, he has chemical and biological weapons. He's had those for a long time. But the United States right now is on a very much different defensive posture than we were before September 11th of 2001... He is, as far as we know, actively pursuing nuclear capabilities, though he doesn't have nuclear warheads yet. If he were to acquire nuclear weapons, I think our friends in the region would face greatly increased risks as would we.

As we've reconstructed it, this is where it's from ...

There's no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat (p. 6)... Yes, he has chemical and biological weapons. He's had those for a long time. But the United States right now is on a very much different defensive posture than we were before September 11th of 2001 (p. 25-26--Clark is actually making the point that this posture gives us time to "work the diplomacy")... he is, as far as we know, actively pursuing nuclear capabilities, though he doesn't have nuclear warheads yet. If he were to acquire nuclear weapons, I think our friends in the region would face greatly increased risks as would we (p. 6).

This is a big <$Ad$>no-no. Ellipses (the dot, dot, dots) are one thing. But you don't take ellipses out of their order when the reordering changes the meaning. However, that's still very different from manufacturing quotes. And by our read, that wasn't done.

Now, none of this changes the substance of the original point. This is more a house-keeping post. Drudge and various GOP chat-meisters and CNN anchors who followed his lead, cherry-picked a few quotes out of context and in so doing made Clark's testimony seem almost the exact opposite of what it in fact was.

Still, we reprinted the clip of KnightRidder's accusation. So we wanted to set the record straight.

(We've emailed the reporters. And we'll let you know what we hear from them.)

Late Update: A number of readers have written in to say that they think that Drudge's radical reordering of the order of Clark's words is tantamount to manufacturing a quote. Thinking it over I'm half inclined to agree. In any case, I'll let you be the judge.

On his site this afternoon, Middle Eastern Studies Professor Juan Cole -- who runs one of the best blogs on the web -- says he'll be on the Newshour tonight talking about Ayatollah Sistani and the growing tension over the handover of power in Iraq next summer. That will definitely be worth watching.

So now Drudge's after Kerry in Iowa, claiming he wanted to abolish the Department of Agriculture and cut farm subsidies.

I know, let's say, rather less about Ag policy than foreign policy. So I really have no direct knowledge whether this is a fair characterization or not. And I'll be curious to see if someone out there can evaluate the statements in their context and get to the bottom of it.

But considering what a scam his dig at Clark ended up being yesterday, every benefit of the doubt has to be with Kerry.

Ahhh, Perle's of wisdom. Or perhaps unintended self-incrimination. But who's counting.

As you know, I've been flogging since yesterday this issue of the ridiculously distorted quotes Drudge used from Wes Clark's September 26th 2002 congressional testimony. Then this morning the Journal got into the act claiming that the silly clips showed that Clark was endorsing Perle's views.

Now, I've been suggesting that people go and read the actual testimony to get a sense of whether these cherry-picked lines at all represent what Clark said that day. But I know people's lives are busy. And perhaps you don't have the time to get through the whole transcript. But maybe that's not necessary.

Toward the end of the session Perle himself characterized Clark's position ...

(Perle's run-down is more than a little disingenuous and he apparently felt the need to wait until Clark had left the hearing room for the day. But let's forgive him this once.)

Schrock: Sure, I would love to know Mr. Perle's, you know, the general said time is on our side. My guess is you do not believe that.

Perle: No, I don't believe it and frankly I don't think [Clark] made a very convincing case in support of that cliche but it was one of many cliches. At the end of the day when you sought to elicit from him a reconciliation of the view that time is on our side with what he acknowledged to be our ignorance of how far along Saddam Hussein is, he had no explanation.

He seems to be preoccupied, and I'm quoting now, with building legitimacy, with exhausting all diplomatic remedies as though we hadn't been through diplomacy for the last decade, and relegating the use of force to a last resort, to building the broadest possible coalition, in short a variety of very amorphous, ephemeral concerns alongside which there's a stark reality and that is that every day that goes by, Saddam Hussein is busy perfecting those weapons of mass destruction that he already has, improving their capabilities, improving the means with which to deliver them and readying himself for a future conflict.

So I don't believe that time is on our side and I don't believe that this fuzzy notion that the most important thing is building legitimacy, as if we lack legitimacy now, after all the U.N. resolutions that he's in blatant violation of, I don't believe that that should be the decisive consideration. So I think General Clark simply doesn't want to see us use military force and he has thrown out as many reasons as he can develop to that but the bottom line is he just doesn't want to take action. He wants to wait.

Did the Journal guys run their piece by Richard? Seems he disagrees. And what about those shows on the cable nets that got taken in? (Yeah, I'm talking about you too, CNN) No research departments?

Let me add my voice to those criticizing the ABC News story on Dean and the state trooper on his security detail who apparently was guilty of spousal abuse. As nearly as I can tell, this person who worked on his security detail beat his wife. But there's no evidence in the piece that Dean knew it. Then, while this guy was beating his wife or after it had occurred, Dean filed a three page affidavit for use in a custody hearing attesting that the trooper, Dennis Madore, was a good father.

But, again, there's no evidence that Dean knew anything about the abuse! Or really, any evidence that he should have known. Without going into all the ins and outs of the story, Dean seems to have played it by the book at every point.

Now, certainly it's a bit of a touchy thing for Dean. But not because he did anything wrong, only because it's always awkward to have something ugly like that happen in your proximity.

But even in a pint-sized state like Vermont, governors have lots of people who work with them or for them. And they can't be expected to have a handle on what bad acts one or more of them might or might not be doing at home.

It's an impossible standard.

You might say that the piece can't be that unfair since I was able to glean this exculpatory information from it. And to an extent that's true. But the piece seems packaged to hit Dean with all sorts of ugly insinuations, and quite unfairly.

The article is headlined "Dean's Trooper" -- a pretty obvious reference to the Clinton trooper stories. And the whole story is associating him with the extremely (and rightly) hotbutton issue of wife-beating, even though, as I noted above, it's wholly unmerited.

Perhaps this story deserved a small write-up about a minor controversy in Vermont state politics. But as it was done, I don't see how you can say it wasn't deeply unfair and really a smear.

Oh how sad a day it is when even the Wall Street Journal's 'Review & Outlook' section (subscription required) cribs its material right from the RNC fax printout. Today one of the 'Review & Outlook's' pieces is entitled 'General Wesley Perle'.

They take the cherry-picked quotes Drudge ran yesterday -- the ones he seems to have gotten from Ed Gillespie, who also used them in a speech yesterday in Little Rock -- and use them to argue that Clark has flip-flopped on the war.

Little more than a year ago, the Journalistas say, he was endorsing the views of none other than arch-hawk Richard Perle.

Now, we know that all the usual suspects have been hitting the airwaves on this one, with the crib notes from Movement Central in hand. But let's point out one fairly straightforward fact that the worthies at the Journal (and the rest who have made this point that Clark was supporting Perle's view) seem to leave out.

If you look at the actual testimony, which I've posted here, you'll notice something that couldn't be simpler. The testimony on that day before the House Armed Services Committee was set up with one supporter of the president's policy and one opponent of it. The first was Perle, the second was Clark. And if you read through the testimony, that's how it reads. A fuller picture, as usual, shows the real story.

The Journal 'Review & Outlook' piece plays it otherwise because the authors aren't troubled by making deceptive arguments by withholding key pieces of information which contradict their point -- which is a bit of a failing for journalists.