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END OF AN ERA! The career liberal world refused to fight back. Does Steve Clemons’ post show us why? // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 21, 2009

Theme without end, amen: Once they’ve established their Official Group Themes, those Official Group Themes simply never die. Presumably, that explains the familiar focus in this morning’s “Reliable Source.” In our hard-copy Washington Post, this is the headlined item:

Yak, Yak, Yak—Guess Who’s Back?
The more things change, the more Bill Clinton.....talks. And talks. And talks.

The country's "first black president" until the real one came along was the big hit at the Fairfax Hotel Monday night, where he held court near the entrance, lecturing Doris Kearns Goodwin about progressive voting patterns and Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett about ... well, we couldn't really hear over the din, but he did most of the talking and she nodded and said, "That's exactly right." Very diplomatic of her...

Snark! That item heads this morning’s “Reliable Source.” But then, once they have their themes in place, their Official Group Themes never die.

One other note: We thought Jill Biden’s gratuitous comment to Oprah really, truly captured an era. Once the mainstream press corps turned on the Clintons and Gore, the career liberal world kept earning its keep in precisely this manner. Who knows? Maybe Jill Biden simply misspoke. But a whole lot of people “misspoke” that way. They “misspoke” that way for a long time.

The liberal world ran and hid in the early 1990s, as the mainstream press corps aligned itself with emerging conservative power. (With growing multimillionaire power.) For the most part, liberals and Dems refused to fight back—and many times, they crossed the street, displaying their fealty to insider preferences. Is that what Jill Biden did with Oprah? Watching that one last gratuitous comment, we found it hard not to ask.

END OF AN ERA: An era came to an end this week—although its noxious constituent parts may well come back at some point.

But yes, an era came to an end. The mainstream press corps won’t be trashing Obama in the way they trashed so many Big Dems during the 16-year, Clinton/Gore/Bush/Kerry/Clinton era. (Good!) In that era’s most consequential episode, their conduct sent George Bush to the White House. But that story remains in the “sphere of deviance” for the mainstream press corps—and for the “liberal press” too. Good “career liberals” just don’t discuss it. One more time, as an era ends, we incomparably will.

More specifically, we’ll tell you why the liberal world didn’t challenge the wars against Clinton and Gore. In the case of the latter war, remember the (accurate) description by Ezra Klein, in the one moment when he slipped up and gave readers the truth about this remarkable bit of world history (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/22/06). At the start of an American Prospect cover story, Ezra described a speech Gore had given in October 2005. And uh-oh! With considerable accuracy, he also described what had happened in the campaign which sent Bush to the White House:

KLEIN (4/06): [Gore’s] address was the keynote for the We Media conference, held at the Associated Press headquarters in New York last October [2005] and attended by an audience that included both old media luminaries and new media innovators. In attendance were Tom Curley, president of the AP, Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, all leading lights of a media establishment that, five years earlier, had deputized itself judge, jury, and executioner for Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, spinning each day’s events to portray the stolid, capable vice president as a wild exaggerator, ideological chameleon, and total, unforgivable bore.

One error: Ezra had his date wrong, as liberals almost always do when they discuss Campaign 2000. In fact, that media establishment “deputized itself Gore’s executioner” starting in March 1999, not in the year 2000, as Ezra’s text implied. (All the narratives were firmly in place by December 1999—and Bush was well ahead in the polls.) But aside from that, Ezra’s description of that “media establishment’s” gross misconduct was, of course, quite accurate. Perhaps in part for that very reason, he never mentioned this critical matter again. In truth, this matter lies in the “sphere of deviance” of the mainstream press—and of most career liberals too.

Ezra’s passage describes the way we got the world from which we’re emerging. Amazingly, you virtually never see career liberals discuss this remarkable fact.

But then, you rarely see career liberal writers discuss the years of pseudo-scandal which preceded that twenty-month War Against Gore. Why is that? Again, Steve Clemons unintentionally suggested a possible answer in this remarkable post.

Our question: Has anyone ever kissed anyone’s ass the way Clemons did in that post? Clemons lies at the heart of Washington’s insider career liberal world—and he was kissing the luscious ass of Maureen Dowd on this high occasion. No one did much more than Dowd, of course, to establish the inane Clinton/Gore-trashing which would lead to Gore’s “execution” by that “media establishment.” Surely, Clemons understands this fact. But to certain people—he may be one—some things are just more important.

