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The Joe Klein Self-Massacre Continues... (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

One of the most amazing thing about America's hackiest journamalists is that they do not understand that their past writings are now on line. It used to be somewhat "clever"--or at least rhetorically effective--to misrepresent what you had said in the past, as long as you were one of the few people with a megaphone, and as long as your past clippings were buried in library basements where they were hard to find and where those who found them did not have access to the megaphones.

The world has changed.

Now it is just stupid and pathetic to misrepresent what you said in the past. Yet Joe Klein does it:

Let's turn the mike over to Greg Sargent:

Horses Mouth March 22, 2007 02:47 PM: Joe Klein takes Eric Alterman to task because he dug up a Klein quote from The New Yorker in 2000 and posted it on his Altercation blog: "Quote of the Day: 'Given the circumstances, there is only one possible governing strategy [for George W. Bush]: a quiet, patient, and persistent bipartisanship.' -- Joe Klein, The New Yorker."

Klein says that this demonstrates that Alterman is "still after me" and "still pathetic," then rejoins: "But I was right about that, wasn't I? Bush's idiotic right-wing governing strategy has turned out to be a historic failure, no?"

Klein pretends that what he said was that a "quiet, patient, and persistent bipartisanship" would be wise. That's not what he said: he said that "quiet, patient, and persistent bipartisanship" was inevitable, and that as a result there "will be no $1.3 trillion tax cut," that as a result the "winning coalition [on each issue] will be built from the center out," that as a result reality "will force the next President to extricate himself, on occasion, from the influence of his party's traditional interests."

Sargent has the context of the quote:

[T]he election's most important political lesson has been obscured, and may be lost, in the process: the need for humble and conciliatory leadership at a moment of clearly defined, if not philosophically profound, national division...

No matter the eventual outcome, the next President will struggle to establish his political authority. Given the circumstances, there is only one possible governing strategy: a quiet, patient, and persistent bipartisanship. This means that almost all the extravagant promises made during the campaign just ended are now officially inoperative. There will be no $1.3 trillion tax cut....

The winning coalition is likely to shift with each vote, but each coalition will be built from the center out. Building and rebuilding these coalitions will be a daunting political task, but also a potentially liberating one-political necessity will force the next President to extricate himself, on occasion, from the influence of his party's traditional interests. The bullies and extremists who have populated the congressional leadership of both parties -- not just conservative ideologues, like Tom DeLay, of Texas, but also obdurate liberals, like David Bonior, of Michigan -- could find themselves abandoned by moderate backbenchers more willing to compromise.

George Bush might seem better suited to this new political landscape than Al Gore.

Now if Joe Klein were setting out de novo to convince me that he is a mendacious hack, this is how to do it: to pretend that my past writings said something different than they actually did, and to do so in a context in which checking the real context is absolutely trivial.

Sargent goes on:

But here's the thing. The point isn't even so much whether Klein was right or wrong six years ago. I'm raising this in all sincerity to ask a larger question: Why is this "pathetic"? Why does Klein tend to react so violently when people quote his past work? I mean, if you're a pundit, you should want people to think your opinions are important enough to engage....

[L]iberals clearly think Klein is influential enough to be argued with -- often -- and hence quote his past work in doing so. Why does this seem to get Klein so ticked off so often? After all, the very premise of the pundit enterprise is that you get paid big money to tell people what to think because thanks to your superior interpretive powers, your opinions matter. You can't expect people to take your opinions seriously while simultaneously being a bad sport when people hold your words to account. On the other hand, if you think your opinions shouldn't be weighed against history, why be a pundit in the first place?