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RACE/RACE/RACE! It has become amazingly easy to yell race/race/race at Big Dems: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2008

TWO GUESSES: Upon reflection, here’s a guess about why the New York Times deleted that paragraph from Maureen Dowd’s column—the one in which she referred to Obama (sorry—to “Obambi”)—as a “Hollywood starlet:”

DOWD (2/6/08): Even though Obama stopped smoking when he started running for president, he has lost five pounds racing around the country. Just like Hollywood starlets, he works out religiously and he can make a three-course meal out of a Nicorette.

That paragraph appeared in the hard-copy edition of Dowd’s Wednesday column, but it’s AWOL on-line, and at Nexis. (In a comment to this Digby post, Rude Pundit says the paragraph was originally present in the Times on-line column.)

Our guess: Some High and High-Minded Manhattan Liberal decided that this paragraph might seem to encourage eating disorders. We have no way of knowing, of course. But that’s where we’d put our five bucks.

After all, the New York Times still hasn’t shown any sign of noticing Dowd’s endless cracked pottery. We’re sure they must get hard-hitting letters about this, their most vacuous pundit. But this morning, they print two letters about this column—and the balance of views they present is predictable. The first of the letters trashes “the destructive pathology of the Clintons,” much as Crackpot Dowd herself did. The second letter, providing the “balance,” chides Dowd for drawing no inspiration from Clinton’s run. Then, the writer quickly says that Obama is inspiring too.

We’re sure they get letters that go to Dowd’s looniness. But they’re still ending up on the floor.

While we’re guessing, there’s one other guess we have wanted to record: We’ll guess that, if we ever hear a fuller account of the Billy Shaheen “youthful drug use” remark, the words “off the record” will be part of that story. We base this guess on pure common sense: It was crazy for Shaheen to say this on the record (for example, because his wife is running for the Senate, and needs the votes of Obama supporters). But we assume that the various campaigns say things like this, off the record, all the time. (We assume that because we live in Maryland, not on the far planet Zarkon.)

We’ve been wanting to record this mini-prediction. Since we were guessing about that deletion, we thought we might as well act.

RACE/RACE/RACE: During MSNBC’s Tuesday night coverage, Gene Robinson made the most racist statement we’ve ever heard.

Except, of course, he didn’t.

Our VCR died last night, and the transcripts haven’t yet been posted. So we’ll have to give you a rough paraphrase of Robinson’s (slightly inaccurate) comment. He was talking about—what else?—Barack Obama’s uncanny similarity to the iconic saint, John F. Kennedy. (It isn’t Obama’s fault that they do this.) At one point, Robinson said something like this: When Kennedy became president in 1960, the civil rights movement got started.

Once again, that’s a very rough paraphrase, but we think the record will show that Robinson said something vaguely like it. At the time, we noticed that his statement was somewhat misleading, as extemporaneous statements often are; the civil rights movement was well under way when Kennedy announced he would run for the White House. But, of course, we didn’t think that Robinson was trying to “insult” the civil rights movement or its many superlative leaders. In fact, we didn’t think he was “trying to do” anything at all; we assumed he had made a slightly imprecise statement, as pundits and pols all do, quite routinely. But we thought something else when we heard this remark; we thought of the way Hillary Clinton’s statement about Lyndon Johnson had been turned into a vile racial outrage near the end of the New Hampshire primary. We thought about how easy it is to yell “race/race/race” in our (gloriously diverse) Dem Party politics.

Last week, we saw Harold Meyerson yell race/race/race about Clinton, inexcusably—when, in fact, he had no idea what he was actually talking about. (It didn’t even cross his mind that Republicans play dirty tricks around race.) And then too, we saw this piece by the New Republic’s John Judis. We think it shows how quickly our liberal “intellectual leaders” will now yell race at major Democratic candidates.

