Greg Sargent, formerly of Talking Points Memo, and now of the Washington Post (make of that what you will; I know what conclusions I draw), informs us that Democrats coulda, woulda, shoulda won the 2004 election. That they didn’t, is thanks not to the fact that John Kerry was an awful Presidential candidate, or that John Edwards was an awful Vice Presidential candidate, or that there were more fights within the Kerry campaign than there were during the Normandy campaign (I exaggerate, but perhaps not as much as some might think), or that the Kerry campaign was cursed with the presence of Bob Shrum. Rather, the Democrats’ failure to capture the White House in 2004 is attributable to . . . are you sitting down? . . . the fact that Jane Harman, a Democratic Representative from California who would have headed up the House Intelligence Committee in the aftermath of the 2006 midterms were it not for Nancy Pelosi’s disapproval, got the New York Times to kill a story concerning the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping policy, which was supposed to have come out during 2004.
There are so many things wrong with this hypothesis that one wonders where to begin. First of all, while there was no discussion concerning warrantless wiretapping, there was plenty of discussion about the Patriot Act, and about how the Bush Administration was supposedly curbing our liberties. The Patriot Act served very well as grist for the outrage mill on the port side of the political equation, and Democrats flogged the issue to death in the hope that it would inspire the populace to rebel at the ballot box against the supposedly Stalinist ways of the Bush Administration. There was no dearth of attention paid to Bush Administration policies concerning domestic security, the ways those policies supposedly infringed on the rights of the citizenry, our alleged loss of privacy, free speech, free assembly . . . you get the drill.
This attempt at stirring up outrage failed, of course, and part of the reason it failed is that while the Democrats went into the 2004 Presidential campaign with massive amounts of passion, they lacked a commensurate amount of intelligent and competent campaign leadership. John Kerry’s campaign, impressive in dispatching his rivals for the Democratic nomination, was shockingly inept and matching and defeating President Bush’s battle-tested, smart, talented, adroit campaign operation (yes, once upon a time, Republicans were good at electoral politics and won battles at the ballot box with shocking regularity. How times have changed!). Time after time after time, the Kerry people found themselves out-thought, outfoxed, outmaneuvered and utterly overwhelmed when it came to the day-to-day hand-to-hand combat that occurred between the campaigns. They were no match whatsoever for the Bushies. Things got so bad, that after the fall campaign started, the leadership of the Kerry campaign was almost completely overturned in favor of veterans from the Clinton wars. And even they couldn’t save John Kerry or John Edwards.
Gee, think that the ineptitude of the Kerry campaign may have had more to do with John Kerry’s defeat in 2004 than did Jane Harman’s supposed effort to kill the Times story concerning warrantless wiretapping? No? Then take a look at the very statement from Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis that Sargent quotes as evidence for his claim, and see whether you find it convincing:
Congresswoman Harman spoke to Washington Bureau Chief Phil Taubman in late October or early November, 2004, apparently at the request of General Hayden. She urged that The Times not publish the story. She did not speak to me, and I don’t remember her being a significant factor in my decision. In 2005, when we were getting ready to publish, Phil met with a group of congressional leaders familiar with the eavesdropping program, including Ms. Harman. They all argued that The Times should not publish. The Times published the story a few days later.
So . . . Mathis tells us that she never talked to Harman, and that she doesn’t “remember [Harman] being a significant factor in [her] decision” to kill the story. From this, Sargent concludes that Harman held the Times at bay in 2004 and prevented the Times from publishing the story on warrantless wiretapping?
When he’s not busy calling for the impeachment–even now–of everyone ever associated with the Bush Administration and family (this would presumably include the Bush twins, George Bush the Elder, Barbara Bush, and Barney the dog), Brad DeLong is fond of telling us (over and over and over and over and over again) that the Washington Post only has five years left in it. Sargent’s example may yet prove DeLong right.