Has anyone ever kissed anyone’s ass quite the way Clemons did? Here’s how he started the deeply embarrassing post which was headlined, “Maureen Dowd Party the Best:”

CLEMONS (1/19/09): Maureen Dowd threw a "Star Spangled Banner" party—so I wore a star spangled tie. My modest attempt at festive attire wasn't matched by anyone else there.

Maureen loved the tie and told me her sister had originally wanted everyone to come patriotically dressed. I did expect more clothing glitz from the glitterati who crammed into her Georgetown home, formerly owned by John F. Kennedy, in his carousing years—but the people she had were really all the glitz needed.

But the real stars were in her living room—and one corner of the party was owned by David Geffen and his boyfriend Jeremy, who were both charming, relaxed and enjoyed talking about politics and the economy with the folks they encountered...

Dowd was the perfect hostess. The fanciest treats she had were pigs in a blanket—but she knew that the real treats were face time with herself and the power guests she assembled.

Let’s write that again—and yes, we’re quoting: “The real treats were face time with [Dowd] herself and the power guests she assembled.”

Good God. In the annals of human history, has anyone ever kissed anyone’s ass quite the way this career liberal does? We felt forced to turn to the world of fiction for some sort of comparison. But inevitably, we thought of the obsequious Mr. Collins, eternal target of Jane Austen’s wit. Throughout Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins sings the praise of the Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who has generously granted him his post as a pompous and pious village minister. Just tell us that what follows isn’t Clemons—or, by extension, the career liberal world. Charlotte, who has now married Mr. Collins, takes her friend, Elizabeth Benet, on a tour of the pandering parson’s house. Soon, though, Mr. Collins appears. He renews the comical keister-kissing Austen mocks throughout:

AUSTEN (chapter 28): When Mr. Collins could be forgotten, there was really a great air of comfort throughout, and by Charlotte's evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be often forgotten. She had already learnt that Lady Catherine was still in the country. It was spoken of again while they were at dinner, when Mr. Collins joining in, observed,

Yes, Miss Elizabeth, you will have the honour of seeing Lady Catherine de Bourgh on the ensuing Sunday at church, and I need not say you will be delighted with her. She is all affability and condescension, and I doubt not but you will be honoured with some portion of her notice when service is over. I have scarcely any hesitation in saying that she will include you and my sister Maria in every invitation with which she honours us during your stay here. Her behaviour to my dear Charlotte is charming. We dine at Rosings twice every week, and are never allowed to walk home. Her ladyship's carriage is regularly ordered for us. I should say, one of her ladyship's carriages, for she has several.''

“Lady Catherine is a very respectable, sensible woman indeed,'' added Charlotte, “and a most attentive neighbour.''

“Very true, my dear, that is exactly what I say. She is the sort of woman whom one cannot regard with too much deference.''

To the obsequious Collins, Lady Catherine was “the sort of woman whom one cannot regard with too much deference.” But people like Collins are constantly with us, wherever position and wealth are involved. Surely, that’s a truth universally acknowledged—and it’s surely a truth which helps explain how Bush ended up where he was.

No, Jay Rosen still won’t discuss it. Using a book from the 1980s about the press of the 1960s, he’ll complain about the mainstream press corps’ “sphere of deviance,” completely forgetting to mention his own, or that of the career liberal world. But then, it isn’t just the mainstream press which avoid discussing the last sixteen years. The fiery “career liberal” press avoids it too—has done so for sixteen years.

Ah yes, you recall those liberal leaders! When the wars against Bill Clinton began, they ran off and hid in the brush; when that war was extended to Gore, they ran off and hid once again. Or they joined the Bradley campaign and paraded about, defending claims about Willie Horton or Love Canal which were—let’s be frank—outright lies. And of course, those wars against Clinton, then against Gore, had begun in the New York Times and the Washington Post, insider Washington’s great social arbiters. When you read Clemons’ astonishing panders to the Lady Maureen de Dowd, do you still fail to understand why career liberals kept their traps tightly shut all during this death-dealing era?

