Friday, July 20, 2012

The Morning News and John Cornyn: A Match Made in Fantasyland - Dallas Observer (blog)

An "op-ed" page in a newspaper -- the page opposite the editorials -- is supposed to be a kind of village square for diverse voices, but does that mean it should be a billboard for lies? The case in point today would be the op ed page of The Dallas Morning News, given over to an especially sleazy pitch by Texas Senator John Cornyn.

Cornyn's piece is a distorted campaign attack ad that doesn't belong in this forum and shouldn't see the light of day anywhere without some kind of challenge.

In his essay, Cornyn repeats the you-didn't-do-that lie about a recent speech by President Obama, then goes on to paint pictures of hard-working small business people whom he suggests the president has insulted.

The lift-out quote that Cornyn exploits, from a speech the president gave in Roanoke, Virginia on July 13, has the president apparently telling the small business people of America to kiss his ass. Here's the quote:

"If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

In his signature choir-boy au contraire style, Cornyn pivots on the president to say: "On the contrary, Mr. President, there are plenty of entrepreneurs whose success came from hard work and personal creativity, including many who live right here in Texas."

Yeah, well, let's all strain our brains and take a big guess about this. In a tightening presidential race, did Barack Obama, a master campaigner, decide to spit on small business in particular and capitalism and the American way in general? Thinking strictly in terms of life here on this particular planet, how likely is that?

Well, au contraire, the president did not spit on small business in his speech, which was instead a quite long and somewhat droning paean to the American values of hard work, self-sufficiency and cooperation. In fact, I couldn't tell from the video, but it looked to me like it was hot out that day in Roanoke, and I personally probably would not have stuck around for the whole thing, so predictably clichéd and politically campaigny it was. Maybe it's my own defect of character, but I personally happen to hate being patted on the head by people who want my vote, Republican or Democratic.

There's a decent discussion of what Obama really said on a Washington Examiner blog (but watch out for a bad headline over it). The full context is this:

We prefer our John Cornyn filtered.
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.

"The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."

Cornyn, of course, guts all of that context and gives readers only the "you-didn't-build-that" quote, then supplies a long catalogue of soapy sappy anecdotes about hard-working small business families who must be out there sniffling and whining all day long because the president has insulted them.

I do get that this is all just gotcha campaign politics as practiced by both sides. But why does The Dallas Morning News feel compelled to turn over its op-ed page to a free slasher ad for Republicans?

The attempt by the Romney campaign to hijack one line out of the president's speech and use it in smear ads has been all over the national news for a week. The Republicans already have it on T-shirts.

But at least half of that spirited discussion has been spirited rebuttal. About the best statement I have seen of the other side is on the New York Magazine blog, Daily Intel, this morning:

"The clear and obvious takeaway from the ' controversy is that it's another instance of a campaign seizing on its opponent's mangled syntax to accuse him of believing something he clearly does not believe," writes Jonathon Chait.

If anything, Chait says, the whole brouhaha reveals the extent to which political correctness has become a Republican syndrome: "To the extent that this latest gaffe debate reveals Something Larger, it's the extraordinary hyper-sensitivity surrounding the egos of the rich in our current political culture."

All I'm saying here is that you don't give Cornyn -- who is a master at unctuous sleaze anyway -- a free billboard for propagandistic distortions and then allow him to go utterly unchallenged, as if his screed is some kind of public safety bulletin from the United States Senate.

There's a right way to do it, if you're the op ed editor and you just absolutely cannot tell the Cornyn people no. You run his piece, and then right next to it you run Chait's piece or something like it.

But allowing Cornyn to appear alone like Moses down from the Mount reveals the paper's boringly predictable true colors. When push comes to shove and the rubber meets the road, they're a Republican house organ. Read it and sleep.

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