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THE FLIPS OF THE SAINTS! GOP saints are flipping wildly. Some pundits don’t seem to have heard: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2007

THE MARCH OF THE ANTOINETTES: When Dana Milbank began his “Washington Sketches,” it would have been very hard to predict how inane they would turn out to be. But good lord! Is there a more trivial mind on the planet? Milbank breathes out his cohort’s tired old themes the way other mortals expel the air. Today, for example, he tells us that politicians are lazy (and too ambitious)—and, of course, that they’re hopelessly fatuous. Yesterday, battering Bush all around, he offered this clownish “analysis:”
MILBANK (2/15/07): The president's discomfort was evident in his verbal tics. Asked about Iran, he stated that "we have a comprehensive strategy to deal with Iraq." Eleven times he used the phrase "in other words" to magnify his points ("Money trumps peace sometimes; in other words, commercial interests are very powerful").
Bush’s “discomfort was evident” during his presser because he said “Iraq” when he meant “Iran,” and because he said “in other words” too often. Of course, if you’ve ever watched cable news programs, you know that people constantly say “Iraq” for “Iran” (or vice versa); pols and pundits display this “verbal tic” all the time. Meanwhile, could we punish the editor who let Milbank use the Post’s electronic search engines? Yes, he could count up “in other words” himself, and he then could “interpret” such meaningless patterns. He could do this pointless work by himself. But most likely, he’d be too lazy.

The paragraph we’ve quoted is so dumb it hurts, but so was the rest of Milbank’s “sketch.” Indeed, this is now the established manner of Washington’s upper-class “press corps.” As a high school kid, we could never have dreamed that professional cohorts would actually do their business this way. And, of course, most cohorts don’t; if engineers clowned in this manner, for example, nothing in the wider world would work. Traffic lights would uselessly blink every day, but then again, it wouldn’t matter; when you turned your key in your ignition each morning, you’d learn that you car didn’t work. No—other cohorts don’t play Antoinette in this way. But the celebrity “press” loves to do so.

Our reigning queen of the Antoinettes is, of course, Maureen Dowd. Yesterday, she devoted herself to a fatuous piece concerning Dem hopeful Barack Obama. As always, her piece was all about her brilliant skill as seeing the meaning in meaningless tics. It concerned body language, quite loosely interpreted. It was all about how the man “seemed:”
DOWD (2/15/07): Beyond his smooth-jazz facade, the reassuring baritone and that ensorcelling smile, the 45-year-old had moments of looking conflicted.

In the lobby of the AmericInn in Iowa Falls on Saturday night, he seemed a bit dazed by his baptism into the big-time. He was left munching trail mix all day while, he said, ''the press got fed before me.''

Everything was a revelation for him: The advance team acronym RON, for Rest Overnight. Women squealing. ''I saw a hat,'' he noted with a grin, ''that said, 'Obama, clean and articulate.' ''

Senator Obama's body language was loose—and he's so slender his wedding band looked as if it was slipping off—but there was a wariness in his dark eyes.
He didn’t seem dazed—he seemed a bit dazed. (Earlier in the column, Obama wasn’t testy—he was “a tad testy.” With their brilliant skills, our Antoinettes can make such minute distinctions.) Meanwhile, why should any voter care if Obama had “moments” of looking conflicted? Our head Antoinette didn’t say. Instead, she was reading Obama’s “body language”—and making her inevitable, weird remarks about his wedding band perhaps slipping off. And of course, she was brilliantly letting us know what she could brilliantly see in his eyes.

And as always, she was pushing her empty soul forward. “Obama, Legally Blonde?” said the headline, reflecting the weird, insulting way she swirled race and gender together in this, her first piece on this new Dem hopeful. But then, Dowd is always all about saying that Big Dem Males are just weak girly-men. (By contrast, Big Republican Males are rough contract killers.) “Al Gore is so feminized...he's practically lactating,” this idiot once blandly wrote.

