DEMS ARE EITHER...

DEMS ARE EITHER PHONIES OR THEY'RE RADICALS. One of the more devious verbal tricks commentators use on Democrats is to rhetorically box them in: Either Dems are too cautious and scripted, or they're too radical and hate America. Atrios is right when he says of Joe Klein's new book:

I've got nothing against insiders dishing on the Kerry campaign, but the idea that they would dish to Klein to support whatever pernicious and destructive narrative he'll be concocting about how we all hate America demonstrates a tremendous lack of judgment.

We've glimpsed the narrative Klein has created. In the Time magazine excerpt of his book, Klein says Kerry was "smothered" by his consultants. Whatever one thinks of the Kerry campaign, or of consultants in general, I think it's clear that Klein's assault is really a back-door way of launching a familiar attack on Dems: That Democrats will say or do anything to get elected -- including abandon their core moral principles. That is the tale that the press used to destroy Al Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004, and now Klein has hauled it out again and is waving it as he dances his jig on the grave of Kerry's presidential aspirations.

How eager was Klein to tell the story this way? One Kerry campaign insider who refused to talk to Klein -- chief strategist Robert Shrum -- claims Klein was so eager that he cooked the facts to do it. Klein's chief piece of evidence for Kerry's inauthenticity in the excerpt is that Kerry didn't talk about the Abu Gharib torture scandal because his consultants told him not to. As I reported below, Shrum insisted in an interview with me that Klein's account was "misleading" and "inaccurate." Klein vigorously rejects the claim. Maybe once the book hits other Kerry insiders will come forward and say whether they think Klein's depiction is accurate.

Either way, Klein's new attack begs a question: If Kerry had made Abu Gharib a big issue, how would Klein have reacted? Klein routinely blasts liberal Dems who fault Bush on national security issues. He reportedly said that the message of the party's liberals is that they "hate America." Now he's hammering a Dem who didn't fault Bush sufficiently on torture as craven and inauthentic. If Kerry had taken up torture, would Klein have hailed Kerry's principled stand -- or hammered him as a weak-kneed liberal? We'll never know. Maybe Klein would have played against type and praised Kerry. Or maybe not. The point is, in a broad sense commentators like Klein routinely box Dems in: Either they're phonies who paper over their true beliefs or they're wild-eyed radicals who hate America. It's a pretty neat trick, really.

--Greg Sargent

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