Bush, GOP stole election
But they did it fair and square
 By Gene Lyons

The danger of irony is that simple souls often can't tell when you're joking.
Others, however, merely feign witlessness for partisan purposes.

    Last week, Unsolicited Opinions Inc. nominated a tongue-in-cheek letter by a Fayetteville reader
for a fictitious award. Next thing you know, its proprietor found himself labeled as one of several
"fellow travelers in sedition" in the conservative National Review. Sedition, no less. All this for making
light of president-select George W. Bush's prized "legitimacy."
    Standards of intellectual honesty being what they are among Washington pundits, I wasn't too shocked
to see my remarks selectively quoted in such a manner as to change their meaning. A bit more surprising
was the author's identity: veteran right-wing pamphleteer William F. Buckley.

    At issue was a Voices correspondent's sarcastic vow to treat Bush exactly the way Republicans
treated Bill Clinton. But Buckley left that part out.
    "In Little Rock," he informed his readers, "the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publishes a weekly column
by Gene Lyons, who hosts an annual event designed to elicit 'wit, irony or sarcasm for humane purposes.'
Mr. Lyons quotes as 'hard to surpass' a proffered pledge of allegiance by one Paul Kirkpatrick:
'I will bad-mouth the president daily, I will work in whatever small way I can to defeat and undermine
his programs and agenda, I will believe every scurrilous lie told about him and I will criticize and ridicule
his wife and children at every opportunity.' Mr. Lyons brings to mind the line by the critic Guy Davenport:
'Sometimes, on reading Goethe, one has the paralyzing suspicion that he thinks he's being funny.' "

    Now it's possible Buckley misunderstood the bit about a make-believe organization giving an imaginary award.
Also possible that it wasn't all that funny, although almost anything tops a Goethe joke.
    But there's no explaining away Buckley's deliberate omission of context for the obvious purpose of altering
an ironic quip into a defiant challenge. You'd like to think an experienced controversialist like Buckley would
have both sufficient wit and too much pride for such a cheap trick. Alas, he has neither. Not long ago,
Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly got caught pulling the same stunt on MSNBC commentator
Paul Begala--first yanking a quote out of context to reverse its meaning, then attacking a straw man of
his own invention. I thought that was shameful enough. Now this from the patrician Mr. Buckley.

    O tempora, o mores! Time was when such shenanigans wouldn't have been tolerated. Journalists used
to get disciplined or fired for stuff like that. Today they're given magazines like Atlantic Monthly to edit.
    Nor is Buckley apt to get scolded by the magazine he founded. One of these days, when your humble,
obedient servant gets around to publishing my long-postponed Theory of Everything, it'll be shown that
like every other bad thing since 1992, it's all Bill Clinton's fault. Indeed, the proximate cause of Buckley's
spleen was an offhand remark Clinton made to the effect that Al Gore campaign director "Bill Daley ran
the first presidential campaign in history that was so clearly winning, a court had to stop the vote in order
to change the outcome."

    No laughs, please, we're Republicans. Clinton's sense of humor has always driven them nuts.
But if I have to spell it out, I'll spell it out: Bush and the GOP stole the presidency fair and square.
It's theirs to keep until the next election. Here at Unsolicited Opinions Inc., it's company policy to
keep saluting the flag and the republic for which it stands. What's more, even if I didn't have good
friends in Austin who say Bush is a decent enough fellow--as glad-handing, back-slapping politicians go
--it's never been my intention to treat the man with the kind of elaborate contempt Buckley, Kelly and
the rest have accorded Clinton over the past eight years. It's not just politically stupid, but I also like to
think I'm a bigger person than that.

    If this column refers to Bush as a "reformed drunk," to cite a phrase I hear recently provoked a bit of
a stir on a Little Rock radio station, that's because the man has so described himself. "Recovering alcoholic"
won't do. It's jargon. Besides, Bush says he never joined Alcoholics Anonymous. He's just a guy who used
to drink too much.
    But hey, that was a long time ago. It's also probable that a rich, handsome frat boy who hit the bottle until
his 40th birthday left a few embittered women in his wake. But I don't think Democrats should pay people to
tell tales to partisan journalists, or to finance opportunistic lawsuits. One Paula Jones is more than enough.

    Have certain of Bush's business dealings over the years looked suspect? An order of magnitude more so
than the Clintons' ill-fated Whitewater investment. As near as I can tell, if he hadn't been the president's son,
Dubya would have ended up managing a Wal-Mart in Midland, Texas.

    But not only does the press appear too intimidated by Bush's social pedigree to investigate, I also doubt
their competence. If the mighty New York Times couldn't make heads or tails out of a $200,000 real estate
deal in the Ozarks, who can expect it to master the complexities of the international oil business? Anyhow,
after Kenneth Starr did a kamikaze job on the independent counsel statute, exactly what would be the point?
    Bush has, on the other hand, nominated an attorney general who's starting to look as if he might show up
for confirmation hearings wearing a white sheet. But there I go again, making seditious wisecracks.
Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.
His column appears on Wednesdays.

This article was published on Wednesday, January 17, 2001

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