The fuller story remains to be told—but its outlines are really quite clear. For reasons which haven’t yet been explained, the mainstream press corps—not Rush; not Sean—turned against the Clintons, then Gore, inventing baldly ridiculous themes which showed these Dems’ woeful character. And uh-oh! The “liberal” world—insiders like Clemons, and many much higher—agreed to pretend not to notice. On Monday, this walking parody kissed the ass of the perspon who spent so much time trashing Gore. Do you finally see, somewhere deep inside, why the press corps’ wars against Clinton and Gore produced so little pushback from your fiery heroes?

Quoting a 23-year-old book, Jay Rosen wailed last week about the mainstream press corps “sphere of deviance” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/19/09). But the career liberal press has put the last sixteen years inside that same sphere of deviance! (First big milestone: In 1996, Gene Lyons published Fools for Scandal—and they all knew they mustn’t discuss it.) Once Obama has saved the world, will the assaults against Big Dems resume? Quite possibly: This will remain a millionaire press corps, and its great themes will descend rom the top. And of course, liberal successors to Clemons will have their brown noses pressed to the glass, praising the greatness of “journalistic” successors to Dowd. They’ll be keeping their mouths tightly shut, praying for the chance to rub against stars at DC’s very best parties.

There’s nothing “wrong” with attending a party. But in our view, it’s somewhat sad that people like Tom Hanks were at Dowd’s party. Charitably, we’ll say it means that they don’t understand their world. But these people don’t understand their world in large part thanks to people like Clemons, who walked away from their obligations during an era which has now reached its end. An era came to an end this week—and a gang of obsequious climbers enabled that death-dealing time.

Ezra Klein got it right that day; what he said explains our route to the past eight years. But good career liberals almost never discuss this—it lies inside their sphere of deviance. Starting in late 2002, we asked—and asked; then asked again—why so many were staying so silent. Clemons’ post gives you one way to ponder this critical, death-dealing question.

Endless deference: Please understand: Clemons is the very rare bird who puts this sort of thing into print. He did the same two years ago, gushing about Margaret Carlson. (Margaret Carlson! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/18/07.) We’ll only suggest this: The social dynamics involved in his post are likely found all through the career liberal world, affecting the “spheres of deviance” of many scribes who would never dream of putting such pandering nonsense into print.

And truly, Clemons’ deference is without end. Here’s more of his world-class ass-kissing:

CLEMONS: Best line of the evening I heard besides Maureen Dowd's tales of JFK was said to David Geffen and boyfriend Jeremy by someone who I won't name...

We’ll be honest: We don’t even understand the “best line” Clemons goes on to recount. (Oh please, please! Tell us who said it!) But make no mistake: By the eternal rules of the game, even this “best line” can’t be as great as the previous brilliance of Lady de Dowd, who chittered her tales about Dear Jack’s sex days. By the way: How many years has it been since the lady became appalled by Bill Clinton’s troubling sexploits?

As you may recall, the mainstream press corps spent eight years pimping scandals about Bill Clinton. (In Year 6, they finally got lucky with Miss Lewinksy.) Eight to sixteen years later, no one has made the slightest attempt to do any further work on these topics. Could that be because these “scandals” were fake—because the whole dang war was a big invention? We have asked that question today. Your career liberal world never will.

Go ahead, Tom Hanks—and Larry David, and Geffen! Someone can now explain all this silence to the suffering and dead of Iraq.

Bringing the eternal note of amusement in: Yesterday, the comments continued on Clemons’ post. At one point, he adopted the tone lords and ladies have adopted, all through the annals of time:

CLEMONS: thanks for the note Wig—actually, not embarrassed at all. I liked the post I did—and find the comments that have followed amusing. Don't know Somerby but glad what I wrote gave him time to scribble on something.

best, steve

The comments have been tres amusantes!

We don’t know Steve; we wish there were some way to pursue this remarkable historical topic without going personal. (We’re quite sure that Jay Rosen’s an OK guy too.) But it’s a truth universally known: Lords and ladies will always adopt that tone about those who scribble down here, so far below. You know? About those who were right about these themes from Day One—right, and therefore inexcusable?

Reread that accurate passage by Ezra. At THE HOWLER, we started writing that accurate story in March 1999. Even now, all these many years later, your career liberal world never will. Maybe it was just a misstatement: But to this day, Kevin Drum has no idea how a guy like George Bush reached the White House.