Judis’ piece has been recommended by several liberals whose judgment and views we respect. We wouldn’t recommend it. Here’s why:

Judis claims that Hillary Clinton “play[ed] the race card” in South Carolina. Here’s the last paragraph of his piece, which is high-mindedly called “Race Matters:”

JUDIS (1/31/08): Leaving the moral question aside, the fact is that Clinton blundered disastrously in South Carolina. Once Obama had won Iowa and established himself as a credible candidate, his standing among black voters shot upwards, and it became extremely likely that he would win the South Carolina primary. Clinton could have run a decent, above-the-fray campaign in South Carolina that maintained her popularity among African American voters. She would have lost the overall vote by less, and would still have benefited among some whites and Latinos from Obama's visible reliance on black voters to ensure his victory. Instead, she jeopardized both her reputation and her chance of becoming president.

Yikes! She could have run a decent campaign—but, alas, she didn’t. And as noted, Judis plainly states, a few paragraphs earlier, that Clinton had been “playing the race card” during the Palmetto campaign. But how easy has it now become to yell race/race/race at a major Dem candidate? Here are the first three paragraphs of Judis’ piece—the only place where he describes an example of playing this card:

JUDIS: It would have been fine, of course, for a political scientist or a journalist to make the observation that Hillary Clinton stood little chance in the South Carolina Democratic primary running against a black candidate. And it would have raised no eyebrows if he or she drew comparisons between Barack Obama's win and Jesse Jackson's 1988 victory. But Bill Clinton is a master politician who calibrates the exact effect of his words upon an audience. And as Clinton well knew, linking an opponent to Jackson, as former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms used to do regularly in his campaigns, is a surefire way to stir some white voters up against him.

The ostensible purpose of Clinton's doing so was not to win South Carolina, although the Clinton campaign expected to do much better with the state's African Americans than they did. It would have been to send a signal to white and Latino voters in future primaries that Obama, like Jackson, was a "black candidate." After the election, the campaign circulated a blog post on The Left Coaster noting that Obama had "actually underperformed on the white vote (significantly)...in South Carolina compared to Nevada." The message of this post seemed to be that as a result of his reliance on black voters in South Carolina, Obama would continue to underperform among whites.

This analysis is questionable. Nevada's whites voted in a caucus, not a primary. They were likely to be more liberal than their South Carolina counterparts and to belong to unions. But the general point could be correct. By painting Obama as the black candidate, Hillary Clinton might have lost the African-American vote but won the nomination.

How did Hillary Clinton “play the race card?” How did she “paint Obama as the black candidate,” fail to run “a decent campaign?” Judis cites two acts: After the primary was over, her campaign circulated a blog post. And during the campaign, Bill Clinton made that comment about Jackson.

On that basis, Judis makes the most serious charge you can make in our politics. Sorry—we don’t think that’s enough.

Was Bill Clinton trying to “send a signal” to white and Latino voters in other states when he made this one fleeting remark? To us, this notion seems a bit far-fetched—and we note the degree of novelization Judis must offer to prove this deeply serious claim. The “ostensible” purpose of Clinton’s remark was to send this signal, he mysteriously says. And how does Judis know such a thing? If this weren’t such a serious topic, his reasoning would be laugh-out-loud ludicrous:

JUDIS: Bill Clinton is a master politician who calibrates the exact effect of his words upon an audience.

“Bill Clinton is a master politician who calibrates the exact effect of his words upon an audience!” Adding that to the novel, we get our neat ending, in which Clinton sends a signal. But on what planet had Judis been living if he’s willing to author this tale? On what planet has Bill Clinton been making these masterful efforts?

Did anyone except Judis see Bill Clinton “calibrat[ing] the exact effect of his words upon an audience” in the New Hampshire and South Carolina campaigns? In fact, Clinton made a significant array of slightly odd statements, most of which had nothing to do with race, some of which couldn’t possibly involve the type of master calibration Judis decided to posit. For example, what master calibration was at work when Clinton weirdly said, in South Carolina, that “the first thing [Hillary Clinton] intends to do is send me and former president Bush and a number of other people around the world to tell them that America is open for business and co-operation again?” The statement was met with (deserved) high ridicule; across the pond, the Financial Times said “it seems like his usually sharp political instincts failed him this time.” Was Clinton involved in some sort of masterful calibration when he made that laughable claim? Judis’ assertion lets him compose a short novel, but it’s hard to square with the blunderbuss statements Bill Clinton has made in recent months—most of which had nothing whatever to do with the subject of race.

