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MILBANK AND GALLANT! Dana can tell who the Goofuses are. He doesn’t waste time on the merits: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2009

Move along, nothing to look at: It ought to be news when David Denby says what he says about Maureen Dowd. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/30/09. Denby’s new book, Snark, is short—and Dowd gets her very own chapter.) But the clan will always support the clan—and the clan is now supporting their dearest. When David Ulin reviewed Snark for the Los Angeles Times, he absent-mindedly forgot to mention Denby’s takedown of Dowd at all (just click here). But then, you ought to know what happened when Denby sat down with Manhattan’s top Charlie.

“Charlie,” of course, is Charlie Rose, high-ranking Gotham insider. Denby did Charlie’s show Tuesday night—and twice tried discussing Miss Dowd. But Charlie didn’t seem to be buying. Here’s Denby’s first attempt at stating his views, quite early on in the session (to watch the whole tape, just click here):

DENBY (2/3/09): People said to me, how can you attack Maureen Dowd of the New York Times for being snarky—

ROSE: Yes, it’s my question.

DENBY: —and praise Jon Stewart. Isn’t he snarky? Or Keith Olbermann? Isn’t he—

ROSE: It seems to me those are very different people because they are in very different mediums, but go ahead.

DENBY: My point was that Stewart and Olbermann and Colbert have a political passion behind—they think that the government should not lie to the people. They think that our civil liberties should not be invaded. And Maureen Dowd, who makes fun of people’s appearance and affect and manner and so on, I don’t see any political idea at all of what the government should be doing, what the point of government is, what the point of politics is. It’s all about ambition and sham. And—

ROSE: I rise to defend Maureen, because I differ with you about this. Plus, I like her and she’s a friend and all of that. But I’ll come— On the merits, we’ll discuss her in a minute. But take John Simon, the critic...

Slick! Promising that he’d one day return, Rose simply changed the subject. And here’s what happened, a good while later, when Denby brought Dowd up again:

DENBY: Look, Maureen Dowd—let’s come back to her—is brilliant. We’re not talking about talent here...But what I don’t see is any value there being defended. No matter what you’ve got, she’s against it. You expose your throat, she’s going to leap with fangs. I mean, she went after both Al Gore and George Bush in 2000. She reduced Gore, who is after all a serious guy who presents himself awkwardly to the public, she reduced him to a caricature and it was widely imitated—

ROSE: Let me just say this, if Al Gore can’t survive—if Al Gore can’t survive—and he can. Look at what happened to him.

DENBY: Right.

ROSE: He’s done quite well. If Al Gore can’t survive whatever Maureen Dowd—

DENBY: What if he had been president instead—instead of a disaster we had? I mean, I think in her small way, she played a role in that.
ROSE: She played—I don’t want to make her the subject of this, simply because the theme is more important than one particular person.

In fairness, Charlie permitted a longer discussion this time; he even had a humanizing tape of Dowd cued up, and he proceeded to play it. But you can see his deliberate cluelessness when it came to Dowd-on-Gore. Gore has done well, he absurdly said. And this is how things ended:

ROSE: OK, so the test is—wait, wait, wait. So the test of your, of who is snarky and who is not snarky, is what they want to do, their ambition in what they are writing? That’s the test?

DENBY: Yes. Seriousness of purpose. No matter how funny or nasty you are, there’s something serious behind it. And satire does that, brilliantly. You know, from Jonathan Swift on down. He makes fun, but there’s some reforming instinct there. If you’re just jumping at anyone’s weakness, that’s snark.

ROSE: As long as— All right. Let’s move beyond that. Because I’m saying, if that’s your test, then you have no basis to criticize Maureen Dowd. If your test is seriousness of purpose, you don`t have any basis—

DENBY: What are her values, except that we should all be honest?

ROSE: She writes brilliantly and gives us an insight into sort of the behavioral aspects of people who aspire to lead.

DENBY: She attacks everyone, Charlie. What would she have done with Abe Lincoln? I mean [imagining Dowd], “Honest Abe? Really?”

At this point, Charlie said that Dowd was “no worse than about five or six other writers did with Abe Lincoln, by the way.” And then, he again told Denby to move right along—though not because Maureen’s his friend:

DENBY: My point is, she’s often wrong.

ROSE: All right. Move beyond her, only because—and it sounds like I have a more—I’m trying to defend her because she’s a friend, and I’m not. I think on the merits, it looks that way.

Let me move to this idea, because I think really there is a very important point, which I worry about...

Charlie had a more important point than how George Bush reached the White House.

Readers, Denby is doing what just isn’t done. He’s making accurate statements about Maureen Dowd at the very top of High Gotham Circles. Darlings! Even out in far L.A., Ulin knew that just isn’t done! And omigod! Note that Rose will even say that Dowd “gives us an insight into” pols’ characters! “My point is, she’s often wrong,” Denby soon said. And then, Charlie told him to drop it.

Bottom line: To this day, you are not allowed to discus what happened in Campaign 2000. The insider press corps ran that campaign, and they don’t plan to discuss it.

And by the way: Have you seen Denby on Countdown or Maddow? Have you seen him asked to discuss the way Dowd slimed Gore, made Hillary Clinton a man, feminized debutante “Obambi?”

Actually, no—you haven’t seen that. Any idea why that is? Why your highest-paid fiery leaders haven’t rushed to discuss such affairs?

MILBANK AND GALLANT: By now, you’d think that almost everyone knows the framework of the current debate. Just in case you’ve been off the planet, here are a few of the talking-points surrounding the stimulus package:

*Republicans have said that the stimulus package is a Christmas tree festooned with ornaments—ornaments made out of lard. The package’s basic provisions are pork, aimed at Democratic constituencies.

