Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jon Stewart spars with Tony Snow

Last night (2007-10-15), Jon Stewart had a lively discussion with President Bush's former White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow. Before becoming WHPS, Snow worked at Fox News, as well as on radio and in newspaper columns, and was a speechwriter for President George H. Bush. The interview on last night's Daily Show was expansive enough that it took two segments — almost 14 minutes, not including the commercial break.

First off, the video links:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, original air date 2007-10-15, ©2007 Comedy Central
And now the transcript:
Jon Stewart: Welcome back! My guest — until recently, he was the White House Press Secretary. Please welcome back to the program Tony Snow! [applause] Thank you for joining us.

Tony Snow: Good to be here. Thank you.

Stewart: First of all, may I say this: you look great.

Snow: Thank you.

Stewart: You look very healthy, and I'm very glad. How are you feeling?

Snow: I'm feeling great; thank you. Look, I've gotta say: this has been one of these things, having been sick, Democrats and Republicans have both come out and were terrific, so there was at least good bipartisanship there.

Stewart: You're a "uniter."

Snow: There you go.

Stewart: It is — I could imagine, too, going through the pressure of that job must be — incredible.

Snow: It actually — I love the job, it was so much fun. You know this — you get people on, you spar, I loved it, so in many ways being Press Secretary is pretty good therapy. It's a whole lot better than sitting around at home feeling sorry for yourself or thinking, "Is it worse today or better? I don't know. God! I don't know!"

Stewart: So, why leave, then? Was it really the thing, you just gotta make some money?

Snow: Got broke, yeah.

Stewart: See, that is admirably honest. Most people would say, all those guys always say, you know, "Geez, I'm gonna go, I really love my family and I want to spend some time with them." Nobody ever says, like, "This thing pays for crap."

Snow: Well, the other thing I figured out is you can actually make out like a bandit once you leave.

Stewart: Crazy.

Snow: It's great. So, I can make more money and spend more time on my family. It's a pretty good deal.

Stewart: See? People don't realize, that's how you should sell government service. Give us a couple of years, and then you can take a bath in gold. Let me show you this, I think you'll find this very interesting. As the Bush Administration's fortunes began to go — what's the direction? — downhill, look at the difference between press secretaries. Look how much better-looking they made them. Okay, [photo of Ari Fleischer] starts there, then things start to go south, but not so south. [photo morphs into Scott McClellan] Then they go, you know what, let's bring in a guy [photo morphs into Tony Snow] Okay, now, that's a nice-looking guy, but it's still tanking. What are we gonna do now? [photo morphs into Dana Perino] Hello, Mommy! You see how that went? And now, from there, [photo morphs into Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) from Star Trek: Voyager] yeah, that's where they go next. I really — here's what I like: you were great at it. Much better — McClellan always felt like it was Chuck Wepner getting into the ring. You know, it was like "The Bayonne Bleeder."

Snow: I know who Chuck Wepner was, yeah.

Stewart: "The Bayonne Bleeder." They'd call him up and go, "Muhammad Ali needs somebody to punch." What makes a good Press Secretary?

Snow: I think, you know, the answer is, I don't know, but one thing that probably helped me: I was in the press for 28 years. I liked reporters — still like 'em — and furthermore, look, there wasn't any trick they tried to pull that I hadn't tried to pull before, so when they were jerkin' me around I'd jerk back, but on the other hand, when they had legitimate needs, you also try to make sure you stand up for 'em.

Stewart: What tricks are they pulling, because, from the outside, watching it, they seem overmatched. [audience laughs] You know, just when I watch them, they seem, literally, like, [nasally] "I got something," and then they say it, and you're like, you know, "That's great, Helen," and then you move on. They seem overmatched, like it's almost vestigial in some [inaudible].

Snow: A lot of times, it's pulling an old quote from a Tony Snow column; well, that's easy enough. Or pull an old quote, try to find something incriminating, or try to set up a fight even where one doesn't exist, so there are a couple of kinds of stories that reporters now do. One is a process story, which is really boring. It's like, what color tie is the President wearing? Whoo-oo. And the second is —

Stewart: What does that mean?

Snow: Exactly. And the second is to try to pick fights. "Nancy Pelosi said this about the President; what does he say?" And it ends up being kind of kindergarten stuff a lot of times, but —

Stewart: That's how it appears to the outside is, it seems to be things that are maybe not as crucial, but on the other side, the President's got a tough time because he's so — their administration is so — uh, irrational.

Snow: How so?

Stewart: To business? We're going to take a commercial break, and we'll come back and we'll talk about — what I just said. We'll have more with Tony Snow in just one second.

