The Dog Ate Their Homework - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Dog Ate Their Homework

Avoiding chaos and deferring to mature judgment are worthy strategies for any party seeking to govern a freedom-loving country, but I’m beginning to think that in spite of the back-room deliberations that their “superdelegate” rules are supposed to support, Democrats are unwilling to screen their own candidates for president. Together with that aversion, Donkey Party loyalists have a concomitant ability to feign shock whenever Republicans do any candidate screening for them, whether through open primaries or by any other means.

Barack Obama has the top of the Democratic ticket all but sewn up, in spite of having spent more time campaigning for president than serving as a U.S. Senator or doing anything else of note, with the possible exception of networking among fellow congregants in a large church with the blessing of a fundamentally unserious pastor (anyone who regards “social justice” as an adequate paraphrase of the gospel is a disciple, however well-meaning, of Karl Marx).

With the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama will join the likes of John “Cambodian Christmas Hat” Kerry, Al “Invented the Internet” Gore, Bill “Better Put Some Ice on That” Clinton, and Michael “One-Man Parole Board” Dukakis, all of whom were brutalized by partisan pundits for faults that would have been apparent to anyone doing even a cursory background check.

Not that Republicans always do the research they should, either. The FEMA career of Mike Brown, the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, the tragicomic bungling of Alberto Gonzales at the Department of Justice, and the current Republican willingness to explore the studio space with derivative slogans like “the change you deserve” all testify to the bipartisan nature of failure to get with the program.

But when it comes to nominating Commanders-in-Chief, Republicans tend to throw their support to known quantities. In this election cycle alone, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani got a more thorough vetting from their colleagues than John Edwards, Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson ever got from theirs.

If this disparity were almost entirely the fault of some kind of attention-deficit disorder in the news media, as Elizabeth Edwards suggested in a column for the New York Times, then how do you explain why, if you read anything about economics written for non-specialists, you can bet that Thomas Sowell has consulted more actual data than, for example, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman? Are the well-known and very different political sympathies of those two economists incidental to their different approaches to column writing? I think not.

ONE CONSEQUENCE of elevating “the dog ate my homework” from an excuse to a governing style is that Democrats, because they do more opposition research than internal research, are more susceptible to the proverbial “October surprise” than Republicans are. Moreover, Democrats have inadvertently turned political rivals who actually do their homework into folk heroes for some people. Say what you will about Karl Rove, but he has more star power on the Sunday morning talk show circuit than any Democratic operative, and is not willfully blind to the shortcomings of the pols in his own party. Ronald Reagan formulated his famous “Eleventh Commandment” about not speaking ill of other Republicans precisely because he knew that such speech would otherwise be commonplace. A Democrat would never have phrased the axiom that way because Democrats resent commandments to begin with, unless they apply exclusively to Republicans.

Another consequence of Democratic unwillingness to perform due diligence is that it fosters contempt for “divisive” and “mean-spirited” people who have the temerity to fact-check. Have you noticed that neither Hillary Clinton nor her husband has been able to turn the policy wonkishness in which they take justifiable pride into a sustained examination of Barack Obama’s gossamer-thin judgment? Bill tried that, and was told to simmer down by ranking members of the Congressional Black Caucus, apparently on pain of losing the “first black president” card that novelist Toni Morrison had once given him.

Bill Clinton’s valiant attempts to slow the Obama train by asking questions of judgment are ironic, given his erstwhile pledge to run “the most ethical administration in the history of this country.” Of course, Bill said that at his inauguration, before he had a look at the long list of people seeking presidential pardons, before 115 pages of problematic billing records from his wife’s former law firm were “lost” in the White House for two years, before he became only the second U.S. President to be impeached, and before he characterized a legal battle with special prosecutor Ken Starr as nothing less than a “defense of the Constitution.” Never mind how many reasonable people would read that assertion as expanding the notion of “Executive Privilege” to levels that would impress even George W. Bush.

A contemporaneous story in the New York Times reported that when Rose Law Firm billing records were found in the White House, Senator Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY) hailed the development with sound-bite sarcasm as “the second miraculous discovery within the past 24 hours.” D’Amato’s allusion was to the just-previous disclosure of a two-year-old memorandum written by a former Presidential aide saying that, as the Times put it, “Mrs. Clinton had played a far greater role in the dismissal of employees of the White House travel office than the Administration has acknowledged.”

WHILE WE SHUFFLE down memory lane for the sake of underscoring the Democratic fondness for shortcuts, what political junkie can forget Al Gore’s embrace of hanging chads, or the image of National Security Adviser Sandy Berger stuffing classified documents in his pants so no intrepid Republican could leverage them into an indictment of the Clinton administration’s wholly unremarkable anti-terror policy? The security breach that Berger engineered and the $5,000 fine he paid were a small price to pay for postponing a reckoning that party strategists probably regarded as “revenge of the nerds.”

Berger went on to advise John Kerry until cooler heads convinced the Massachusetts senator that he was a liability. As a Washington Post story put it while sounding a theme that Barack Obama would later reprise to great effect, “A Kerry adviser said the expanding controversy convinced the campaign that Berger’s departure was essential because of the serious distraction it posed for Kerry in the week before the Democratic Party nominates him for president.”

The bet here is that an up-and-coming community organizer in Chicago read stories like that and thought to himself, “Questions of judgment can always be dismissed as ‘distractions’ if the rest of your message appeals strongly enough to the base, because nobody wants to do any legwork on a charismatic candidate.” Oprah Winfrey was not yet on his Rolodex, but she would be. Of course, like any good Democrat, the CEO of Harpo Productions is selective about where she and her staff apply their considerable research acumen; else she would not have insisted that Islam really is a “religion of peace.” Apparently the dog ate her homework, too, but whether it was a yellow dog would be impossible to say.

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