Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Soderberg: I Was Only Kidding! (reprint from WSJ)

A complete copy of a piece of Taranto's Best of the Web WSJ column today I love it!

Well, it seems we started something with our item Wednesday about erstwhile Clinton aide Nancy Soderberg's interview on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." As you'll recall, Soderberg was appearing to promote her anti-Bush book "The Superpower Myth," but instead she and Stewart spent most of the interview talking about how amazingly well the president's Mideast policy is working out and how troubling this success is to Democrats.

The Washington Times, The Weekly Standard and Rush Limbaugh (in a subscription-only page on his site, alas) all picked it up. Now there's a backlash from some on the left, including bloggers Eric Alterman and Mark Francis, both of whom say Soderberg is only joking.

Alterman: "Not only are the denizens of the conservative media too dumb to get the joke, they embarked on an immediate media jihad to burn They [sic] now have their proof that Nancy, indeed, all liberals, hate America." Francis: "Taranto, who, having admitted that he saw the show, must have known the truth, and wrote a slanderous piece anyway."

So we're getting lectured on humor by Eric Alterman, the male equivalent of Nancy Hopkins? And somehow it's "slanderous" to provide an accurate transcript of something someone said? (Actually, we did make one mistake: We thought we heard Stewart say "Baathists" when in fact he said "bad-asses.") Well, whatever. We assumed our readers were smart enough to figure out that there is a jocose element to the programming on Comedy Central. In any case, anyone who wants to evaluate all this for himself can watch the video here.

Soderberg herself showed up on C-Span Thursday, and a caller who'd read our item asked about her comments. Soderberg said the whole thing was no more than a bit of tomfoolery:

This is a comedy show. We were joking about the dilemma of Jon Stewart having criticized the Bush administration over the last four years--what does he do now? And we were joking back and forth. I think anyone who follows the Democratic Party knows that they want America to succeed and President Bush to succeed. It's completely a missed context that the article from The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Of course, [I] welcome the opportunity to rebut that. There's nothing better that Democrats would like than to see peace in the Middle East, nonproliferation. What I argue in the book is the last four years of the Bush administration have failed to advance those agendas, and I welcome what appears to be a shift in the administration right now to take those issues on with more realistic policies. And of course, I want them to succeed, so thank you for that question.

Let it be known, then, that Soderberg wants America to succeed. Actually, she said as much in the Comedy Central interview, and we quoted it: "As a Democrat, you don't want anything nice to happen to the Republicans, and you don't want them to have progress. But as an American, you hope good things would happen."

To our ear, this was a candid admission of ambivalence. As a patriotic American she wants her country to succeed. But as a partisan Democrat, she doesn't like to see Republicans do well--and, although she didn't make this point explicitly, she is invested in an ideological worldview that is under challenge from reality. In our opinion, she's not a bad person but a good person struggling to overcome bad ideas.

The it-was-only-a-joke line we're hearing from Alterman, Francis and Soderberg herself, though, is just too simplistic to take seriously. Why would it be funny to suggest that Democrats are hoping for America to fail--as Soderberg did four times--unless there's an element of truth to it?

Update: Taranto hits this topic again today. In particular I like an email he got from Eric Axelson that I think rings true and sadly for both sides of the isle:

As a Democratic elected official in the 1980s I had a similar response to any of Ronald Reagan's initiatives. I can recall a sinking feeling as the stock market took off in late 1982, worrying that Reagan would get credit. Or being peeved that the Grenada invasion was so successful. Or that Reagan engineered the tax reform that Bill Bradley and Dick Gephardt had staked out. And conversely, when the Iran-contra scandal blew up I was delighted that Reagan would be brought down a peg (although Oliver North pretty much cleaned the clocks of the lawyers and congressional inquisitors in his testimony). The bottom line for us partisan Democrats back then (as now) was that if it was good for Reagan (even if also good for the country) we opposed, belittled, quibbled, nattered and otherwise sought to diminish.

It was only well after Reagan had left office that I began to see how successful and far-reaching his policies actually were. In the 1990s I began to annoy my leftist friends by stating the obvious, that Reagan was the most successful U.S. president since FDR. And it was only a relatively short ideological journey (helped along by Clinton's feckless policies and corruption) to embrace the policies of President Bush that are engendering freedom in places that have known only tyranny.

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