Politics & Media
Oct 06, 2008, 08:03AM

Wall Street Journal Throws a Tantrum

Sometimes it doesn't matter if you're right; if you throw a hissy fit on an editorial page, no one is going to listen.

In a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal pointed out several egregious mistakes uttered by Joe Biden during last Thursday's Vice Presidential debate. In doing so, though, the WSJ blows its top and ends up looking rather silly.

First, the good stuff:

Start with Lebanon, where Mr. Biden asserted that "When we kicked -- along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, 'Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don't know -- if you don't, Hezbollah will control it.' Now what's happened? Hezbollah is a legitimate part of the government in the country immediately to the north of Israel." The U.S. never kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, and no one else has either. Perhaps Mr. Biden meant to say Syria, except that the U.S. also didn't do that. The Lebanese ousted Syria's military in 2005. As for NATO, Messrs. Biden and Obama may have proposed sending alliance troops in, but if they did that was also a fantasy. The U.S. has had all it can handle trying to convince NATO countries to deploy to Afghanistan.

This is a serious slip-up from Biden, and I feel it deserves clarification. This is a clear-cut misstatement. But the editorial then ventures off into the vague area of semantics—where you sometimes take a candidate’s words literally and sometimes you don't.

On Afghanistan, Biden argued that an Iraq-style surge would not work. For the WSJ,  "Mr. Biden's claim was the bigger error, because General McKiernan said that while 'Afghanistan is not Iraq,' he also said a 'sustained commitment' to counterinsurgency would be required. That is consistent with Mr. McCain's point that the 'surge principles' of Iraq could work in Afghanistan."

OK, we can give this one to McCain, on the basis of the word "principle." McCain isn't saying we should carbon-copy the Iraq surge in Afghanistan. Fair enough. But right after this jab, the editorial uses that defense—the "you're selectively choosing you history" line—as an attack (emphasis added):

Or how about his rewriting of Bosnia history to assert that John McCain didn't support President Clinton in the 1990s. "My recommendations on Bosnia, I admit I was the first one to recommend it. They saved tens of thousands of lives. And initially John McCain opposed it along with a lot of other people. But the end result was it worked."

The WSJ hollers that McCain and Bob Dole, among others, did support this bill. Biden said they initially opposed it. Sure, it's not a very modest statement (Biden isn't known for modesty, or tact), but the word "initially" is more than capable of defusing the WSJ's argument. It's a straight-up inverse of the defense the editorial uses for McCain over surge policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If the editorial had ended with this last item, it wouldn't have been so transparent. But the writer felt it necessary to sum up thus:

We think the word "lie" is overused in politics today, having become a favorite of the blogosphere and at the New York Times. So we won't say Mr. Biden was deliberately making events up when he made these and other false statements. Perhaps he merely misspoke. In any case, Mrs. Palin may not know as much about the world as Mr. Biden does, but at least most of what she knows is true.

A shot at the blogophere and The New York Times? Someone just got a free muffin from Dunkin' Donuts.

To attempt to counter Biden's gaffes with Palin's supposed world knowledge is simply disingenuous. From completely incoherent statements on the economy to claiming foreign policy experience comes from proximity (even though Biden's state of Delaware is closer to Moscow than Alaska...), the WSJ sinks its argument with the comparison.

There are plenty of ways to criticize the Obama-Biden ticket. Using Sarah Palin as a counter-example is not one of them.

  • I wouldn't call the WSJ a tantrum, unless you think they throw tantrums six days a week. You're probably right, Andrew, that WSJ overstates Palin's case (although I thought they damned her with faint praise), but putting the New York Times and the blogosphere together for using the word "lie" is accurate. After all, where do you think most left-leaning blogs get their material? Not from the Journal.

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  • While I take issue with this editorial, I agree that there is a decided lack of WSJ-linking the blogosphere.

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  • Actually, the conservative blogs link the Journal and National Review a lot. And that's the question everyone has no answer for: if the mainstream dailies continue to decline, where will the blogs (and television stations) get their material from?

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