In part, Dowd’s tortured obsession with weird gender themes reflects her crabbed social background. (We were raised Irish Catholic in the 50s and 60s ourselves. Most of us found a way to grow up and move on.) Beyond that, her column reflects her regal standing—her complete disinterest in the real issues that concern the real people of the real world, the ones who aren’t found at her cohort’s soirees. It has been quite a while since we cited Joe Klein’s famous take on Dowd’s empty soul. Klein was quoted by Gay Jervey, who profiled Dowd, long ago, in Brill’s Content:
JERVEY (6/99): "Maureen is very talented," observes Joe Klein of The New Yorker. "But she is ground zero of what the press has come to be about in the nineties...I remember having a discussion with her in which I said, 'Maureen, why don't you go out and report about something significant, go out and see poor people, do something real?' And she said, 'You mean I should write about welfare reform?’”
Darlings, why would Dowd stoop to discussions of welfare? After all, she isn’t on welfare herself! Instead, she types inane, empty novels. She reads body language and mind-reads mood, thereby creating the fatuous dramas in which her own demons are explored.

Our Antoinettes are empty, fatuous, foolish. No real profession could clown in their manner. Barack Obama? He’s just a dumb blonde! So it goes as this gaggle of royals makes a sick joke of our lives.

RICHARD’S RULES OF REASON: Then there’s Richard Cohen, who—bless his heart—isn’t exactly an Antoinette. But when he tries to reason about serious things, we sometimes wish he’d restrict himself to reading body language of pols.

As we’ve said, we think the Kerry/Clinton/Edwards vote for the 10/02 war resolution was one of the worst votes in Senate history. (For the record, 74 others cast this same vote.) In this vote, the senators took their greatest responsibility—the responsibility to decide if we’re going to war—and handed it over to President Bush. At the time, Bush was saying he didn’t want war. (For ourselves, no—we didn’t believe him.) But in this vote, 77 senators said this to Bush: Well, if you change your mind in the future, don’t bother to come back and check it with us! They gave away their most solemn constitutional obligation. They handed it to a rank idiot.

So yes, we think that vote was awful; we agree with the part of Cohen’s column which reflects that judgment. But ain’t it sad when our pundits attempt to reason? Cohen says this about “Bush’s intentions” at the time of the war resolution:
COHEN (2/15/07): Somehow, Bush's intentions were lost on Clinton, who then as now was a member of the United States Senate. This was the case even though she now rightly calls Bush's desire to topple Saddam Hussein an "obsession."

"From almost the first day they got into office," Clinton said last weekend in New Hampshire, the Bush administration was "trying to figure out how to get rid of Saddam Hussein." If that was the case—and indeed it was—then how come she now says she did not think Bush, armed with a congressional resolution, would hurry to war?
“Somehow, Bush's intentions were lost on Clinton,” Cohen says—failing to note the fact that Bush was saying that he intended to avoid war. (Big Dems have said that similar pledges were being made in private.) And then, the gentleman tries to reason. If Bush was trying to get Saddam from Day One, “then how come she now says she did not think Bush...would hurry to war?” Since Tucker Carlson hailed this reasoning as a brilliant take-down of Clinton (text below), we thought we might take a minute to address Cohen’s confusion.

Once again, here’s what Clinton said: "From almost the first day they got into office," Bush was "trying to figure out how to get rid of Saddam Hussein." That assertion seems to be true—but neither you nor Cohen knew it at the time of the 10/02 vote. This claim was most dramatically put forward by former Treasury Sec Paul O’Neill in Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty—a book which was published in February 2004. When Suskind quoted O’Neill saying that Bush was after Saddam from the start, most pundits took it as a revelation—as something we hadn’t known before that.

Today, many libs and Dems accept the notion that Bush was obsessed with Saddam from the start. But this fact wasn’t clear in 10/02, at the time of the war resolution. Alas, poor Cohen! Trying heard to reason clearly, he wonders why Clinton didn’t consider, in 10/02, a theme which emerged in 2/04. And inevitably, Tucker scrambled onto the air to hail the man’s brilliant argument:
CARLSON (2/13/07): Richard Cohen had a really smart piece today, in which he said, Hillary Clinton claims that she had no idea that vote was going to result in war. And yet she goes around, in almost the same breath, and says the Bush administration was obsessed with invading Iraq from the very beginning. You can’t believe both at the same time. Why doesn’t she apologize?
Bless their hearts! They try to play. And, almost always, they fail.
As we’ve said, we think that vote was one of the worst in Senate history. But Cohen’s logic is equally woesome. One more time, he tries to reason. One more time, he fails:
COHEN: I do not condemn Clinton and other Democratic presidential candidates—Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and John Edwards—for voting for the war [resolution] because I would have done the same. I fault them, though, for passing the blame to Bush as the guy who misled them. They all had sufficient knowledge to question the administration's arguments, and they did not do so. Not a single one of them, for instance, could possibly have believed the entirety of the administration's case or not have suspected that the reasons for war were being hyped. If they felt otherwise, they have no business running for president.
But of course, you didn’t have to believe “the entirety of the case” to believe that the case had been made on balance. Bless his heart! Cohen writes two short columns a week. And this is the best he can manage.