[commercial break]

Stewart: Welcome back! We're speaking with Tony Snow. Before we left, I mentioned something about irrationality for the Administration. To some — me — the things that he says, for instance, that he is, seem to be the opposite. Like, he would say, "I don't like the partisanship in Washington. I don't like the tone," and then he would be very — he would politicize the Administration in a way that's unusual or be really dickish.

Snow: I've heard you say — but I defy you to go back and find a time when he's actually been the one throwing the mud or calling the names, because it is his instinct, if you go back to his history [audience groans] — sorry about that, look it up, do your homework, Google it.

Stewart: Remember 2006, so the Democrats taken, and everybody is talking about how the President is going to make sort of an olive-branch speech, and in it, he uses the phrase "the Democrat-controlled Congress," which is a real poke in the side. That seems unnecessary, and would only be used if you were exhibiting — what was the word I used earlier?

Snow: Irrational behavior. It's the way he talks. If you go back and look at the content of the speech, the content of the speech, the State of the Union Address, the President talks about trying to go to probably the most "green" energy policy in American history, going away from oil, going to ethanol, going to biofuels: big deal, that's something the Democrats could get behind. Have they tried to support it? No. No Child Left Behind, something Democrats and Republicans worked together on —

Stewart: See, this is fascinating, what you're doing right now. What I said is, why did he use that phrase?

Snow: What I'm trying to do is put in the context of the speech so I can give you a sense of the tenor of the speech. You're taking one word —

Stewart: But that word is an emotionally loaded word that he is aware of. These gusy are — everything is focus-grouped to within an inch of their lives. The phrasing that they use is really repetitive and rigid. It is a move designed to poke.

Snow: Actually, because we went through this, we went and talked to him and said, "Come on, did you mean to say —" and he said, "No, that's just the way I talk."

Stewart: You did ask him about it?

Snow: You've got the Senate Majority Leader who calls him a liar, you've got people who've been far more direct and personal in their criticism of the President, and suddenly they're howling as if he's been Jack the Ripper because he said Democrat instead of Democratic.

Stewart: What about politicizing, let's say, the Department of Justice? We had Jack Goldsmith on the show, and he said the first question he was asked in his interview was, "What's this campaign contribution to a Democrat? What's that?"

Snow: Well, I guarantee you, first, when you're having political jobs — he was a political appointee — they do ask questions like that, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican —

Stewart: The Department of Justice, though, is traditionally —

Snow: Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican — well, that doesn't mean that he's going to be called upon to try to do political hackery.

Stewart: So, you believe this, in your heart, you believe he's not a partisan guy, and he's not politicizing — has he had one Democrat in his administration, in his Cabinet, in a position of authority?

Snow: Uh, no. But, on the other —

Stewart: What I'm saying is, he says things that are, "I'm a uniter," but all of his actions — the problem that I have with their administration, in terms of credibility, everything that they say they are is what they're not. [audience cheers] Don't you think?

Snow: Here's where I want to come back at ya. First, if you go back to George Bush's history in Texas, the guy he worked with, Bob Bullock, a Democrat, he came to Washington thinking, "Okay, I'll work with Democrats," and he did a lot of outreach, and he said, "Look, let's work together," and basically what he's gotten is the back of the hand.

Stewart: So, this is the Democrats' fault?

Snow: Well, no, I'll tell you what's the Democrats' —

Stewart: They have turned a kind man, a uniter, into a bitter shell of a man. This is not right!

Snow: No! Wrongo, my friend, he's still somebody —

Stewart: All right, here's another one —

Snow: Whoa, whoa, let me just throw in one more, because behind the scenes there are regular meetings with Democratic leaders and he's still trying to reach out to these guys, and what will happen is, they'll have a perfectly pleasant meeting, and then they'll go out to the microphones and say perfectly awful things.

Stewart: But he'll say something to them like — okay, "This is the most important conflict of our lives. This is the fight. This is World War II," but he won't do anything like call for a draft or do anything else. You know, he's got the military on 15-month stop-loss. You know, it doesn't seem to make sense to say, "This is the battle of our lives," and yet, "Just go about your business; we got it covered."

Snow: Well, he's asked for 90,000 additional troops, and they're being built in, so that's happening right now. The other thing is, he understands, if you have a draft, think about Vietnam: a lot of people went unwillingly to a war they didn't support. What you have now is a volunteer military, where people know what they're getting into. They're more motivated, they're far more competent, and as a result you have a professional military force. You're asking for trouble, and you're really asking for political trouble — there is no political consensus for —

Stewart: You're definitely asking for political trouble, but do you understand people's frustration that the person that they see in the sound bites does not live up to the actions of the administration?

Snow: No, I get a different frustration, which is the person —

Stewart: Comedians?

Snow: No, because you guys have — look, you've got a great ability to sort of find points that are funny about people, but the fact is, the President is somebody — it's always frustrating when you've got somebody — I think he's a terrific leader. I think he's a guy who's made tough and courageous decisions.

