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HE’S A FIGHTER—AND A LOVER! Dionne and Herbert construct a Dear Leader. Is this really good for our side? // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2009

In search of the ten-minute column: Inside the cohort, the search for the ten-minute column is constant. This morning, Dana Milbank shows how the modern search engine can aid in this unending quest.

In our hard-copy Post, Milbank’s “sketch” contains 21 paragraphs. By our count, thirteen of those grafs get burned up in the manner shown here:

MILBANK (2/10/09): These are good times for a Great Depression.

President Obama visited a struggling hamlet in Indiana yesterday and gave a speech that would not be mistaken for a pep talk. We're in "an economic crisis as deep and as dire as any since the Great Depression," he said, and without quick action, "our nation will sink into a crisis that at some point we may be unable to reverse."

Lawmakers, too, were feeling blue. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said on the Senate floor yesterday that "we will get close to the Great Depression" without action, while Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) spoke of an economy "perched on the edge of a cliff" that without help will fall "off the side to a deep depression."

"We're only a few steps away from spiraling down to a depression," Sen Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on television Sunday. "The risk of doing nothing could lead to a Great Depression."

If the economy isn't already in a depression, Americans themselves are likely to be if they've been hearing their leaders drop the D-bomb again and again.

Returning to the White House, the president held a prime-time news conference last night to report on his findings in Indiana. He spoke of "the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression”...

Thanks to the miracle of the search engine, writing a ten-minute column is easy! In this case, Milbank searched on “Great Depression,” then cut-and-pasted what he found. Voila! Typer’s block solved!

Milbank’s on-line sketch, from which we’ve quoted, differs somewhat from our hard-copy version. But again: In the hard-copy version of this piece, the scribe burned 13 paragraphs (out of 21) by quoting pols saying the words “Great Depression.” Ben Nelson said it, and so did John Ensign—not to mention prime minister Brown. Baucus, Landrieu, Conrad and Reid? Their pasted words also served as filler—inside a very thin stew.

HE’S A LOVER—AND A FIGHTER: Can anyone really explain the provisions in the dueling stimulus packages? We’ll admit it—we were flummoxed by the following passage from this morning’s Times. We can’t really explain what this means:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (2/10/09): Negotiators should also salvage the child tax credit, worth up to $1,000 per child. The House wants to make the credit available to all working families. The Senate would make it available only to families with wages of at least $8,100. Negotiators should split the difference. The credit is robust stimulus because the recipients are likely to spend it quickly.

Perhaps this has been explained somewhere, but we’ll admit that we haven’t seen it. And does that passage mean what it seems? Under the Senate bill, a working family earning $9000 would get the child tax credit—but a family making $7000 would not? And what exactly does the Times mean when it recommends “splitting the difference?” Should congress lower that cut-off to $4050? Families earning $5000 would get the credit? Those earning four grand would not?

Obviously, this bill is very important—but we think the press has largely engaged in scatter-shot explanation of its contents. In our view, part of the fault lies with columnists who waste their time trashing those on one side of the debate—and deifying the emerging Dear Leader who masterfully stands on the other.

One such person is Bob Herbert, who is still in a rage today because Lindsey Graham dared to say that the stimulus package “stinks.” (Graham “was behaving like a 6-year-old,” Herbert thunders today, behaving a bit that way himself.) But then, Herbert is in a rage at all who find fault with his emerging Dear Leader—liberals, centrists, conservatives alike. As his column begins, he calls the roll of those who would “bad-mouth” a god:

HERBERT (2/10/09): It was just a week ago that the bad-mouthing of Barack Obama seemed to be reaching a fever pitch.

The president was taking heat for the tax problems of Tom Daschle, Timothy Geithner and other appointees and nominees. Liberal supporters of the president were upset that he was making such a high-profile effort to get Republicans to climb aboard his stimulus package bandwagon.

Self-styled middle-of-the-roaders were snarling that Mr. Obama was not doing enough bipartisan outreach, even as Republicans on Capitol Hill were attacking his economic package with the kind of venom usually reserved for the handiwork of Satan. Mr. Obama was called a hypocrite, dismissed as both craven and politically naive and taken to task for being too much in the public eye.

“Taken to task for being too much in the public eye?” Chris Matthews authored that silly complaint—but Herbert absent-mindedly forgets to cite those in his professional cohort. But: After giving a pass to professional pals (it’s the law), Herbert savages all who remain. “Self-styled middle-of-the-roaders” were snarling; “Republicans” were displaying the venom normally aimed at Satan himself. But omigod! Even liberal supporters were at fault in the “bad-mouthing” of this Dear Leader. How dare such citizens voice their views about one without blemish or fault?

