16 September 2008

The Krauthammer Doctrine: or, Charle Gibson Thinks You're Stupid

I watched one night of the Charlie Gibson interview with Governor Palin over the weekend. Gibson struck me as a tough, sometimes prosecutorial interviewer, and Palin struck me as someone with opinions rather than carefully thought-out ethical positions. Some of Gibson's questioning seemed pointless. Palin is likely to be a powerless Vice President and constitutionally can't accomplish anything in her own right except break ties in the Senate. Why, then, did Gibson ask her repeatedly what she would do about this or that issue? Why, indeed, did Palin answer?

One of the headline grabbing moments came when Gibson asked the governor if she agreed with "the Bush Doctrine." Much was made of her difficulty answering, but where I work, in a newspaper office, reporters and editors weren't sure exactly what Gibson meant. The term "Bush Doctrine" does not have as wide currency as some writers think. I'm not sure if Bush himself or his acolytes have ever formally asserted a "Doctrine" a la Monroe or Truman. But in the office we figured that Gibson, as he ultimately confirmed, meant the idea of "anticipatory self-defense," i.e. pre-emptive war a la Iraq.

In his most recent column, Charles Krauthammer informs us that Gibson doesn't know what the "Bush Doctrine" is any more than Palin does. At least Palin had the modesty to admit confusion, Krauthammer sneers, but the neocon scribe has no need for such modesty himself. He actually has some credibility on this point, since, as he boasts, Wikipedia acknowledges him as the first writer to use the term with reference to the current President, pre-September 11, 2001. But Krauthammer knows better than to assert that the "New American Unilateralism" he advocated in June 2001 is the Bush Doctrine. To complicate things, he notes that there have been four Bush Doctrines, counting the one he merely suggested to Bush.

The "second" Bush Doctrine, Krauthammer asserts, is the "with us or against us" stance of the months following the al Qaeda attacks, which was fulfilled by the invasion of Afghanistan. This was followed by the "third" Bush Doctrine, which was indeed "a doctrine of pre-emptive war." Gibson wasn't so much wrong, it seems, as obsolete.

Krauthammer's master thesis this week is that each iteration of a "Bush Doctrine" supersedes or abrogates the previous versions, so that the "fourth" and latest Bush Doctrine is the true one, the one that anyone who talks about a Bush Doctrine is obliged to mean. Model IV has been in effect since January 2005.

[T]he most sweeping formulation of Bush foreign policy [is] the one that most distinctively defines it: the idea that the fundamental mission of American foreign policy is to spread democracy throughout the world. It was most dramatically enunciated in Bush's second inaugural address: 'The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the survival of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.'

"If I were in any public foreign policy debate today," Krauthammer suggests, "and my adversary were to raise the Bush doctrine, both I and the audience would assume -- unless my interlocutor annotated the reference otherwise -- that he was speaking about Bush's grandly proclaimed (and widely attacked) freedom agenda. Not the Gibson doctrine of pre-emption"

Note the sophistry. First, Krauthammer is pretty much purposefully confusing policy and propaganda. Second, he identifies an allegedly obsolete Bush policy as the "Gibson doctrine" as if the ABC interviewer had made it up to smear Bush, after attributing to Bush a "doctrine" that existed only in Krauthammer's own head. It makes the mind reel.

Worse yet, all of this was just a set-up for the most predictable punchline of this political season. Since we're dealing with a conservative columnist, it was inevitable that we'd get to how someone "thinks you're stupid." Here's Krauthammer's version.

Yes, Palin didn't know what it is. But neither does Gibson. At least she didn't pretend to know -- while he looked down his nose and over his glasses with weary disdain, 'sounding like an impatient teacher,' as the [New York] Times noted. In doing so, he captured perfectly the establishment snobbery and intellectual condescension that has characterized the chattering classes' reaction to the phenom who presumes to play on their stage.

Krauthammer had better be careful. He used some big words there. People like Maggie Gallagher might not know which side he's on

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