Dick Polman’s Skewed, Left-Partisan History Lesson

-By Warner Todd Huston

Dick Polman is a long time Philly columnist and extreme left-winger that rarely makes any attempt to seem “fair and balanced,” so it isn’t surprising that his latest attempt at prescient punditry is a plaintive plea for the Democrats to chill out and just get along so that they can beat the “septuagenarian” McCain. But, his piece is so filled with horribly misconstrued historical analysis that it is hard to let him slide and mark it up solely as another forgettable example of the kind of partisan claptrap most of his work turns out to be. But, with the sort of half informed historical analysis he indulges in to cajole people to vote for the Democrats, this latest piece is too dishonest to just let it slide by. If anything calls for a fisking, this one does.

Polman starts his lamentably bad history lesson with this taunt to the Democrats.

If the Democrats somehow contrive to blow this presidential election, they should be consigned to the dustbin of history – or to a display case at the Smithsonian, where perhaps they can share space with the Whigs.

To which I say, heck, if the Democrats weren’t consigned to the dustbin of history after supporting slavery, starting a civil war, losing that war after 620,000 Americans died, supporting Jim Crow, supporting Japanese internment, continuing to support Jim Crow, fighting civil rights, and building a failed and expensive socialist state, a little primary fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is certainly not going to do them much harm!

Polman uses the Whig party’s demise to set up his last line, though, so we’ll revisit that canard a little later.

Here is his first paragraph of “substance.”

Seriously, think about it. The economy is tanking, yet their autumn opponent, John McCain is on record saying, “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should.” The Iraq war continues to kill our kids and bleed us to the tune of $3 billion a week, yet McCain, who sometimes confuses the Sunnis with the Shiites, remains its unapologetic cheerleader. Meanwhile, nearly 80 percent of the American people think the country is on the wrong track – a legacy of the current Republican president, who now has the highest disapproval rating (69 percent) in the history of the Gallup poll.

He starts by saying “seriously” then proceeds to prove that nothing he says can be so taken.

The economy is tanking? Hardly. In the days of saner considerations of economic analysis 5 percent unemployment was considered full employment — reason being that some small number will always be unemployed and others are bound to be in transition between jobs. Today our unemployment rate for March 2008 stands at 5.1 percent. If a .1 percentage point stands between full employment and a “tanking” economy… well, it just shows that Polman is playing quite loose with reality. Certainly we have some troubles with our economy, but “tanking” it ain’t. (I will skip over his point about McCain. As it happens, I agree with his point there)

Next Polman gets on his partisan express and rides it straight to Mother-Shehan junction with “The Iraq war continues to kill our kids.” First of all, Dick, our “kids”? No, these are the MEN and WOMEN of our armed forces. They are NOT infantalized “kids.” They are upstanding people who will come home ashamed of defeatists and terror sympathizers like you. And second of all, the numbers we’ve lost in Iraq pale in comparison to just about any of our other wars. A little perspective is called for when assessing our efforts in Iraq. We’ve now lost less than 4,000 troops in 4 years of involvement, but our past wars were far bloodier. General Grant, for instance, lost nearly 4,000 men in under an hour at Cold Harbor, Virginia in the last years of the Civil War. We lost thousands of men a month in WWII and hundreds a week in Vietnam at one point or another. Of course it’s horrible to lose even one of our servicemen, but under 4,000 in four years is a feat unheard of in war. Heck, we lost about 1,000 a year during Bill Clinton’s peacetime years in office! So, we are not being “bled” in Iraq. Saying so is unhinged, uninformed, and destroys the morale of the very men and women you act as if you care about, Polman.

His next claim, that “80 percent of the American people think the country is on the wrong track,” is not as much a “legacy” of the GOP as it is the result of the false reporting by the media that is constantly brow beating the American people day in and day out. And I noticed he doesn’t show us the even worse approval rating of his beloved Democrat controlled Congress while he notes the president’s low ratings. It’s approaching 70 percent negatives, by the way.

In the next paragraph, Polman falls back on the partisan swipe that McCain is too old by saying that he is “traipsing around the nation… blissfully unscathed and husbanding his septuagenarian strengths.” This is just an exercise in name-calling as opposed to substance.

Next after saying we are in “bad times” (a ridiculous, partisan overstatement as I explained above) Polman gives us the misleading quote of lefty political junkie Larry Sabato that can easily be misunderstood.

