BALZ (3/1/07): In this case, however, McCain, 70, may have additional motives for using the late-night comedian's show, as he tries to rekindle some of the spontaneity and unpredictability from his first campaign. He cast himself as an insurgent politician in 2000, but this time, weighed down by a supportive position on the Iraq war that is out of step with the public even as he methodically woos the GOP establishment, he has struggled to project the buoyant personality of his first effort.Say what? McCain is trying to rekindle the spontaneity and unpredictability of his 2000 campaign? On the basis of that, could you possibly say that John McCain is trying to reinvent himself? Well, you could say that but, correctly, Balz doesnt. That narrative was endlessly applied to Gore in Campaign 2000 but, correctly, Balz skips past it here. Meanwhile, could you say that McCain was being a bit calculating in going on a comedy show to rekindle his unpredictability (whatever that means)? In struggling to portray a buoyant personality? You could say that but, correctly, Balz doesnt. Yes, that narrative is being endlessly hammered onto Hillary Clinton. But correctly, Balz skips past it here.
BALZ: [During Campaign 2000,] McCain would later find himself in conflict with religious conservatives after he delivered a speech sharply critical of the influence of Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson, among others, describing them as "agents of intolerance."Gee! Why would a social conservative doubt McCains commitment regarding abortion rights? Could it be because McCain expressed every conceivable view on the subject during Campaign 2000—back when he was casting himself as an insurgent politician? Could it be because he explicitly said, during that campaign, that he opposed the overturn of Roe vs. Wade? McCain takes the opposite position today, but Balz doesnt report that. Nor does he use the word flip-flop. That word, of course, is part of a narrative that is reserved for John Kerry.
Those kinds of remarks have soured some conservatives on McCain as a potential party standard-bearer. Some doubt his commitment to social issues, despite a long record opposing abortion rights, and others believe he has not been a strong advocate for supply-side tax cuts, which have been at the heart of GOP economic philosophy since the administration of President Ronald Reagan.
Balz is fairly kind to McCain—and theres nothing hugely wrong with that. But we do want to note the dogs of narrative that didnt bark in this front-page report. The press corps had unflattering narratives for Gore and Kerry, and they endlessly hammered them into their stories; they have several such narratives for Clinton today. But how about McCain? Is he flip-flopping, reinventing or calculating as he tries to rekindle his unpredictability (whatever that means)? You could say that but, this morning, Balz doesnt. The power of narrative is the power to spin, and the press corps is drunk with that power.
MUD AND (GORILLA) DUST: Bob Herbert doesnt seem to think well of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton. Heres how he started a truly remarkable column in Mondays New York Times:
HERBERT (2/26/07; opening paragraph): If Bill and Hillary Clinton were the stars of a reality TV show, it would be a weekly series called ''The Connivers.'' The Clintons, the most powerful of power couples, are always scheming at something, and they're good at it.Yikes! Thats a deeply punishing assessment. Herbert takes the idea that Hillary Clinton is calculating and he raises it several levels. Shes always scheming at something, he says. And he says that shes a conniver.
HERBERT (final paragraphs): It's ironic that the first woman with a real shot at the presidency comes off not as a compelling underdog but as the powerful front-runner at the controls of a ruthless political machine.Ruthless! Its a word that was part of the narratives about Gore—a candidate Herbert never tried to defend (more below). But on Monday, Herberts focus was Hillary Clinton—and she took a savage licking. (After all, she controls a machine.) At the start of this column, shes a scheming conniver; by the end, shes a ruthless Swift-boater. Youd think a real man would support such rough claims. In the case of Bob Herbert, youd be wrong.
We'll have to wait and see whether Senator Obama is really offering a new, more hopeful brand of national politics. But here's a bit of unsolicited advice for a candidate making his first foray into the crucible of presidential politics:
Don't listen to those who tell you not to fight back against the Clintons. You will not become president if you allow yourself to become their punching bag. Keep in mind the Swift-boating of John Kerry. Raising politics to a higher level does not mean leaving oneself defenseless.