And yes, Obama is truly becoming Dear in Herbert’s new, silliest column. In the headline, he’s called “The Chess Master;” in the body of the piece, Obama is praised in the sycophantic ways which have sometimes emerged in far capitals. “He’s smart, deft, elegant and subtle,” Herbert says. He’s “responsible and mature,” “concerned not just with the short-term political realities but also the long-term policy implications.” How silly does the pandering get? This isn’t Obama’s doing or fault. But consider this obvious nonsense:

HERBERT: Mr. Obama is like a championship chess player, always several moves ahead of friend and foe alike. He’s smart, deft, elegant and subtle. While Lindsey Graham was behaving like a 6-year-old on the Senate floor and Pete Sessions was studying passages in his Taliban handbook, Mr. Obama and his aides were assessing what’s achievable in terms of stimulus legislation and how best to get there.

I’d personally like to see a more robust stimulus package, with increased infrastructure spending and fewer tax cuts. But the reality is that Mr. Obama needs at least a handful of Republican votes in the Senate to get anything at all done, and he can’t afford to lose this first crucial legislative fight of his presidency.

But did you have to be “smart, deft, elegant and subtle”—a champion player—to know that Obama “needed at least a handful of Republican votes in the Senate?” Actually, no—you had to be breathing. But this column truly rings of Dear Leadership. It name-calls the other side, deifies ours. And it doesn’t tell you a stinking thing about what’s actually in that package. What might be wrong with Graham’s arguments (whatever they are)? It doesn’t waste time on that.

Herbert is building a Leader today. But we thought this Dear Leaderization began yesterday, with this fawning column by E. J. Dionne. He too seemed to be crafting a Leader who was all-encompassing, Dear:

DIONNE (2/9/09): It took less than three weeks for the real Barack Obama to come into view. He turns out to be both a conciliator and a fighter.

These are not contradictions in his character. They represent different sides of a politician who sees some issues as more susceptible to compromise than others and who wants his adversaries to know that his easygoing style does not make him a pushover.

In Dionne’s headline, Obama is “The Fighting Conciliator.” “These are not contradictions in his character,” we’re quickly told. But then, the god-head always includes all virtues, even those which normally war with each other. Most sillily, E. J. wrote this:

DIONNE: But fighting for his recovery program does not preclude Obama's efforts to ease the cultural conflicts that have divided the country since the late 1960s. If Obama is happy to wage war on right-wing economic theories and overpaid Wall Street executives, he does not want to pick gratuitous fights with those who are moderate or conservative on cultural and religious matters.

Obama's own cultural instincts run right down the middle of the road. His politics are more neo-Truman than neo-Woodstock, more compatible with "It's a Wonderful Life" than "Easy Rider."

He supports abortion rights but argues for fewer abortions. He supports religious liberty but thinks religion has a legitimate public role. He wants to fix but not abolish George W. Bush's faith-based program. MTV loyalists love him, but he models a family life more likely to play on the Disney Channel.

On the presidential level, every major Dem in memory “supported abortion rights but argued for fewer abortions,” “supported religious liberty but thought religion had a legitimate public role.” And by the way, we’re slightly puzzled: Easy Rider featured two acid-dropping dope-dealers. Among major Dems of the last million years, just whose “cultural instincts” were “compatible” with that?

Sadly, these columns do reek of Dear Leader. This is striking when we recall the way these pundits behaved the last time two Dems were inside the White House, being bad-mouthed by many voices, including that of Herbert himself.

Those two Dems were Clinton and Gore; they held the White House in the 1990s. During that era, Herbert largely purchased his cohort’s anti-Clinton package; he was aggressively savaging Gore as late as October 2000. By way of contrast, Dionne didn’t buy that big bag of cant. He simply kept quiet, for years, as Clinton, then Gore, got savaged.

Today, the pair get to stage a do-over, and they’re doing things quite differently. But their columns this week weren’t much more helpful than those they wrote in the warring 90s. What is good and less good in that bill? What is wrong with Republican arguments? A pair of scribes have skipped such questions this week, heaping praise on Dear Leader instead. Dear Leader’s a lover—and a fighter, concerned with the short-term as well as the long. And of course, in every instance, he’s ahead of his friends and his foes.

Why would those running-dog liberal supporters bad-mouth this all-encompassing Leader? While we’re at it, what’s up with that child tax credit? Anyone know about that?

Visit our incomparable archives: What’s it like when a Big Dem really gets bad-mouthed? Pepperidge Farm remembers—and so should Herbert. This particular Dem was condescending, supercilious, contemptuous, disdainful—and smug and boorish besides! He made Herbert think of Eddie Haskell. (By contrast, George Bush, an “ordinary guy,” had been doing his best.) See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/4/08. In some ways—not all—times have changed.