Given all the baggage bequeathed by George W. Bush, and the voters’ traditional preference for a fresh start in bad times, one could not conjure a better Democratic environment, at least in theory. As Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, put it the other day, “based on 220 years of precedent, a McCain win would be a striking repudiation of American history, since no presidential candidate of a two-term incumbent party has ever been elected under this set of severely adverse conditions.”

Sabato’s claims are very misleading and does not really hold true for the entire “220 years” of our nation’s history. For the first 100 years of our political history, for instance, the national parties were in such flux that they were hard pressed to even outlive two terms of ANY president without materially changing much less be there ready to succed themselves after 8 years. The Whig party (1833 to 1856) was never a strong, national party in the first place so using them as an example implying stability or longevity enough to fit the criteria of trending is not a good idea. The Democrats changed names several times before they settled in for the long haul with the election of Andrew Jackson. The Republicans didn’t even exist until 1854. Then between 1860 and 1933, only two Democrats even got into the White House (three if you count Cleveland twice), so it is a bit hard to say that the parties seesawed back and forth in the eyes of the people who were electing presidents (the use Polman is putting it to). To say that Sabato’s simple 220 year point is a truism is not really a good review of our electoral history. It’s really only been true since 1933. Then add that “adverse conditions” is so subjective and you get a practically worthless statement. It’s all just such bad history reduced to soundbites without perspective.

Now Polman’s fifth paragraph is really his only message. He could have just printed this and left all the skewed, partisan hackery disguised as “historical analysis” out of the thing. It would have been a lot more merciful to the readers, for sure.

The Democrats, so bedazzled by the choice between a black man and a woman, have been joyfully anticipating that they would write the history of 2008. But if they don’t get their act together with all deliberate speed, and tame their latest impulse for self-destruction (last seen in 1968 and 1980), then it is McCain and the Republicans who will be making history this year.

It’s the “can’t we all just get along” plea and it is all Polman really has to say in this mess. Unfortunately, despite good sense he continues on.

For his next trick — and that’s “trick” in the sense of prostituting integrity as opposed to any sort of magic:

Presumably, once the Democrats are training their fire at McCain rather than at each other, they can drive down his poll numbers by reminding swing voters that he’s not just a war hero – that, in fact, he has supported the privatization of Social Security (a Bush fiasco that was scrapped in 2005); that he’s a free-trader with little concern for protecting domestic workers; that he now wants to make permanent the Bush tax cuts for the affluent, the same tax cuts he once voted against; that he opposes universal health care; that he wants to cut corporate taxes, a move that would cost the U.S. Treasury an estimated $100 billion a year; that he has been wearing rose-colored glasses on Iraq ever since 2002, when the Bush team started beating the drums for war.

Polman calls the privatization of Soc. Sec. a “Bush fiasco” as if the voters forced the president to retreat from the idea. However, this is not the case. It was a “fiasco” but only because Bush was so tepid and unwilling to really fight for the idea, not because it was a bad idea, or had failed with the American people. In fact, the idea was never effectively put before the American people at all because the Democrat Party torpedoed it and Bush didn’t bother to fight for it. So, to say “fiasco” is not really trenchant in as much as it was never an idea tested before the people. Of course, we all know that being against free-trade is code for burying American business in union corruption, but that is a true dividing point between the political parties, so it is a legitimate point as far as that goes. Ditto for the tax-the-rich foolishness that Polman wallows in here. But, it is once again a straight out lie that the Bush tax cuts were merely “tax cuts for the affluent.” That is just a plain out lie and he knows it. Lastly with this polemical pap-agraph, he offers no notice that the Surge policy in Iraq has worked, policies that most Americans are satisfied with. He claims that McCain sees Iraq with “rose-colored glasses,” but any logical look at Iraq today would force a reasoned reporter to himself be reaching for those rosy spectacles because Iraq is looking more like a success every day — as any member of Congress who goes there comes back saying, by the way.

Polman’s we’ve-already-lost meme is not one that most Americans agree with nor appreciate. It is, however, the defeatist line that the extremists in the Democrat Party have adopted, and illegitimately so at that. Despite how messy Iraq has been, we are doing quite well now. To discount what is happening on the ground is irresponsible, and their investment in defeat is unconscionable, but it is de rigueur for the Democrat Party. That self-destructive desire to lose is in itself enough that it should lose them the election for anyone who truly loves this country. It is also ignorant of the messy wars we’ve been involved with in the past and handily won in the end.