Stewart: Now, see, that's a great — "He's a terrific leader": how is that?

Snow: Okay, number one —

Stewart: I mean that seriously, because my definition of a leader is to make tough decisions and then convince people to support them actively and follow you, not — you know, he says, "I'm not popular 'cause I make tough decisions." Maybe they're wrong. I mean, I could say, "Everyone should wear coats made out of puppies," and nobody wants to do it, and I say, "What a great leader I am! Look at me! It's unpopular!"

Snow: Coats made out of puppies?? Oh, my god!

Stewart: You know what I'm saying. But he's basically saying — [audience applause] [to the audience:] Settle down — He's basically saying, "Look how unpopular I am! I'm a leader!"

Snow: Well, think of it this way: he has said to Congress, "You need to fund the troops." They say, "No, we're going to pull them out." They come to a vote — guess what! — they do; they end up financing the troops. He says, "We're having success in Iraq." Today's Washington Post editorial indicates — guess what! — they are having success.

Stewart: They're apparently defeating Al Qaeda.

Snow: They're defeating Al Qaeda, and they're also [inaudible] the Shia.

Stewart: Let's leave!

Snow: No! Let's finish the job.

Stewart: How do they know what emboldens the terrorists so well? They seem to always know what emboldens the terrorists. For instance, when we have an argument about his policies, that's very emboldening, apparently, to the terrorists.

Snow: Well, let me put it this way: if you're Al Qaeda, and you think you're going to be able to chase the United States out, when we have clear military superiority, we've got the ability to win on the battlefield, and you end up leaving because of political pressure that in some ways have been fomented by their ability to stick it out, you look at yourself as a winner!

Stewart: But the President says we'll leave when there's an acceptable level of violence. So, if I'm Al Qaeda, and I want the U.S. to leave, don't I just lay low until they leave?

Snow: Yeah, but apparently they're not smart enough to figure that out, because —

Stewart: They're smart enough to watch C–SPAN, and make sure that if the Democratic leader from somewhere says something, they know to make their strategy around that, but not smart enough to do the other?

Snow: No, no, that's not how they build a strategy.

Stewart: You don't think the President and his administration has made it so that to discuss the war plan is to embolden the terrorists?

Snow: No, I mean, look: you gotta have a debate about war plan. You're gonna have it any time. [Jon Stewart laughs] It's true!

Stewart: No, I know, that's what I'm saying.

Snow: Yeah, well, I agree. I'm not fightin' you on this, and I don't think the President would fight you on this. Of course you're going to have a fight about it —

Stewart: Didn't you say yourself, "You gotta look at who's watching this: Iraq — Al Qaeda"? You don't think that has a chilling effect on debate to say to somebody, "Hey, those points you're bringing up, I think they're great points, but just know, Osama bin Laden's jumping up and down happy"? That's very tough!

Snow: I haven't noticed a lot of Democrats skittering frightened into the bushes because we [inaudible] the argument.

Stewart: Really?? Which Democratic Congress are you watching? Because to me, they look like giant pussies to me! They don't do anything! Don't you think? A non-binding resolution about the possibility of maybe saying something.

Snow: Exactly — which is why they lost an argument to a leader!

Stewart: You turned it around! Son of a bitch! Listen, that was fun!

Snow: That was fun.

Stewart: And I really do appreciate your coming on. You know, you were on before, and I really respect you as a person and I like what you bring. I really appreciate it.

Snow: The feeling is mutual; congratulations.

Stewart: Thank you very much, I appreciate it. Tony Snow, everybody!
Tony Snow does have a point that Bush has succeeded in getting the Democrat Party — um, I mean the Democratic Party — to cheerfully follow him down the road to Hell, not just on funding the Iraq War and Occupation, but on other misbegotten projects as well. However, I just can't bring myself to call that "leadership" on Bush's part. In particular, the key element of Jon Stewart's definition that Bush lacks is the part about "convinc[ing] people to support [your decisions] actively and follow you." Bullying the milquetoast Democrats into grudging capitulation is not "convincing them to actively support your decisions." Indeed, the qualities that makes someone a bully — we know that Dubya was a schoolyard bully as a child, and the trait seems to have stuck — are antithetical to leadership.

Avenging Angel over at DailyKos — crossposted at Perrspectives — listed a few of the dozens upon dozens of times that Bush has said Democrat Party. Sure, it's a minor issue in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly does get to personality and temperament, as well as lack of leadership. When Dubya repeatedly uses a term he knows is insulting and offensive, it is impossible to pass it off as "just the way I talk." He claims to be reaching out across the aisle, and Tony Snow makes it sound like it was entirely the Democratic Party that was rebuffing Bush's efforts at bipartisanship, but the record is clear, and it is not favorable to the President. His lack of leadership also shows in the way that prominent members of his administration have systematically attacked the patriotism, courage, intellect, and morality of anyone who disagrees with their program of unconstitutional surveillance, unconstitutional detention, and unconscionable treatment of detainees.