Unless we’re determined to puff our chests and yell race/race/race, that is. And many of our most brilliant leaders have been prepared to engage in that puffing. In the hands of our liberal intellectual leaders, a wide array of statements by Bill Clinton suddenly took on a racial aspect; the fleeting use of such terms as “fairy tale,” “hit job” and “roll of the dice” were suddenly seen to be vile racial outrages, plucked out of hours of polite talk and used to show Clinton’s vile motives. The commentaries which resulted set the stage for Judis to yell race/race/race at Hillary Clinton, on the basic of this one remark—whose “ostensible” purpose he could divine thanks to his novelistic insight. This strikes us a very dumb way to interpret the events of the world. But then, it has long been amazingly easy to yell race/race/race at Big Major Dems—and our “liberal intellectual leaders” have long been happy to play along. Consider what happened when Candidate Bradley, quite inexcusably, yelled race/race/race at Al Gore.

We’ve described this sad—and comical and repulsive—incident in some detail. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02, for example. For more background, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/07.) In this incident, Candidate Bradley joined the whole mainstream press corps in pretending that it was really Gore who was responsible for the Willie Horton matter—for the ugly racial conduct of the 1988 White House race. Never mind that the claim was absurd on its face—and that Bradley himself had specifically said so, in his own 1996 book. By December 1999, the mainstream press corps was waging its War Against Gore, and Bradley was happy to play along with them—and when he did, your “liberal intellectual leaders” didn’t say jacksh*t about it. Harold Meyerson kept his trap shut, despite all his marvelous savvy; John Judis stared off into air, then produced the ludicrous assault on Gore’s bad character that we recently discussed (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/14/08). The twenty-month pounding directed at Gore included this ludicrous gang-bang episode, in which Bradley and the whole mainstream press corps yelled race/race/race at Gore’s conduct. The claim was utterly bogus; it had started with George Will, and then had become the province of brilliant, high-minded Rush Limbaugh. But so what—yelling race/race/race can be fun. And your “liberal intellectual leaders” were too dead-dog stupid to care. (Only Morton Kondracke spoke up, as you’ll see in the first of our links.)

The good news: Dem Party politics is increasingly diverse, and will continue to be so. The bad news: This will lead to endless electoral defeat, unless we find “intellectual leaders” who don’t behave in the ludicrous way Harold Meyerson did last week. Who don’t make silly proclamations about Bill Clinton’s “master calibrations” so they can type preferred novels.

It’s easy to yell race/race/race—and some of our “leaders” are now proven screamers. But it just isn’t smart—and it isn’t right. If you think that isn’t the case, just recall what happened to Gore, after these brilliant, high-minded men got finished refusing to defend him.

WHAT WE SEE: Here’s the full transcript of the press exchange in which Bill Clinton made his now-famous comment. Judis sees “master calibration” at work. We have no idea what Clinton was thinking, but we see other possibilities.

Part of what we see in this exchange is a rude and openly hostile press corps. Here’s the first question Clinton was asked that day, for example:

REPORTER: You proud of what you’ve done here in South Carolina?

Cute. That’s what you might call a leading question. So too with the “question” which led to Clinton’s now-famous remark:

REPORTER: What does it say about Barack Obama that it takes two of you to beat him?

Please. In response to the previous question, Clinton had said, “I’m not taking the bait today.” He then referred to this question as “bait”—and then, he went ahead and took it. Soon, high-minded reporters were feigning concern about the vile thing he had said.

But then, this sort of thing has gone on forever. It was done to the person who now holds the Nobel Peace Prize, and people like Judis just stared into space, before offering his own absurd, silly thoughts about the vile man’s troubling character. Simple story: With “liberal intellectual leaders” like these, progressive interests will always be threatened. Judis makes an excellent novelist. But the liberal/Dem world needs something more.

If we were writing a novel about that exchange, we would describe an angry ex-president who loathes those reporters, for many good reasons. But it’s always easy to yell race/race/race, as Bradley showed when he yelled it at Gore, and that’s the tired, destructive old novel Judis himself so masterfully calibrated. One example was all that was needed to lodge our most serious charge.