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PLEASE DISPLEASE ME! Hillary Clinton “insults” Dr. King as the Post stokes a famous old pleasure: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JANUARY 14, 2008

STARTING THIS WEEK—PHILOSOPHER FRIDAYS: We’re so sick of the endless, low-grade inanity that we’re going to raise (or lower) our sites. Starting this Friday, for cosmic relief, we’re going to bring you “Philosopher Fridays!” This week, we’ll start things off with a bang. We’ll tackle this thought-provoking report from Saturday’s New York Times.

Readers, where do you stand on radical externalism? Isn’t it time you got off the fence, screwed your courage and took a clear stand?

JUDIS THEN AND NOW: Did the “Bradley effect” play a role in New Hampshire? That is, did Granite State voters lie to pollsters, claiming they would vote for Obama? Like others, we have no way of knowing—though we’d guess that such an effect was slight, if it existed at all.

Such questions are important, for an obvious reason—race matters, extremely deeply. But when John Judis tried to puzzle this out for The New Republic, we thought his effort was really quite striking. Good God, people! Libs and Dems inhabit a world of hurt when our intellectual “leaders” reason this way—when this is the best they can offer:

JUDIS (1/11/08): In the 1982 California gubernatorial election, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, enjoyed a comfortable lead in the polls against his white Republican opponent George Deukmejian going into the election—but Deukmejian won. It turned out that a large number of white voters had either lied to the pollsters about their willingness to back Bradley, or had changed their mind on polling day and decided to vote for Deukmejian. Could it be that voters lied to pollsters this time, too?

Andrew Kohut, a pollster for the Pew Research Center, thinks so. Kohut is the eminence grise among pollsters. His interpretation was published in The New York Times. Suffice it to say, it carried a lot of weight. Kohut's argument goes as follows: Clinton did much better in the final count than Obama among poorer, less educated voters. These voters "have more unfavorable views of blacks" than wealthier, more educated voters. Kohut doesn't accuse these voters of lying. Instead, he argues that the voters who have unfavorable views of blacks tend to be underrepresented in polling samples, because they "do not respond" to pollsters—thus accounting for the inaccurate readings of support for Clinton and Obama.

Yes—that is what Judis wrote. Within a single paragraph, he says that Kohut thinks that voters lied—and that Kohut doesn’t think that. And yet, despite this instant groaner, many liberals linked to this piece, praising Judis’ wisdom.

Much more is wrong with Judis’ piece—not that it matters in a world where people pick-and-choose their conclusions. Most significantly, Judis accepts last week’s exit poll data on face—simply assuming they were accurate. He fails to note an important bit of context; New Hampshire polling “failed” by a similar margin the last time a two-party primary was held, in a race between two white Republicans. And he says that Gene Robinson thinks voters lied in New Hampshire—though Robinson’s column said something quite different. (By the way: When Tom Rosenstiel studied the 1982 Tom Bradley race, he concluded that voters hadn’t lied—he found class-and-race-based polling errors instead.) But go ahead: Reread the two paragraphs we have reprinted. Try to tell us what it means when our leaders reason like that.

For what it’s worth, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Judis stumble a bit in New Hampshire. Eight years ago, Judis was part of the pundit brigade who boo-hooed so bitterly—and so dumbly—about the way vile Candidate Gore was daring to challenge the saintly Bill Bradley’s untouchable health care proposal. For several months, people like Judis pretended that Gore was making misstatements about Bradley’s plan—and they shed wet salty tears about the vile man’s endless perfidy. But uh-oh! By the end of the New Hampshire campaign, almost everyone—including Judis—acknowledged that Gore’s critiques had been accurate. Bradley had bungled his health plan, they said. Here’s the way Judis laid it out in The New Republic:

JUDIS (1/24/00): Bradley's plan would replace Medicaid, but it doesn't appear to offer comparable benefits. It also seems to offer employers an incentive to stop insuring their employees. And, as quickly became apparent, it would cost almost double what Bradley claimed—eating up almost the entire budget surplus and making it impossible...for Bradley to offer any other big initiatives. Bradley's staff warned him about the program's projected costs, but he didn't listen. He went ahead with his "big idea."

Gore immediately went on the attack, and Bradley's replies verged on incomprehensible.

Yikes! Bradley had bungled his health care plan—and then, his replies were “incomprehensible” when Gore made his accurate criticisms. In a rational world, you’d almost think that Judis’ assessment would have been a defense of Gore.

But readers, you don’t live in a world like that. Had Bradley bungled his health care plan, then offered incomprehensible statements? Well yes, he had, Judis said. But readers! So f*cking what? Even as Judis said Bradley had bungled, the pundit continued to savage Gore for his “brutal assault” on the poor saintly solon—for his “ruthless” conduct. And, of course, Gore had been “reinventing himself,” and blah blah blah blah after that.

You’ll probably think we’re making this up—but Judis’ work was just as conveyed. And yes—as Judis and other recited these scripts about the “ruthless” and “brutal” Gore, registers rang at the RNC. Ka-CHING! This is how George Bush reached the White House—with pundits like Judis calling Gore “brutal” for making critiques which were accurate.

As noted, many libs linked to Judis last week, telling us that he’d settled this latest issue. Our question: How do you read the first three grafs of his piece without gaping at his blatant self-contradiction? Second, larger question: How can progressive interests advance when we’re willing to reason this way? How can progressive interests flower in the hands of leaders like Judis?

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: For our original discussion of Judis’ piece, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/27/00. The day before, we had noted similar work by a string of establishment scribes; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/26/00. In 2002, we discussed this matter in a bit more detail; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/6/02. This is how Judis reasoned back then—and this is how Dems lose the White House.

Sorry—we can’t find Judis’ original piece available on the Net.

