Daily Howler logo
DUMB LIKE US! Why did Obama’s session seem smart? Consider Hardball’s discussion: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2010

History continues tomorrow: Barring technical disaster, we expect to post Chapter 2 at our companion site on the morrow. We’ll offer a bit of an overview here. Then, on to the things-in-themselves!

Added note on that Clinton-Graham dinner: In this column at Media Matters, Jamison Foser questions Sally Quinn’s account of that Katherine Graham dinner—the dinner at which the brand-new President Clinton supposedly gave an unfortunate toast. It may be that Quinn is wrong about this event, as Foser suggests in his piece. We did think it was worth recording a recollection.

Years ago, we were told that this dinner was in fact the place at which Establishment Washington turned on the Clintons. The story came to us second-hand; we’re not sure we remember exactly what we were told. (Our recollection of what we were told differs from Quinn’s account.) But this story, attributed to a major Clinton supporter, identified this very same dinner as the place where it all fell apart.

We know, we know—it’s hard to believe that the path to impeachment could have been paved at a 1993 dinner party. For that reason, we’ve always found it hard to credit what we were told, years ago. But Establishment Washington—aka, The Village—has operated by very strange rules over the course of the past several decades. And now, years later, along comes Quinn—and she points to that very same dinner.

Whatever one thinks of Quinn’s views or outlooks, we’re inclined to listen carefully to the things she says about the views of this potent elite. As always, we recommend Foser’s piece. Also, all musings by Boehlert.

The hate that dare not speak its name: We’ve long admired Colbert King’s columns on local Washington matters. But land o goshen, Clinton-hatred is powerful! In his column in Saturday’s Washington Post, King repeated a prediction he made on last week’s Inside Washington. On that show, he said Obama may face a primary challenge in 2012 if he loses the Congress this fall.

“It's happened before to incumbents in both parties,” King wrote in the Post. “Consider the one-term presidencies of Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush.”

Anything can happen, of course. But finally, at the end of his column, King seemed to let the world know what he meant when he first issued that warning. Good lord! Clinton-hatred seems to die very hard around here:

KING (1/30/10): I'm not predicting a Democratic presidential primary challenge to Barack Obama. But it is a possibility that he needs to bear in mind as he navigates the GOP's political minefields.

So I offer this: Where possible, seek common ground with Republicans. Reach out to the independents who helped put you in office. But don't ignore your base, Mr. President. A rejected true believer is a lover scorned, with all that follows. Think Bush and Carter.

Remember also the words of the football coach in Texas who, when asked about his starting lineup in the championship game, declared he would "dance with the one who brung us." Keep faith with your base, Mr. President. At least they will have your back.

And sir, if I may be so bold, also keep an eye on your Cabinet.

“Keep an eye on your Cabinet?” Unless Arne Duncan is planning a run, Clinton-hatred seems to be dying hard.

(And hatred likes to speak in dog whistles. As has been true in earlier Clinton columns, King won’t stand up on his hind legs and actually say what he actually means. As the haters always do, he chooses to wink, nod and whistle.)

King is part of Establishment Washington. Clinton/Gore-hatred has driven this group for many disastrous years. In the past, we have revisited the striking column King wrote in October 2000, when he gave an almost comically negative non-endorsement endorsement to the horrible Candidate Gore. We were stunned by King’s apparent loathing of Candidate Clinton in 2008.

Could Hillary Clinton challenge Obama? Anything is possible, of course. But on face, few thoughts could seem a whole lot less likely. Few predictions could seem more absurd.

That said, our brutal history eats at the souls of many decent men and women. This is the way King started his column:

KING: On Jan. 19, a Maryland weapons owner accused of plotting to kill then-presidential candidate Barack Obama—reportedly because he didn't like Obama's gun-control positions—was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison. On that same date, the liberal Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence awarded Obama a grade of “F” for failed leadership on common-sense gun laws.

Message to the president: Watch both flanks.

In King’s world, Obama’s left flank seems to be an unsatisfied issues group. Obama’s right flank seems to be a weapons owner accused of plotting to kill him! (For the full story, click here.)

We’ve long admired King’s columns on D.C. issues. But Clinton-hatred dies hard, if at all. Then too, in these latter days, hatred seems to be all around.

Earlier failed predictions: Michelle Bernard seems like a pleasant person. But even with this sunny soul, Clinton-hatred has led to gong-show predictions at several points in the past. Within Establishment Washington, this hatred dies hard. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/17/08.

Special report: Dumb like us!
(permalink)

PART 1—CONFUSED BY RYAN’S NON-DAUGHTERS: The Pew Research Center did something naughty last week—it released the gruesome results of a public information survey. (Not an opinion poll. To see Pew’s report, click here.) Such surveys always show the same thing: We the people are massively mis-, dis- and under-informed.

Perhaps in part for that very reason, news organizations tend to steer clear of such information surveys. News orgs like to pander to voters almost as much as our major pols do; telling us how little we know may seem a bad way to do business. (The American people are pretty sharp! It’s one of our most treasured sound-bites.) At any rate, Charles Blow cited this survey’s results in his New York Times column this Saturday. Believe it or not, Blow overstates the degree of the public’s knowledge in this passage:

BLOW (1/30/10): According to a survey released this week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, only 1 person in 4 knew that 60 votes are needed in the Senate to break a filibuster and only 1 in 3 knew that no Senate Republicans voted for the health care bill.