*Democrats have said what Krugman says in today’s column (when they bother speaking at all)—that the economy is in a state of free-fall rapidly approaching disaster. Increased government spending is required by this emergency. They’ve said that Republican complaints have only concerned a tiny part of the overall package.

The debate has featured other claims and talking-points, points which should be quite familiar. By now, you’d think that major newspapers would have produced a string of reports in which these claims are sifted.

But the D-plus elite of your national “press corps” doesn’t approach major issues that way. In fact, there have been very few attempts to analyze this debate’s basic talking-points. Last week, the New York Times produced this news analysis, a capable but very limited first effort. But that’s pretty much where the Times’ effort currently stands.

In this morning’s Washington Post, economics columnist Steven Pearlstein offers his views on some familiar claims. But in the news pages of the Post and the Times, efforts to evaluate such talking-points have been virtually non-existent.

But then, your D-plus elite simply doesn’t do issues, a fact which has become quite clear. Instead, they tend to write fatuous novels—novels built around their impressions of politicians’ motives and “character.” The Post’s Dana Milbank may be the worst of this fatuous breed. That said, the “sketch” he crayons in today’s Post ought to go straight to the Smithsonian, so perfectly does it capture the way this silly elite has long conducted its affairs.

Milbank doesn’t breathe a word about the issues at stake in the current debate. Instead, he writes a childish morality tale about two groups of senators. One group—the group he currently favors—are described as the senate’s “workhorses.” The other group—the group he dislikes—are described as a gang of “show horses.”

In Milbank’s column, the insincere show horses “prefer drama to lawmaking.” The love to prance before the cameras while the workhorses selflessly toil in the yard. According to Milbank’s column, the heroic workhorses “got to work [yesterday] on a compromise plan that could get bipartisan support.” But alas! As they did so, “the show horses came out of the gate with unbridled partisanship.”

But readers, exactly what sort of compromise plan have these noble workhorses proposed? More importantly, does their compromise plan make sense? Go ahead: Read through Milbank’s entire column. See if you get any idea what this favored breed has proposed. Beyond that, see if you can find any attempt to evaluate their plan on the merits.

Quite literally, Milbank doesn’t even attempt to say what the workhorses are proposing. (Late in his piece, we do seem to learn that they’re making some sort of “effort to cut the cost of the package.”) And he makes no attempt to explain why their proposals make sense. But it’s clear that the workhorses have good character, as opposed to the prancing show horses. Here’s an early part of Milbank’s novel, where this childish view starts to come clear:

MILBANK (2/6/09): The workhorses—an ad hoc group of 18 moderates and dealmakers from both parties—holed up in a committee room on the third floor of the Dirksen Building, tossed out their staff and got to work on a compromise plan that could get bipartisan support.

The show horses—including the leadership of both parties—gave speeches on the Senate floor and news conferences either to trade blame for partisan deadlock or to denounce the Group of 18's dealmaking efforts.

The workhorses, taking a lunch break so some of them could confer with the White House about the compromise, were pleased with their labors.

[...]

But 10 minutes later, Senate Democratic leaders pranced into a news conference and trampled on the workhorses' work.

Trust us, there’s more where that came from. Milbank makes it very clear that his “workhorses” work sincerely—while his “show horses” dance.

Milbank, a former Skull-and-Bonesman, apparently did his senior thesis on the ethics of Goofus and Gallant. (For their latest adventures, click here.) In this, his latest cartoon, the noble workhorses are the Gallants; the show horses sit at the right hand of Goofus. And readers, here’s the best part of all: You don’t have to read a single word about what these groups believe or propose! When it comes to judging those gallant workhorses, you don’t have to waste a single moment on their proposal’s content or merits!

Again, Milbank’s column brilliantly captures the way your upper-end press corps does business. Instead of examining policy questions, they dream up silly character tales about the various participants. Unfortunately, their judgments of character tend to be faulty, much as you would expect from people who work in this ludicrous manner. If you doubt that, consider Milbank’s appraisal of his “workhorses.” Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but their names are Nelson and Collins:

MILBANK: The workhorses, taking a lunch break so some of them could confer with the White House about the compromise, were pleased with their labors.

"It is unusual to think of senators actually doing that kind of painstaking, thorough work," said Susan Collins (Maine), leader of the Republican workhorses.

"Always refreshing to be able to do that," added Ben Nelson (Neb.), captain of the Democratic workhorses.

But 10 minutes later, Senate Democratic leaders pranced into a news conference and trampled on the workhorses' work.

In this childish tale, Nelson and Collins are noble hard-workers; other senators play to the cameras. And yet, even the dumbest among us could imagine a different shape for this silly tale. Nelson, after all, is a Dem from a red state; Collins is a Rep from a state which is blue. That said, isn’t it possible that they are the ones who are desperately playing to cameras? That they are just going through “centrist” exertions to convince their state’s voters that they’re people of conscience? Here at THE HOWLER, we can’t read these senators’ minds, any more than Milbank can. But we do know how stupid his childish tale is—and we know that any damn fool could invert its heroes and villains.

Who’s being noble and honest here? Who is merely playing to cameras? There’s no earthly way for us to know—and the Bonesman doesn’t know either. (As far as we know, all these senators believe what they’re saying. We also know that’s not the point.) But this is how your insider “press corps” has dealt with such matters for a very long time now. First, they decide whose side they’re on. Then, they start to dream silly tales—silly tales in which those folks are portrayed with superb, gallant character.

Is your nation facing great peril? Are Nelson’s proposals the right way to go? Milbank doesn’t kill his buzz with such questions. Instead, he shows how his clan has done its own “work” in the years which have led us to peril.

Coming Monday: A tale of three or four cities. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/5/09.