Even fake news has its standards, and fake news has its fans, depending on who the faker may be. A faker should not be confused with a fakir, a wandering Hindu holy man or sometimes a Muslim beggar of alms. They’re all just trying to make a living.
A couple of columnists for The New York Times with nothing better to do consulted their imaginations the other day to see how the 2020 presidential election will have turned out, and in two very different dreamy dreams happy days are on the way.
The Democratic ticket of Elizabeth Warren and Eric Holder will have been elected president and vice president, but David Leonhardt of The New York Times apparently woke up before he got some of the important details. Did Pocahontas win the Indian vote in Oklahoma? Was it unanimous? Did Eric Holder match Barack Obama’s spectacular numbers in the District of Columbia? Inquiring minds want to know.
Satire, like the lower forms of humor, is a sharp knife, best left to the professionals lest you cut yourself. The idea at The New York Times was to write up fantasy as if it were actual news to inspire exhausted subscribers. But despite Donald Trump’s rants to the contrary, faking authentic fake news, like fake sincerity, is not so easy. Bret Stephens and Mr. Leonhardt’s imaginary punditry suggests that they should keep their day jobs on the editorial page and leave fake news to Page One, where there’s an insatiable appetite for it.
“In an era of deep national anxiety,” Mr. Leonhardt writes of his dream, “with stagnant wages, rickety health insurance and aggressive challenges from China and Russia, voters punished an incumbent president who failed on his central promise: “I alone can fix it.”
“But as [Mr.] Trump seethed — and tweeted — in defeat late Tuesday and President-elect Elizabeth Warren celebrated, the arc of the Trump story is starting to make more sense than it has for much of his chaotic presidency. The normal rules of politics do apply to Donald Trump, after all.”
The Democrats, in the telling of what Mr. Leonhardt saw in the deep blue in his crystal ball, “paired their message with broadly economic proposals: tax increases on the rich, expanded Medicare and child care, free community college and, highlighting an unfulfilled Trump promise, an infrastructure program. Budget watchdogs said the Warren agenda would increase the deficit. Many voters, evidently, did not care.”
That’s the thing about free stuff. Nobody turns down a free lunch. Nobody needs a crystal ball to see that.
Bret Stephens, on the other hand, employed a different crystal ball, and it tells of other wishes and dreams, a different account of the news of the morning after Nov. 3, 2020. “In the end, a bitterly fought election came down to the old political aphorism, popularized during Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 run against George W. Bush: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’”
Mr. Stephens’ crystal ball was more specific, demonstrating once more that in crystal balls, as in automobiles, electronics and groceries, you get what you pay for, and careful prognosticators stay away from off-brand balls. “Donald J. Trump,” Mr. Stephens’ ball reported, “has been decisively re-elected as president of the United States, winning every state he carried in 2016 adding Nevada, even as he once again failed, albeit narrowly, to gain a majority of the popular vote. Extraordinary turnout in California, New York, Illinois and other Democratic bastions could not compensate for the president’s abiding popularity in the states that still decide who gets to live in the White House — Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.”
In his fantasy, the Democrats learned once more what many of them should have learned in junior high school, that the states elect the president, and the people have a say only through the agency of the states. That’s how the Founding Fathers devised it. Democrats learned again that ol’ Stupid is not easily educated, and the economy does indeed matter.
Fantasies of right and left aside, in the real world the Democrats will learn that attempting to cast a political campaign in moral terms is a waste of time and opportunity. A drumbeat of accusations that the president is morally and ethically unfit for the office cuts neither ice, cheese, nor elections, particularly when the president’s critics have nothing new left to say.
In Bret Stephens’ crystal ball, a New Hampshire voter explains to a reporter why he voted for a man so frequently mocked and ridiculed in the mainstream press: “What part of the Dow 30,000 do the liberals not understand?” In Mr. Stephens’ dream, a Democratic legislator asks him: “Trump succeeded. He got my party to lose its marbles.” Sounds a lot like real life.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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