THE FLIPS OF THE SAINTS! GOP saints are flipping wildly. Some pundits dont 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 cohorts 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 theyre 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").Bushs 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 youve 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 Posts 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, hed be too lazy.
The paragraph weve quoted is so dumb it hurts, but so was the rest of Milbanks sketch. Indeed, this is now the established manner of Washingtons 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 dont; 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 wouldnt matter; when you turned your key in your ignition each morning, youd learn that you car didnt work. No—other cohorts dont 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.He didnt seem dazed—he seemed a bit dazed. (Earlier in the column, Obama wasnt 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 didnt say. Instead, she was reading Obamas 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, Dowds 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 arent found at her cohorts soirees. It has been quite a while since we cited Joe Kleins famous take on Dowds empty soul. Klein was quoted by Gay Jervey, who profiled Dowd, long ago, in Brills 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 isnt 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? Hes just a dumb blonde! So it goes as this gaggle of royals makes a sick joke of our lives.
RICHARDS RULES OF REASON: Then theres Richard Cohen, who—bless his heart—isnt exactly an Antoinette. But when he tries to reason about serious things, we sometimes wish hed restrict himself to reading body language of pols.
As weve 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 were going to war—and handed it over to President Bush. At the time, Bush was saying he didnt want war. (For ourselves, no—we didnt believe him.) But in this vote, 77 senators said this to Bush: Well, if you change your mind in the future, dont 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 Cohens column which reflects that judgment. But aint it sad when our pundits attempt to reason? Cohen says this about Bushs 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."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 Cohens confusion.
Once again, heres 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 ONeill in Ron Suskinds The Price of Loyalty—a book which was published in February 2004. When Suskind quoted ONeill saying that Bush was after Saddam from the start, most pundits took it as a revelation—as something we hadnt known before that.
Today, many libs and Dems accept the notion that Bush was obsessed with Saddam from the start. But this fact wasnt clear in 10/02, at the time of the war resolution. Alas, poor Cohen! Trying heard to reason clearly, he wonders why Clinton didnt consider, in 10/02, a theme which emerged in 2/04. And inevitably, Tucker scrambled onto the air to hail the mans 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 cant believe both at the same time. Why doesnt she apologize?Bless their hearts! They try to play. And, almost always, they fail.
As weve said, we think that vote was one of the worst in Senate history. But Cohens 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 didnt 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 cant get That Man off his mind. Heres 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 dont know how to reason. But they know how to slime this female candidate because of her husbands misconduct.
Last night, of course, completely predictably, Chris Matthews stole Cohens jibe (text below). But then, he too has a jones about liberal women. The jones tears at him night and day. It just wont let him go.
BOYS LOVE JIBES: Heres Matthews, ripping off Cohen on last evenings Hardball. Boys like this have always loved to offer such gender-based jibes:
MATTHEWS (2/15/07): She seems to imply that she didnt 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: Thats what Bush was saying he would do.]Boys like these cant stop themselves. They simply luvv to sneer at Hill—as they think about Bills 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 Romneys current full flip on the subject, then said that Rudy Giulianis position, too, has evolved over the years. Then, he quickly moved to this. Its the law. Hes 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 theres 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 Dionnes list? How about President Bush 41, who committed an instant 180 (from pro-choice to pro-life) to become Reagans 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 historys 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 Gores ancient change of position on funding, not choice, which rated a quick, early mention. McCains array of recent switches were, as always, concealed.
You can defend the way Dionne frames this column, although its lazy and formulaic. (Were 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? Its 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 evenings 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?McCain wasnt 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, its the only way he can really impact policy, we were told. In this way, we were given a positive motive for McCains 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 McCains 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, its a choice between two flip-floppers and someone that told the religious right off. And so it`s really hard.Stoddard couldnt 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! Theyre on the Republican side! Suddenly, therefore, their favorite words seem to found their way back in the drawer. Flips? Thats something that Democrats do. John McCain is just working with brands.