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ANNOYING THE PALACE! Gail Collins, stuck in the Trobriand Islands, once again finds herself bored: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JANUARY 10, 2008

THE MATTHEWS EFFECT: Yesterday, Chris Matthews topped even himself for sheer irresponsibility. By 8:30 A.M., he was already on MSNBC’s air, insisting that “ten to fifteen percent” of New Hampshire’s Democratic voters had “lied” to pollsters, for racial reasons. As usual, it was abundantly clear that Matthews didn’t know what the Sam Hill he was talking about. But then, he almost never does. Incredibly, this is a man who still believed, just three weeks ago, that Barack Obama’s mother and maternal grandmother had been “Islamic” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/21/07).

It’s hard to know less than Chris typically does. Presumably, that’s why Jack Welch came to love him.

Many people have worked, down through the years, to address problems of racial understanding. In 1968, our greatest moral genius gave his life in this struggle. So it’s stunning to see a man like Matthews move so quickly to play with race, in part to distract from the public butt-whipping he himself took after Tuesday’s election. (In our view, Rachel Maddow became Human Being of the Year Tuesday night. Just click here; we’ll discuss this tomorrow.) Long ago, another man whose name was Welch addressed Joe McCarthy, Matthews’ cultural heir, finally asking if, at long last, he had no sense of decency. Yesterday afternoon, we thought of that Welch—and of Tail-gunner Joe—when we watched the tape of Matthews. And we thought of our greatest moral genius.

What happened in the New Hampshire polling? More precisely, did Tuesday’s winds of change blow “the Bradley effect” through the state? It’s very hard to answer such questions, but for those who want to know how such polling matters work, Andrew Kohut reports, in today’s New York Times, on the 1989 New York mayoral race involving David Dinkins. This campaign has often been cited as an example of the Bradley effect; Kohut, who conducted the polling for Gallup that year, says this wasn’t the problem. Why did he get the polling wrong? “I concluded, eventually, that I got it wrong not so much because respondents were lying to our interviewers but because poorer, less well-educated voters were less likely to agree to answer our questions,” Kohut writes in his column.

Kohut isn’t saying that race played no role in that election. He is largely denying the Bradley effect, in which voters lie to pollsters about how they’ll vote. Will “race” play a role in this year’s Dem primaries? Of course it will, in various ways, many of them glorious, positive. But if you want to ponder how these matters really work, we’ll advise you to read Kohut’s column.

Matthews ran as fast as he could to accuse large numbers of New Hampshire Dems of lying on account of race. As far as we know, there’s no evidence that anything like that occurred; we’d have to say that, in our view, Matthews’ conjecture makes little real sense. But Matthews is a deeply irresponsible man—a slightly cleaned-up Joseph McCarthy. That’s why Jack Welch so loved this tool’s soul. Three large cheers for Rachel Maddow, who we’ll discuss on the morrow.

RECALLING HIS GENIUS: It might be worth recalling one of Dr. King’s famous sermons. “Everybody can be great,” he said. Then, he explained what he meant:

MARTIN LUTHER KING (2/4/68): Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermo-dynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

At long last, it’s time for Matthews to serve—for starters, by getting off cable.

ANNOYING THE PALACE: Yesterday, Maureen Dowd described the fatuous people who stand around wasting time at her office (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/9/08). (Omigod! We laughed out loud when Glenn Greenwald discussed this passage from Dowd’s column. Click here.) This morning, two other journalists give us a look at life inside this lady’s palace. In one example, the Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne describes a colleague who seems annoyed:

DIONNE (1/10/08): Perhaps Hillary [Clinton] played the same trick on her critics that her husband, Bill, did in his epic State of the Union addresses that went on and on about one specific policy after another. Those speeches often got bad reviews but good poll ratings. At one campaign stop last week, as Hillary Clinton droned on learnedly about health care, family and medical leave, and global warming, a colleague in the press section leaned over to dismiss her for offering nothing but "a laundry list of wonkery."

Here again, we’re shown a palace regular, who sneers as they’ve sneered for so many years—sneering as a Big Major Democrat bores them stiff about policy. What Dionne says at the start of this passage is true: Starting in 1995, Bill Clinton’s State of the Union addresses were often trashed by major pundits, who found them horribly long and boring. But these same addresses got high ratings from the public—from people who actually seemed to care about what was being proposed. Here’s the late Mary McGrory, describing this phenomenon in the Washington Post. McGrory describes the start of the palace revolt which approaches its fourteenth year:

MCGRORY (2/5/95): For President Clinton it was a week of wonders. He found out, with the help of polls and such, that Washington is all wet—not all of the time, maybe, but at critical moments such as his State of the Union address.