THE NASTY SOUL OF THE MAN: Finally, the nasty soul of this man. Cohen—once accused of sexual harassment himself, at the Post—just can’t get That Man off his mind. Here’s how he started his column:
COHEN: Yet another man has betrayed Hillary Clinton. This time it's George W. Bush...
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! No, these sneering boys don’t know how to reason. But they know how to slime this female candidate because of her husband’s misconduct.

Last night, of course, completely predictably, Chris Matthews stole Cohen’s jibe (text below). But then, he too has a jones about liberal women. The jones tears at him night and day. It just won’t let him go.

BOYS LOVE JIBES: Here’s Matthews, ripping off Cohen on last evening’s Hardball. Boys like this have always loved to offer such gender-based jibes:
MATTHEWS (2/15/07): She seems to imply that she didn’t know this guy would take us to war. She said, he could, I gave him the right to do it but I thought he would go through sanctions and inspections and all of this. [Note: That’s what Bush was saying he would do.]

Everybody in America knew we were going to war with Bush. He made it pretty clear from Day One we were going to war. [Note: He “made it clear” by saying that he hoped we wouldn’t be going to war.] How come she still pretends that she didn’t know he was going to war?

It’s like she didn’t know anything about Bill and his behavior! How many times is she going to be confused by men?
Boys like these can’t stop themselves. They simply luvv to sneer at Hill—as they think about Bill’s swinging d*ck.

THE FLIPS OF THE SAINTS: For us, the problem began with this column by E. J. Dionne—more particularly, with the raging Dionnism the column exhibits. Dionne began with a valid but loaded question: Why is abortion “often the issue on which [politicians] seem especially opportunistic and unprincipled?” He mentioned Mitt Romney’s current full flip on the subject, then said that Rudy Giuliani’s “position, too, has evolved over the years.” Then, he quickly moved to this. It’s the law. He’s required to say it:
DIONNE (2/13/07): Reappraisals and conversions are not confined to Republicans. Both Al Gore and Richard Gephardt altered their positions on abortion over the years to bring their views into line with Democratic primary voters who predominantly support abortion rights.
Of course! Dionne named two Republicans and two Dems, just exactly the way God intended it. And Gore was dumped in the stew once again, the eternal symbol of fake/phony pols.

Did Al Gore “alter his position on abortion over the years?” Not exactly. By normal rules of abortion logic, Gore was always pro-choice; he always supported Roe v. Wade, and he never endorsed any of the amendments to ban abortion which were legion during his time in the House. In his eight years in the House (1977-85), he did oppose federal funding for abortion; he changed his position on federal funding in the mid-1980s. By contrast, Gephardt did switch from full pro-life to pro-choice (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with it). In the 1970s, he sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, for example.

At any rate, Dionne described the world just as God intended. Writing about “opportunistic and unprincipled” pols, he named two Dems and two Reps—including one Dem who was always pro-choice. In the process, he obscured the larger story of current abortion flips—a story which involves the greatest heroes of Republican policy labor.

Who was omitted from Dionne’s list? How about President Bush 41, who committed an instant 180 (from pro-choice to pro-life) to become Reagan’s vice president? And how about President Bush 43? As David Corn discovered in 1999, Bush seems to have been pro-choice when he ran for the House in 1976. And how about history’s greatest known saint, Saint McCain, who took every conceivable stand on abortion during his 2000 run for the White House? McCain performed clownishly on the subject, shading and flipping in every direction. But you know the law! In a case of Dionnism Triumphant, it was Gore’s ancient change of position on funding, not choice, which rated a quick, early mention. McCain’s array of recent switches were, as always, concealed.