In fact, since the questions in this survey were a form of multiple choice, it’s almost certain that fewer than one in four could have cited that 60-vote threshold on their own, without any prompting. (To review all the survey’s questions, click this.) One other result: Only 39 percent were able to name Harry Reid as majority leader of the Senate. And they picked his name from this gang of four: Reid, Al Franken, Hillary Clinton, Mitch McConnell. There’s no way of knowing how many people could have named the gent on their own.

Information surveys constantly show it: We the people are always under-informed, even on the day’s biggest issues. This brings us to last Friday’s meeting between Barack Obama and the House Republicans. Many observers have oohed and aahed about the brilliance of the exchange; this tendency has been especially strong among Obama’s supporters. In part though, the seeming brilliance of this exchange may just be a reflection of the cosmic dumbness which typifies most discussion within our floundering discourse. We the people are massively dumb—but then, so are our multimillionaire tribunes! Consider Chris Matthews’ groaning performance on Friday afternoon’s Hardball.

We the people don’t know Harry Reid? Matthews, paid five million per year, doesn’t know Paul Ryan from Tim! In the wake of the Obama-GOP meeting, this is part of the hapless discussion Matthews conducted with Perry Bacon (Washington Post) and Ken Vogel (Politico). To watch this full segment, click here:

BACON (1/29/10): If you remember the last part of the event today, [Obama] started praising Paul Ryan, this congressman from Wisconsin, saying, Paul Ryan has lots of good ideas. He said after that, no, no, no, I don’t really mean it, because I don`t want to get, Paul Ryan to be primaried....

MATTHEWS: Yes. Isn’t Paul Ryan the congressman who is pro-life, I think, but he’s trying to find a common ground between the pro-choice and the pro-life people? Isn’t he that one, Perry?

Poor Bacon! Politely, he covered for his host, as journalists frequently have to do when they get to dance with the stars. As the stars always do in this part of the dance, Chris pretended he knew all along:

BACON (continuing directly): I believe that’s Tim Ryan, I think.

MATTHEWS: Tim Ryan, you’re right! You’re dead right! That’s exactly right! That was Tim.

BACON: Paul Ryan is a fairly—Tim Ryan of Ohio, who is a Democrat, I think, yes. Yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: OK. So, it’s a different Ryan.

BACON: Paul Ryan is a—yes, exactly.

“Yes, exactly,” Bacon said, covering for The Man.

Let us finish Bacon’s thought: Paul Ryan is a very significant up-and-comer within the House Republican caucus. He’s the “ranking member” on the House Budget Committee; whatever one thinks of his views and claims, he is widely regarded as one of the most important players in the GOP’s next generation. He’s been promoted and featured for several years as the GOP’s new budget maven. That, of course, is why he was picked to ask the day’s second question. (Obama bantered with Ryan about his family, who were sitting there at Ryan’s table.)

Presumably, Matthews had watched the event. Ryan had played a key role, asking about—what else?—the budget. It’s stunning that Matthews, several hours later, still had Paul Ryan mixed up with Tim, a relatively insignificant House member—a guy from the other party!

We the people don’t know Harry Reid? Matthews is paid five million a year—and he didn’t know Paul Ryan, several hours later! He did know how to play the fool. A few moments later, he asked Vogel for the headline which would emerge from this ballyhooed forum. Vogel offered a pair of the world’s dumbest observations—a dumbness Chris easily topped:

MATTHEWS: Your thoughts, Ken, about the historic nature of this and what the headline’s going to be in Politico when I read it next.

VOGEL: “Obama, GOP caucus—“ Actually, “Obama, GOP conference trade barbs.” It was interesting that the House Republicans refer to themselves as a “conference.” Obama referred to them as a “caucus.” He also, whether purposefully or not, got the first name wrong of—the first name wrong of his final questioner, Jeb Hensarling, Republican from Texas. He called him “Jim” several times, even after Hensarling corrected him.

So, there was definitely an undercurrent of contentiousness, even as both sides sort of went into this with—billing it as a way to sort of produce a productive dialogue. I don`t think that we`re going to see much change—

MATTHEWS: (Laughter) That’s an old Irish trick, by the way! My grandfather used to do it. And Tip O’Neill used to do it. Get the other guy’s name wrong. It drives them crazy, especially when they know you’re doing it.

Anyway, Perry Bacon, sir, of the Washington Post, Ken Vogel of Politico.

What did Vogel take from the meeting? The GOP says “conference”—but Obama said “caucus!” And Obama got a little-known congressman’s first name wrong several times! But then, on the matter of Jeb’s first name, Matthews responded to Vogel’s inanity with some old-world inanity of his own. His grandfather used to do the same thing! It’s an old Irish trick!

Why did Obama’s session seem so damn smart? In part, because we’re all accustomed to public discussion like that.

We the people don’t know Harry Reid. But then, Matthews, our multimillionaire tribune, doesn’t know Uncle Ryan’s non-daughters! But just as Matthews told Vogel and Bacon, MSNBC played excerpts from this event all night long on Friday night, offering hours of expert analysis. If it’s Unvarnished Millionaire Dumbness you love, we’ll suggest you return here tomorrow.

TOMORROW—PART 2: KO and Rachel and Matthews, oh my! The fawning—and fumbling—were monstrous.

Previous stunning non-knowledge: As late as December 2007, Matthews didn’t seem to know which of Obama’s parents had been “Islamic.” We know, we know—it sounds hard to believe. But he said it over and over. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/21/07.