PLEASE DISPLEASE ME: People love to be outraged/insulted. In Democratic primary campaigns, this can produce deeply harmful results; we saw this in Campaign 2000, when supporters of one major hopeful convinced themselves that they’d been mistreated by the other—that he was saying outrageous/bad things about their untouchable favorite. There was nothing wrong with favoring Bradley, a highly-regarded, quite decent ex-senator. But some of the sanctified solon’s supporters fell in love with the notion that they’d been mistreated. They carried their outrage into the fall. Bush ended up where he is.

Many people still love being outraged today. But in this year’s Democratic campaign, outrage is now being voiced about race. And because race is so important, so tragic, so vital, this threatens to take the Democratic campaign into a difficult place.

Outrage is growing out on the trail. In the last Democratic debate, did Barack Obama insult Hillary Clinton when he said she was “likable enough?” Please. But some Clinton supporters have thrilled this week to the feeling of sanctified outrage. And then, there’s this op-ed in yesterday’s Post, where Marjorie Valbrun, pleasingly furious, offered the absurd bit of outrage which concludes this passage:

VALBRUN (1/13/08): Clinton herself has made racially tinged comments that could be taken as either insensitive or patronizing. The most widely noticed was in her efforts to dismiss Obama's talk of "hope" and "change" as empty idealism. In doing so, she offhandedly diminished the important role played by Martin Luther King Jr. in pushing America to meet its promise of equality for millions of black Americans. "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act," Clinton said. "It took a president to get it done."

In other words, "I have a dream" is a nice sentiment, but King couldn't make it reality. It took a more practical and, of course, white president, Lyndon Johnson, to get blacks to the mountaintop. Of course no black man could have hoped to be president 44 years ago. And, for that matter, neither could any woman.

What was Clinton thinking? King's name is sacrosanct in most black households, and for poor and struggling blacks whose lives have yet to reflect King's ideals, "hope" is more than just a notion. Clinton managed to insult a beloved black leader in her eager attempt to insult a rising black leader.

Clinton’s comment “could be taken” a certain way, Valbrun said. (Especially if you took her remarks and put them “in other words!”) And Valbrun raced to take them that way, saying that Clinton had “insulted” Dr. King—in her attempt to “insult” Obama! But then, Valbrun missed few chances to take full umbrage this day—to luxuriate in the joy of displeasure. In the course of her high-minded speech about the need to avoid “racial innuendo,” she took offense when Hillary Clinton made “a cute allusion” to a “now famous joke”—and she even managed to suggest that Clinton had engaged in “Willie Horton-style tactics.” She got offended about Sister Souljah all over again—and she said Bill Clinton was “a little scary.” And in her first paragraph, she threw Hillary Clinton in with the nation’s assassins. Valbrun is worried about “a crazed gunman” going after Obama—but she’s even more worried that Hillary Clinton will “go straight for Obama’s jugular.”

There—that felt especially good! Just as it felt eight years ago, when people like Judis got outraged at Gore for making those accurate comments. And the Post, of course, rushed Valbrun to print—along with the outraged William Jelani Cobb, who really did insult civil rights saints in the course of advancing Obama. (That is not Obama’s fault.) John Lewis is a civil rights saint. But uh-oh! Lewis supports Hillary Clinton this year—and so he’s part of “a black boy network,” Cobb said, three times, in his piece. We’ll assume that was meant as an insult.

The notion that Clinton “insulted” King is so tragically dumb we won’t even bother; we think Josh Marshall has judged these matters smartly and fairly, and we’ll refer you over to him. But let’s set Valbrun to the side; the whole “outrage establishment” got fired up post-New Hampshire, including people of much higher visibility, such as the hapless Bob Herbert. In this part of Saturday’s column, Herbert shares the things he “could sense” last week in New Hampshire:

HERBERT (1/12/08): I could also sense how hard the Clinton camp was working to undermine Senator Obama’s main theme, that a campaign based on hope and healing could unify, rather than further polarize, the country.

So there was the former president chastising the press for the way it was covering the Obama campaign and saying of Mr. Obama's effort: ''The whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.''

And there was Mrs. Clinton telling the country we don't need ''false hopes,'' and taking cheap shots at, of all people, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We'd already seen Clinton surrogates trying to implant the false idea that Mr. Obama might be a Muslim, and perhaps a drug dealer to boot...

It’s sad—but sadly unsurprising—to see Herbert blather this way. He says that Bill Clinton characterized Obama’s whole “campaign/effort” as a fairy tale—but it’s plain that Clinton was only referring to one particular claim by Obama. He pretends to be surprised when one hopeful tries to “undermine” another—and, of course, he tells his readers that Hillary Clinton took a “cheap shot” at Dr. King. As such, he hides behind our greatest moral genius—doing the sorts of things King himself never did. And oh yes—he assumes that Bob Kerrey was “trying to implant the false idea that Mr. Obama might be a Muslim.” How does he know that? We aren’t told. Please displease me, Herbert says.

This is what happens when people like Herbert indulge in the pleasures of being offended. But uh-oh! Like Judis, Herbert has a track record in such affairs; his Clinton/Gore-hating was in full bloom when he defended Bush—and savaged Gore—after the first Bush-Gore debate, back in October 2000. World history hung in the balance that day—and Herbert vouched for Bush’s integrity. And yes, that’s how George Bush reached the White House, as we’ve explained in the past.
To recall how gruesome Bob Herbert could be when race was playing no role at all, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/5/07. (Prepare to gag repeatedly.) On Saturday, he got to show how miserable he can be when race is involved in the mix.

But then, nothing pleases like displeasure. This weekend, the Post and the Times rushed the screams into print—even Cobb’s screams, insulting John Lewis. But then, we humans love nothing so much as our own outrage! Please displease me, our inner voice cries. Until we learn to edit.