You can defend the way Dionne frames this column, although it’s lazy and formulaic. (We’re living in quite a world when this is the way the issue is framed by our most liberal major columnist.) Less defensible is the way the pundit corps is currently framing the larger matter of candidate flip-flops. In Campaign 2000, Gore was trashed, in the most bizarre ways, for alleged “make-overs” and “reinventions;” four years later, Kerry was named the King of All Flippers, mainly because of a (slightly) clumsy statement which the pundit corps then beat to death. But today, three major Republicans are staging vast reinventions, surely setting a new historical standard for reinvention by a group. But so what? It’s hard to find the major pundit who is prepared to describe these men in the way they described Major Dems in the past. In the past decade, Dems have been trashed as reinventers and flippers. But Republicans, including two major saints, suddenly get a respectful hearing. Seldom is heard a discouragin’ word as the flips of these saints get finessed.

Examples? In the conversation Digby excerpts here, the Hardball gang discussed these GOP flips without ever using the f-word. A calm, respectful analysis was accorded these Republican reinventions. And, of course, Cillizza was there, on that same evening’s Countdown, offering a respectful, diplomatic discussion of these comic GOP reinventions. Having discussed Romney, he moved to McCain. Our analysts just flat laughed out loud:
OLBERMANN (2/13/07): What about Senator McCain in that same way? Is there a worry, in his own camp, that he`s gone so far to the right on issues where he was noted for his moderation, that he might be cutting off the nose, despite the face?

CILLIZZA: Sure. Actually, a Democratic consultant made a very interesting analogy to me. He said that McCain back in 2000 was like Coca-Cola, a brand that a lot of people liked. Since then he’s turned into the New Coke. And that’s a brand that’s not going down all that well, not with establishment folks and not necessarily with the social conservatives and the really conservatives he’s trying to appeal to.

This consultant suggested he go back to Coca Cola Classic, McCain Classic. The question is, Will people accept that? I think he understands that he came close running as a maverick, but he didn’t win. And so what the McCain people are trying to do is say, “Look, that maverick thing was all well and good, but, in the end, you have to be the nominee in order to really impact policy.”

It’s a question—it’s a fine line he’s walking between trying to maintain that image as a maverick, and also becoming the establishment candidate. They work at odds a lot of times.
McCain wasn’t “flipping” or “reinventing himself,” the words that rained down on Kerry and Gore as the press corps heaped up ridicule. No, McCain has been working with two different brands! And the two brands “work at odds!” (It was “a very interesting analogy,” we were told). He was trying to maintain “that maverick thing,” but was also trying to “become the establishment candidate.” After all, it’s the only way he can “really impact policy,” we were told. In this way, we were given a positive motive for McCain’s legion of flips—sorry, for his tinkering with the two different brands.

Cillizza is a good, well-trained boy. He offered a reasoned, respectful assessment of McCain’s clownish string of reinventions. (Keith, of course, failed to challenge. Maybe he did too much sports talk that day) And once again, the key words were missing. No one talked about “flip-flops.” No “reinventions” or “make-overs” had been found.

How reluctant is the corps to do to the Reps as they did to the Dems? Speaking on Tucker, A. B. Stoddard did use the term “flip-flop.” But only to exclude a great saint:
STODDARD (2/13/07): I think that, you know, Mitt Romney—this just all goes down to his fundamental flip-flop problem and Giuliani has one too. The interesting thing about the choice for Republicans right now, unless somebody else emerges, and unless, you know, the party really gets behind somebody else, it’s a choice between two flip-floppers and someone that told the religious right off. And so it`s really hard.
Stoddard couldn’t bring herself to say it about Saint McCain. The GOP has two flip-floppers, she said. And one guy who told someone off.

In 2000, they turned themselves into pretzels, pretending that Gore was a reinventer. In 2004, they spent the best part of a year calling Kerry a flipper. Now, we have the greatest set of reinventions and flips in the history of White House campaigns. But uh-oh! They’re on the Republican side! Suddenly, therefore, their favorite words seem to found their way back in the drawer. “Flips?” That’s something that Democrats do. John McCain is just working with brands.

McCain clowned on abortion during Campaign 2000. Somehow, Dionne hasn’t heard.

A FLIP TO FINESSED: Democrats should be on alert for the verb “finessed/finessing,” which seems to be a new press favorite. This week, we’ve seen it applied to Clinton (by Broder, Ifill, Soledad O’Brien). But have McCain and Giuliani been “finessing” their views? Saints John and Rudy are virile, manly men. So far, we haven’t seen a single scribe who has judged that such men have ”finessed.”