Tony Snow mostly ducked the point about "emboldening the terrorists," but the Bush Administration has systematically chilled debate about important issues of how best to protect the United States from the threat of international terrorism. To even discuss the notion that there are some forms of interrogation that are so uncivilized as to be anathema under even the worst circumstances is "emboldening the terrorists." To suggest that there should be some judicial oversight over the Executive's exercise of powers expressly denied it by the Constitution is "emboldening the terrorists." No, Mr. President, invading an Arab nation without provocation has emboldened the terrorists in ways that will harm our nation for a generation or more.

Tony also talked about concepts like "clear military superiority" and "the ability to win on the battlefield," but in order to win on the battlefield, you first have to get the enemy to engage you there. Given our overwhelming military superiority, the terrorists, insurgents, and other assorted Enemies of Freedom choose instead to engage us where "clear military superiority" doesn't work for us. Think about it: the Redcoats had "clear military superiority" over the Continental Army, the ARVN had "clear military superiority" over the Vietcong, the French had "clear military superiority" over the Algerians, and yet the underdog prevailed time and time again, because the superior military power lacked the agility and adaptiveness to fight an unconventional opponent. Our clear military superiority won't win the War on Terror — not in a decade, not in a generation, not even in a century — because we're on the wrong battlefield. We need to shut down Al Qaeda not by picking away at its extremities, the small fry we're going after in Iraq, but by going directly for its jugular vein and its aorta: the financing and the pool of new recruits. Military superiority acts against us in both, because the war in Iraq has been a magnet for recruits and contributions.

The Republicans succeeded in 2004 in tarring John Kerry with the idea that he would address the War on Terror as primarily a law-enforcement problem, rather than a military problem. Well, guess what! It is primarily a law-enforcement problem. We need more of Charlie and Don Eppes on Numb3rs and less Jack Bauer on 24.

I also take issue with Tony Snow's dismissive remark about "process" stories. Yes, sure, a story about what color necktie Bush is wearing is inane drivel, but that's not what a "process" story is. The American people need — and want — to know more about the ways the Bush Administration has subverted the fundamental processes of government, and especially the ways it has arrogated unprecedented powers to the Executive Branch. It isn't enough merely to fix Bush's insanely misguided policies, we must also fix the broken processes that allowed them to ever see the light of day.

On the subject of Bush's personally slinging mud, no, he doesn't call anyone "Poopy Pants," but here's an illustrative quote from just last week:
Congress must make a choice: Will they keep the intelligence gap closed by making [Bush's evisceration of the FISA law] permanent? Or will they limit our ability to collect this intelligence and keep us safe, staying a step ahead of the terrorists who want to attack us? — George W. Bush, 2007-10-10
So, anyone who opposes Bush's watering down of the protections of the FISA law — a law that was enacted precisely because the Executive Branch had, under orders from President Nixon, routinely eavesdropped on Americans in direct contravention of the Fourth Amendment — wants to hinder the ability of the government to protect America from terrorists. In other words, "You support my legislation, or you are a traitor and a fool."

Tony Snow chides the Democrats for partisanship because they didn't leap on board Bush's new "greenest ever" energy policy. Let's see: he still wants to drill in ANWR, last I checked, and his program for corn ethanol isn't an energy policy, it's a corn farmer subsidy program. His insistence that all emissions reductions be entirely voluntary undermines his entire "green" position. Likewise with No Child Left Behind, many Democrats oppose it because they believe it to be fundamentally misguided policy. That's not partisanship for the sake of partisanship, it's a legitimate policy disagreement. But Bush and his backers consistently paint any disagreement as nothing more than petty partisan squabbling.

There is one respect in which Bush's policies cannot be described as irrational. Viewed through the lens of what is best for the United States of America, they are insane, counterproductive, and downright frightening. Viewed, however, through the lens of what is best for the Imperial Presidency, the wealthiest Americans, the big corporations, and the narrow circle of his close political contributors and ideological backers, Bush's policies make complete sense. The Iraq War is welfare for Halliburton and Blackwater. Ignoring the hurricane bearing down on New Orleans and taking no measures to coordinate the evacuation and relief efforts is fostering distrust of government as a tool for helping ordinary people. The Energy Task Force is a way of funneling money from the public purse into oil company profits. Politicizing the Department of Justice and the courts is a way of pushing an ideological agenda through activist conservative judges and prosecutors who take a hands-off attitude on crimes by Republicans.

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Video links and transcript below the fold...