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Brooks Channels Disinformation

I'll admit, David Brooks' claim today that Senator Reid had offered Frist a secret codicil to his deal on judges, under which he agreed that the Democrats would not filibuster a Bush Supreme Court nomination, gave me a second's pause in my assessment of Reid's tactical genius. (Brooks claims to have been "reliably informed" that Reid told Frist he would deliver the three or four votes necessary to overcome a filibuster on a Supreme Court nominee, but wouldn't put it in writing because the liberal interest groups would get hold of it, and that Frist ignored the offer. Brooks maintains his above-it-all stance by gently scolding Frist for not taking the deal.)

But then I remembered that when I said something nice about Brooks, I was bombarded with e-mails and comments attempting to demonstrate his essential dishonesty. I think this is proof of that -- either dishonesty or simply gullibility in channeling plain old disinformation.

Reid may not be as smart as I gave him credit for, but imagine how unlikely it is that he would have offered to grease the way for the next Supreme Court nomination: He doesn't know who the nominee is, unlike most of the other judicial nominations at issue. He can't make such a promise because he can't know whether he can deliver on it. And making such a promise would be an invitation to bring on the worst possible nominee, from the Democrats' point of view. While Reid might have been able to keep the alleged offer secret from Nan Aron and Ralph Neas, it wouldn't be secret from the White House. And if Judge Janice Rogers Brown is a little scary, folks, meet Justice Janice Rogers Brown, here to repeal that "socialist revolution" that put us all in "slavery" about 70 years ago.

If Reid were forced to actually deliver on such a promise, it would not just be an ill-advised squishy compromise, it would be the end of his leadership of the Democratic minority, and a debacle for the party.

As disinformation, however, it makes sense. It undermines Reid at a moment when he's riding high. It helps spin the rightwing storyline that the Democratic Party is in thrall to interest groups that take a harder line than the elected members do. And it helps stir up tensions between those outside groups and the congressional party.

It's an interesting tactic, worthy of the master, but Brooks either should have been able to see through it, or chose not to.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on May 2, 2005 | Permalink


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I have no inside information, nor do I have any familiarity with how the Brooks column is playing in Washington, but it struck me as win/win for Reid, as long as the offer was completely disingenuous. I think we are past the point where making dishonest promises would poison the atmosphere in the Senate, and in my opinion Senator Reid would be justified in offering this promise with no intention of following through, but as a way to make Frist befuddled.

Posted by: theCoach | May 2, 2005 11:29:13 AM

I don't have any inside information either, but I do have this news article from Friday that reads exactly the opposite - Frist proposed that compromise and Reid rejected it.

I'm finding it somewhat odd that no mainstream bloggers have picked up on this - am I misreading the story or is Brooks such an incompetent sower of misinformation he can't even read his own paper?

Posted by: Ryan | May 2, 2005 12:46:17 PM

My tinfoil hat reading of the situation was that some non-Frist Senator who has presidential ambitions (probably either Allen or Brownback) would want to leak that Frist compromised in order to damage Frist.

But, no one realy knows.

I to am skeptical that Reid would ever take such a deal. It's possible that he made a deal and promised to "try" to corral enough Dem Senators to end the filibuster. Of course, he could always "try" and fail ...

Posted by: Electoral Math | May 2, 2005 2:07:36 PM

My take on Reid, is that he was probably trying to feel out the contours that may be deemed acceptable, but without committing to anything, as would seem to be backed up by not having anything in writing. It would also be in Reid's interest, I would think, to go fishing for answers to what exactly Frist was willing to do without ever really intending to follow through.
Is this news playing out badly for Reid or for Frist (all my news comes from the Decembrist and a handful of firendly sites)? If so what where is the trouble coming from?

Posted by: theCoach | May 2, 2005 2:50:14 PM

I finger Hagel as the leaker, myself. His comments on CBS were quite similar to Brooks' comments about the Senate regaining its prerogatives vis-a-vis the groups.

Posted by: praktike | May 2, 2005 3:42:53 PM

I'm sure that Reid is looking for a deal, but there's no way Democrats, who have been surprisingly united since the election, would go for a deal like the one Brooks describes. Right now, Democrats have all (or most) of the political momentum. Social security privatization is going nowhere, the Republicans looked extreme on the Schiavo case, and the silent majority of moderate Americans are recoiling from the moral absolutism that seems to have taken hold of the GOP mainstream (not least because the evangelical base is seeking compensation for Bush's victory). So why would they cave in on this? Answer: they wouldn't. And Brooks was, intentionally or not, spreading disinformation.

This shouldn't surprise us. I generally find Brooks to be one of the more thoughtful conservative pundits out there. To my liberal sensibilities, he's much more palatable than die-hard Red Staters or the loudmouths who pollute the conservative airwaves. What I think we forget, though, is that Brooks is a partisan Republican, not an independent. Consider this quote from a 2003 piece in The Weekly Standard:

When conservatives look at the newspapers, they see liberal columnists who pick out every tiny piece of evidence or pseudo-evidence of Republican vileness, and then dwell on it and obsess over it until they have lost all perspective and succumbed to fevers of incoherent rage." Oh, really? Is this just a "liberal" problem?

And consider this gem from yesterday's column:

"If you are leading one of the greatest democratic institutions in history, it's irresponsible to lead it into this bloody unknown if a deal on the table will give you much of what you want. As one senator who supports changing the filibuster rules says, 'Is this what you want on your obit?'"

Brooks's framing of the debate is astonishingly partisan. It's designed to make the Democrats look bad, no matter what. If they cave in, they lose. If they don't, they look like destroyers of "one of the greatest democratic institutions in history".

I've often given Brooks the benefit of the doubt, but this effort to discredit the Democrats is unpardonable.


Posted by: Michael J.W. Stickings | May 2, 2005 4:51:26 PM

Mark, you're still giving Brooks too much credit. "Chose not to" see through it? How about "was delighted to have the chance to advance" such a smear, and his own standing in the mighty Wurlitzer at the same time?

Posted by: Steady Eddie | May 2, 2005 5:49:43 PM

Right on, Steady Eddie, but where's Armando when we need him.

Posted by: Ellen1910 | May 2, 2005 10:07:20 PM

Got oil?


Posted by: Ahmad Chalabi | May 3, 2005 1:00:22 AM

Nice job. Added you to the blogroll. More on the fright that is Janice Brown here.

Posted by: The Heretik | May 3, 2005 8:24:24 AM

Come on ... connect the dots.

NYT comes out with a "Frist Offers Compromise on Judicial Posts" (thanks for the link Ryan) on April 29th. Brooks pens column published May 1st citing "reliable sources" that Reid wants to compromise.

Hmmm, think someone thought that first article didn't look so good, so they used Brooks to muddy the waters?

Posted by: pebird | May 5, 2005 3:00:47 PM

Erm...is it too much to ask you moonbats to substantiate, to counter with facts, your clain that Brooks is "lying" about this and that?

For example, If the future ratio of workers-to-retirees under SS is not approaching 2 to 1, then what is it, and what is the source for your number?

Bottom line: All I see is one empty assertion after another, passed off as withering riposte.

Unfortunately this is what passes for discourse and argumentation among Kossites.

Posted by: fulldroolcup | Jun 26, 2006 10:59:55 AM