His speech, which ran a record 82 minutes, got him a caning from national columnists, including your correspondent. My colleague David Broder was particularly severe, calling the marathon session "a huge missed opportunity." Richard Cohen complained of its "undisciplined length." The general criticism in Washington was that the speech was a dismayingly accurate reflection of Clinton's worst character flaw, an inability to choose.

And guess what? The public loved it. Ate it up, in fact. Didn't turn it off. Stayed to the end. They seemed to be like those Midwesterners of yesterday, the kind who were raised on the loquacious speaking style of politicians such as Hubert Humphrey. They drove hours across the prairies to hear an oration and wanted their money's worth. Anyway, after the speech, the president's approval rating in the Washington Post-ABC poll shot up by nine points. And interviews with voters showed that the things that turned off the professionally opinionated found a welcome in the provinces.

Poor dears! McGrory, Cohen and Broder had trashed Vile Clinton for making them sit through so much desperate tedium. But uh-oh! Despite the public approval for Clinton’s address, the lords and ladies of the palace have never abandoned this posture. When Gore and Bradley discussed health care at their first debate in 1999, for instance, McGrory wrote a disgraceful column—a column about Gore’s funny clothes. (They made him “look like someone seeking employment at a country music station.” We Irish hate southerners, by the way. It’s one of our “cultural” foibles.) When Gore delivered his speech at the Democratic convention—a speech which transformed Campaign 2000—Broder, writing from his sky-box, said that Gore’s endless “swell ideas” had almost put him to sleep. Two years back, these sad souls emitted the same loud squeals when Hillary Clinton made them sit through a long, boring speech about energy (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/06); why, it was almost as bad as all the big words Gore used in that book talk just last year (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/07). So let’s face it: The winds of change weren’t blowing at all when Dionne’s colleague leaned over and griped in New Hampshire. “Wonkery” and “laundry list” are palace code for this type of unbearable tedium. For unknown reasons, even Dionne felt he had to say Clinton was “droning on learnedly.” We explained this syndrome to you long ago. Why did McGrory discuss Gore’s clothes? Why did she ignore what was said about health care? Easy! In the palace, the courtiers already have good health care; to all appearances, they don’t give a flying fig if you or your children or neighbors’ kids do. By contrast, average voters may care about matters like that! Today, here’s Dionne’s fuller passage:

DIONNE (1/10/08): At one campaign stop last week, as Hillary Clinton droned on learnedly about health care, family and medical leave, and global warming, a colleague in the press section leaned over to dismiss her for offering nothing but "a laundry list of wonkery.”

But especially for less well-off voters, the specific things government can do to relieve a few of their burdens may be more important than Obama's soaring and prophetic rhetoric that moved the young and the affluent. To eat some of my own words, maybe prose wins elections after all.

I don’t offer that as a criticism of Obama’s rhetoric, which may help him rally the nation some day—in support of “specific things government can do to relieve a few of their burdens.”

In New Hampshire, Dionne’s colleague leaned over and extended a theme—a theme of “journalistic” High Palace Culture. And then, there’s the loathsome/inane Gail Collins, spewing her upper-class palace pabulum in this morning’s Times. For the most part, I’ll slap hands with tag-team partner tristero, who was extremely generous, more so than required, in these incomparable comments and who beat us to Collins’ column this morning. But I’ll call your attention to the presence, in today’s column, of that grand theme from the court:

COLLINS (1/10/08): The Democratic contest is extremely unusual for an American election in that it contains more than one viable option. Barack Obama turns out to have a positive genius for making moderation sound exciting and is perhaps the only politician in American history who can get a crowd all worked up with a call to politeness. ''We can disagree without being disagreeable,'' he said in his New Hampshire farewell, drawing a roar of approval.

[...]

On the other side, there's the new Hillary Clinton, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the old Hillary Clinton. ''Over the last week I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice,'' she told her victory party Tuesday night. She then went on to give an extremely boring speech that began: ''This campaign is about people.''

Clinton actually seems most genuine when she's being dull. She's gone back to talking about policy with voters. That's just the way she saved her first Senate campaign by disappearing into the depths of upstate New York for an endless listening tour that drove reporters mad with tedium but seemed to make the citizens very happy.