HERBERT (paragraphs 2-4): Their latest project is to contrive ways to knock Barack Obama off his white horse and muddy him up a little. A lot, actually.Clinton want[s] to stop Obama from succeeding? Duh! Clinton is running against Obama! But in this passage, Herbert continues his stream of insults, seeming to charge Clinton with relentlessly vicious, sleazy, mendacious politics. (We know. He doesnt quite say these things about Clinton—he just slickly implies them.) But what makes Clinton so vicious and sleazy? Omigod! When David Geffen showered her with rank insults, she dared ask Obama to disassociate himself from his statements! Just as she had repudiated impolitic statements RE Obama the week before—impolitic statements made by her own supporter, South Carolina state senator Robert Ford.
Most of the analyses after last week's dust-up over David Geffen's comments to Maureen Dowd have focused on whether the Clintons succeeded in tarnishing the junior senator from Illinois. What I found interesting was that no one questioned whether the Clintons would be willing to get down in the muck and start flinging it around. That was a given.
When Senator Obama talks about bringing a new kind of politics to the national scene, he's talking about something that would differ radically from the relentlessly vicious, sleazy, mendacious politics that have plagued the country throughout the Bush-Clinton years. Whether he can pull that off is an open question. But there's no doubt the Clintons want to stop him from succeeding.
HERBERT (paragraphs 5-6): Senator Obama has come riding out of the wilderness (all right, Chicago) to stand between the Clintons and their dream of returning to the White House and resuming what they will always see as the glory years of the 1990s.Herbert is still a bit too gutless to accuse vicious Clinton directly. But lets add mean-spirited and take-no-prisoners to the implied complaints about Clinton, the Swift-boater of his wild, warped dreams and his mud-driven mid-90s tales.
He hurts Senator Clinton in myriad ways. In all the uproar over Mr. Geffen's comments, hardly anyone has said they were wildly off the mark. There would be no Obama phenomenon if an awful lot of people weren't fed up with just the sort of mean-spirited, take-no-prisoners politics that the Clintons and the Bush crowd represent. Senator Obama—at least for the time being—is an extremely attractive alternative.
HERBERT (10/5/00): If he can somehow force himself to stop sighing and interrupting and behaving condescendingly in front of the television cameras, Al Gore may yet get elected president.Good God! That was the start of Herberts column about the crucial first Bush-Gore debate! (Headline: Gore Piles On. Good God!) In this column, Herbert piled the insults on Candidate Gore, just as hes doing this week with Clinton. He offered every inane complaint about Gore which could be found in his cohorts grab-bag. Good God! Try to believe it! He even used one of his fatuous cohorts stalest and stupidest scripts:
HERBERT (10/5/00): [Gore] doesn't seem to realize that in the real world, people hate Eddie Haskell.Good God! The Gore-is-just-like-Eddie-Haskell script! According to Nexis, this script began in July 1992, penned by—who else?—Maureen Dowd. Text below.
DOWD (7/13/92): [F]inicky baby boomers have not voted as a bloc, and they have not been drawn to politicians their own age.Dowd was still a reporter then. But Eddie Haskell made the cut for this news report, and her fatuous colleagues—people like Herbert—typed and re-typed her dumb comment forever. In fact, they typed and retyped all her fatuous insults until they had George Bush in the White House. Bob Herbert—could you possibly get any dumber?—was still retyping the Haskell remark eight years later, in October 2000.
Mr. Gore learned that the hard way in 1988. He often began speeches in his Presidential quest by observing that in 1960 voters chose the youngest man ever elected to succeed the oldest, and that in 1988 they could do exactly the same thing. But, unlike John F. Kennedy following Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mr. Gore was not embraced by his peers. In the Super Tuesday primaries, he ran 10 points worse among voters in his own age group than he did with older voters.
That was partly due to Ronald Reagan's great paternal popularity with young people and partly due to Mr. Gore's starched persona. Like the baby boomer's favorite teen-age sycophant, Eddie Haskell, Mr. Gore has two distinct demeanors. He can be playful in private, but in official settings, he drops his voice to sound more self-consciously sincere and he composes his chiseled features to look more earnest.