The Net has no memory

USA Today is trying to play gotcha with Howard Dean by citing a letter that Dean wrote urging then-president Clinton to take unilateral action in Bosnia. AHA! says the press — but Dean criticized Bush about unilateralism, therefore he’s a hypocrite!

The bloggers, of course, have already jumped on it. Over at Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds is gloating:

Hmm. Sounds a lot like the situation in Iraq under Saddam, except that with Iraq (1) the human rights abuses were worse; (2) the failures of the UN and the international community were greater; and, oh yeah, (3) there was a Republican president. I wonder which one of these factors made the difference in terms of Dean’s positions?

Meanwhile, Roger Simon seems to think that the Net has brought an end to hypocrisy.:

Normal political hypocrisy? Well, sure. But it is worse. Because this is Mr. Tell-It-Like It-Is and he isn’t. And he can’t. There’s too much information already on record. The Internet will be his great undoing. This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Wait until summer. The same is true for Clark. In a sea of a million fact-checkers, his idiot vacillations seem all the more ridiculous. If he gets nominated, it is going to be a donnybrook.

Now, I like a good witch-burning as much as the next guy — it give me a great feeling of camaraderie with my fellow pilgrims as we congratulate each other and roast marshmallows on the embers. But this isn’t Internet-age fact-checking. This is good old-fashioned political gotcha, the high-stakes version of waiting for someone to not say “Mother may I” so you can give him noogies.

If the Net really was the “greatest memory device we ever had” and if “bloggers and others will dig it out and force the media to publicize it” as Simon argues, Reynolds wouldn’t have to speculate on why Dean might think Bosnia is different from Iraq. He could instead just go to speeches posted on Dean’s website and read for himself:

Let me be clear: My position on the war has not changed.

The difficulties and tragedies we have faced in Iraq show that the administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at unbelievable cost. An administration prepared to work with others in true partnership might have been able, if it found no alternative to Saddam’s ouster, to then rebuild Iraq with far less cost and risk…

…The Iraq war diverted critical intelligence and military resources, undermined diplomatic support for our fight against terror, and created a new rallying cry for terrorist recruits.

And what of Dean’s position on unilateralism? Well, in a scoop that would make Drudge’s head spin, has obtained documentation (again on Dean’s Web site) that he’s not opposed to unilateralism per say, but that it should only be used when other options are gone:

Now, when America should be at the height of its influence, we find ourselves, too often, isolated and resented. America should never be afraid to act alone when necessary. But we must not choose unilateral action as our weapon of first resort.

Simon is correct, the Net is the best memory device we’ve ever had. But if bloggers (and worse, professional journalists) can’t even bother to check a candidate’s own website, what use is that memory?

The Net is a great well of knowledge. Unfortunately, like all wells, it also makes a great echo chamber.