His next paragraph features a claim that 30 percent of the electorate in Reagan’s day were “hard-core conservatives.” It is hard to take that claim seriously. What does Polman mean by “hard-core,” anyway? Reagan created landslide elections because he brought in millions of traditional-leaning Democrats into the folds of the GOP tent. But, as to any “hard-core” anything, it is difficult to claim that the American electorate has many “hard-cores” of any stripe, much less 30 percent of an electorate worth!

Polman then indulges in some hardly original analysis of how Clinton’s and Obama’s bloody primary fight is everyday making both of them less appealing to the voters and hopes that the super-delegates will end the whole mess by making a choice “decisively” one way or the other. Maybe, maybe not. This isn’t any kind of new, keen insight, naturally, but it is what the lefties are all saying. It shows that they are, indeed, worried that McCain will sweep in like a thief in the night and “steal” this election from the “rightful” winners in the Democrat Party.

Polman can’t end his piece without one more sorry attempt at making his banal analysis seem “historical” with his last paragraph, though.

Democrats are probably in no mood to take advice from a founding Republican, but Abe Lincoln’s famous warning to the nation seems apt at the moment. He said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” And he would know. He was instrumental in consigning the fractious Whigs to the dustbin of history.

While it might sound all “literate” and cool and smart an’ stuff to be invoking Lincoln, it is a bit ridiculous to claim that Lincoln was somehow “instrumental in consigning the fractious Whigs to the dustbin of history.” While it is just not a true statement to say he was “instrumental,” it is true that Lincoln was at the forefront of trying to build the new party that would become the Republican Party, at least here in (what was then) the west. The Whig Party, though, was never a very strong national party in the first place. It should be remembered that they were only able to affect the election of two presidents — and that only by mostly avoiding campaigning on the issues. Fractious is indeed a perfect description of their history.

What Polman seems not to know is that Lincoln, while a past member of the Whig party, didn’t run for president as a Republican until three years after the Whig party was finally a dead deal and he didn’t join the GOP until his second round of office seeking began. At first, he actually hoped to reinvigorate the Whigs because he already had a comfortable leadership role in the Illinois Whig Party. And he certainly wasn’t at the forefront nationally of the campaign to build the GOP brand. He absolutely was not on any campaign to destroy the Whigs to the point where he can be assumed to have deliberately “consigned” the Whigs to any dustbins anywhere. So, in the case of the Whig demise, Lincoln did little for “consigning” it to anything, he just happened to be there at the end of the Whig’s lifespan and was successful in helping a new party to develop by switching from Whig to Republican when his Illinois compatriots did so.

Heck, Lincoln wasn’t even the first Republican nominee for president. General John C. “The Pathfinder” Fremont holds that distinction from back in 1856. And showing he was no national leader at the time, Lincoln opposed Fremont’s candidacy but the GOP wasn’t listening to him then. It’s just bad history to claim that Lincoln was the party pooper for the Whigs, a party that was politically dead before Lincoln came anywhere near the White House. Even when Lincoln outmaneuvered Party strongmen (like William Seward who later became his Sec. of State) to become president in 1860, most of the party bigwigs weren’t very familiar with him. They certainly didn’t see him as the kind of leader that could be thought responsible for putting a nail in the Whig Party’s coffin.

My guess is that Polman just called up the sad excuse for history that is the Lincoln entry at Wikiepedia and because some nitwit there said Lincoln was “instrumental” in forming the GOP, he just went with it and expanded upon it. You know, it’s easier to use Wikipedia than do any REAL research!

But, then again, why should Polman’s faulty historical analysis get any better with the last paragraph than it was with the first?

(Photo credit: WWW.Philly.com)

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer, has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and is featured on many websites such as newsbusters.org, townhall.com, New Media Journal, Men’s News Daily and the New Media Alliance among many, many others. Additionally, he has been a frequent guest on talk-radio programs to discuss his opinion editorials and current events. He has also written for several history magazines and appears in the new book “Americans on Politics, Policy and Pop Culture” which can be purchased on amazon.com. He is also the owner and operator of publiusforum.com. Feel free to contact him with any comments or questions : EMAIL Warner Todd Huston

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