Poor darling! Clinton bored her sick on that listening tour, and now the tedium had started again! Meanwhile, writing like a Victorian anthropologist observing a group of rhesus monkeys, Collins notes that the endless tedium up in New Hampshire “seemed to make the citizens happy.” Soon, her fatuous palace soul found full expression again:

COLLINS: But when she started answering questions, she got very Hillary—talking about carbon neutrality and H.M.O. payments and procurement reform, ticking off her five-point plans and three-part explanations. The large crowd, which had been standing in a high school gym for nearly two hours before she arrived, seemed to enjoy it. Her bond with the people isn't a passionate one, but when it works, it's a genuine connection that starts with the belief that she will work really, really hard on their behalf.

Seeming to marvel at these bone-nosed Trobriand Islanders, Collins is careful to mock them for wanting Clinton to work really, really hard.

This morning, Dionne and Collins show us, again, the culture that has ruled our discourse at least since that week in 1995 when Broder, Cohen, McGrory and others complained about Bill Clinton’s boring, long speech. This culture is a palace culture—a fact we must explain to the public. And the winds of change do seem to be blowing through the wilds of the liberal web. Yesterday was the best day of reading I’ve ever had on the web, as one writer after another stepped up to say “no more” to this simpering cohort. (More on that wonderful push-back tomorrow.) But their culture, which they express so openly, is, once again, of the palace variety. We must explain that fact to voters. They’ve been rolling their eyes for the past thirteen years. We—progressives, liberals, centrists, decent conservatives—have largely just sat there and let them.

A GLANCE AT THIS COURT’S EMPTY SOUL: We’ll show you again what Collins said when Gore/Bradley debated their nation’s health care. McGrory laughed at Gore’s ludicrous clothes. Collins mocked his ludicrous manners:

COLLINS (10/29/99): Al Gore has a personality without a thermostat, and when he tries to look animated he practically crashes into the wallboard. On Wednesday he hijacked the auditorium early on, begging for a chance to do a pre-debate Q.-and-A. ("This person has a question! Do we have time for his question?") He tossed in a little Spanish and a long joke, and made endless attempts to create Clintonesque mind-melds with the audience. ("How old is your child, Corey?” “Are you unionized, Earl?") At the end, he refused to be dragged offstage. ("Can I say one more word? I would like to stay!") He bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the kid who asks the teacher for more homework. Mr. Bradley, lounging on his stool, arms folded across his chest, looked like the high school athlete watching the class nerd volunteer to stay and clap erasers.

As a general matter, I will only say this: To this day, if you watched the tape of that debate, you would surely assume there was some mistake—that Collins must be describing some other event. Sorry, but Gore didn’t “practically crash into the wallboard” that night, though all the courtiers agreed to pretend; it remains stunning, right to this day, to watch that tape, then read their descriptions. But why did Gore create that “Clintonesque mind-meld” with some person known as “Corey?” Here is the exact exchange—the exchange which this empty soul mocked:

BERNARD SHAW (10/27/99): Please, your name and question for the vice president.

CITIZEN QUESTIONER: Hi. My name is Corey Martin and I live in Hanover. There's been talk tonight about health care reform. And I am the parent of a child who has diabetes and I spend a lot of time dealing with the insurance companies and what's covered and what's not covered, and it eats up a lot of time and effort. So I'm wondering, if you were to implement health care reforms, who would be the decision-makers? Who chooses what's covered?

GORE: How old is your child, Corey?

MARTIN: She's five.

GORE: And do you have an insurance policy?

MARTIN: Yeah. I work at Dartmouth and we have a very good policy.

GORE: Oh, so you're—you have a good policy here? Okay, very good.
MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah. We're very lucky.

GORE: You know, we've just had a big increase in our research for juvenile diabetes, and I'm hopeful we can find a cure for that and cancer and other diseases...

At that point, Gore went on to answer Martin’s policy question. And Collins rushed to sharpen her pencil, excited by the chance to mock Gore for asking this “Clintonesque” question.

We rarely use the word “evil” around here, but it sometimes comes to mind when we read that repulsive old column. A Trobriand Islander had a sick child—and Al Gore dared ask how she was!

Yes, this is the famous debate where the press corps “howled,” “jeered” and “laughed at” Gore, for the full hour. Somehow, Collins forget to mention that stunning fact when she wrote her obnoxious, vile column. But this is how George Bush got where he is. The dead of Iraq are in the ground because of the sneers of Gail Collins.

This is a nasty, dumb palace culture. It’s been in place, sneering, for a good many years. Average voters have long heard the other side’s claim—the claim that these courtiers are driven by “liberal bias.” We need to tell them the things we know. Somehow, we need to find a way to tell average voters our tales.