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WHEN THE LUNACY TOOK HOLD! On Sunday, the lunacy took a defeat. Gormley’s book recalls the day when it took control: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, MARCH 23, 2010

When the lunacy took hold: This is a bit off-topic for us, but it’s hard to overstate how important Sunday’s House vote really was. Trust us: Had Republicans beaten the health reform bill, the Democratic Party would have been a national joke for decades.

We have no idea what will happen in this fall’s elections. But a defeat would have subjected the Democrats, and Obama, to endless, brutal derision. As we type, the bonfire parties would be underway across the land. Further thoughts of health reform could have been put away until the American non-system system had completely imploded.

That said, it was a bit ironic to see the deciding votes coming from the Stupak group—from Stupak and his “imaginary friends,” as Sister has always derisively termed them. We plan to do a series next week on the liberal world’s reaction to this group, which is largely comprised of Catholics from the midwest, some of whom are rather progressive except for their views on abortion. We’ll start that series with a personal recollection of David Bonior, with whom we happened to do a corporate event one time long ago, perhaps in the early 1990s. For years, Bonior was a very aggressive lefty member of the House Democratic leadership. He was also a pro-life Michigan Catholic, like Stupak.

Here at THE HOWLER, we’re pro-choice. David Bonior wasn’t and isn’t. Meanwhile, what is Stupak all about? We don’t know how to x-ray his soul. (Wolf Blitzer did a very poor job interviewing Stupak last night.) But this was Michael Moore, a Stupak constituent, on that same Larry King Live, speaking with guest host Blitzer. We’ll highlight one part of Moore’s statement, though he made many excellent points:

BLITZER (3/22/10): Michael Moore, your congressman in Michigan, Bart Stupak, a Democrat. I think it's fair to say that because he and about half a dozen other anti-abortion Democrats decided to vote in favor of the bill last night, there will be health care reform signed into law at the White House tomorrow. How much credit do you give Congressman Stupak?

MOORE: Well, he did the right thing. My neighbors and I, we spent the weekend up here, hundreds of us, sending him e-mails, calling his office, and putting as much pressure on him as we could, including coming up with a candidate to run against him in the August Democratic primary.

So I think that he heard us. It was one of these rare instances where a politician actually listens to his constituents. And he did the right thing. And I think that he made a very brave speech. I realized that he has a lot of personal religious feelings about this. I understand those feelings. I was texting him from Mass the other day.

(LAUGHTER)

MOORE: So—but you know, my religious feelings and his religious feelings are supposed to be private and they're not to be imposed on other people. And so good for him for standing up for what he believes in. But he's not there for Bart Stupak. He's there for the people of northern Michigan who wanted this health care bill passed.

BLITZER: He's going to be on this show in the next segment. What would you say to him? And you have an opportunity because I'm sure he's listening right now.

MOORE: I think I would say to him, thank you for doing the right thing. Don't do this again. Don't put us through this again like that. But I'll tell you, Bart Stupak, he has had these moments where he's—there have been these moments of courage where he stood up against the NRA here in northern Michigan. I mean this is a gun owner's paradise up here. And he's a former state trooper in Michigan. But he knows right from wrong. I think that he did the right thing here. And I'm proud of him for doing that.

What is Stupak about overall? We don’t know how to mind-read that. But we did see Bonior in action once. He too was a pro-life Michigan Catholic.

For ourselves, we’re pro-choice. (For the record, we stopped going to Mass at the same time everyone else did—on the first Sunday we were in college.)

Whatever happens in the fall, Sunday represented a major setback for the GOP—and a major reversal of a grim tide. By happenstance, we’ve been reading Ken Gormley’s new book about Clinton and Starr, The Death of American Virtue. Its early chapters help us recall the time when the current lunacy started—the age of lunacy which received a large setback in Sunday’s vote in the House.

There are major shortcomings to Gormley’s kiss-keister, good-guy approach. But his account of the rise of the Clinton pseudo-scandal era is painful to read, especially his account of the fever-swamp fires which immediately swirled up around the death of Vince Foster. In the following passage, Gormley recalls the day(s) when the sanity died:

GORMLEY (page 89): Self-appointed experts began questioning every aspect of the case. Why wasn’t there more blood around Foster’s body? Why was the gun still in Foster’s hand?...Rumors being disseminated on the radio talk shows and in the tabloids ranged from sinister to outlandish. They included assertions that the Clintons and other White House operatives had murdered Foster...

We’ll spare you the other “questions” and “outlandish rumors,” but we strongly recommend this part of Gormley’s book. It’s a major part of Gormley’s weakness that he doesn’t name the names of the “self-appointed experts” on “the talk radio shows” who were spreading those “outlandish rumors.” (He does name a few names later on, but he very much tends to avoid this.) But on pages 89 and 90, Gormley quotes Bill Clinton, at some length, describing his own reaction to the disgraceful conduct which quickly swirled up around the death of Foster. And make no mistake—this is the time when our political culture was overtaken by the apostles of lunacy. From this point on, lunacy was the default position in American political culture. The “mainstream press corps” ran off and hid. So did a wide assortment of your top liberal heroes.

After seven more years of this lunacy, George Bush sat in the White House. The last two years of this lunacy had of course been aimed at Candidate Gore, although your various liberal heroes ran off and hid then too, except for the liberal heroes who actively pushed that war. And no one likes to discuss this.

Good grief. Joan Walsh kisses Chris Matthews’ keister right to this very day! And there is Fineman, being dragged out on Our Own News Channel! It’s amazing how corporate re-purposing works! Newsweek’s former Jack Welch beard is pimping on our side now!

In 1993 and 1994, the forces of lunacy took control of our political culture. Essentially, they’ve held sway ever since. Those forces would be dancing in the streets if Sunday’s vote went the other way. For that reason, we think it was ironic to see the deciding votes cast by Stupak’s “imaginary friends.” Beyond that, we’ll only suggest this: You really can’t build a progressive politics by hiring hacks to ape the way the forces of lunacy have been playing the game.

OUR AIM WAS TRUE (permalink): As usual, you heard it first right here at THE HOWLER! Yesterday, you thought we were nuts when we questioned the largely non-quotation “quotation” Paul Krugman used in his column (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/22/10). For more than a decade, Krugman has been the mainstream press corps’ muscle-bound Most Valuable Player. But uh-oh! A bit unwisely (in our view), he had taken a shaky-looking “quotation” from this report by the Washington Post’s Dan Balz.

You thought we were nuts, because you wanted to exult in Newt Gingrich’s blatant and glorious racism. But that non-quotation “quotation” was shaky on its face. And wouldn’t you know it? This morning, the New York Times prints a stand-alone “Editors’ Note” about the use of that “quote.” You heard it first right here:

EDITORS’ NOTE (3/22/10): The Paul Krugman column on Monday, about the health care bill, quoted Newt Gingrich as saying that ''Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years'' by passing civil rights legislation. The quotation originally appeared in The Washington Post, which reported after the column went to press that Mr. Gingrich said it referred to Johnson's Great Society policies, not to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Sure enough. On the Washington Post’s politics blog, Balz presented a rather lengthy clarification, in which he does not dispute Gingrich’s complaints about the way his statement was represented (click here). By the way, the Balz headline says this: “Clarifying Gingrich on LBJ and Obama.” That headline does not imply that Gingrich is doing the clarifying. If the English language remains unchanged, it implies that Balz is clarifying what appeared in his report.

What did Gingrich actually say? What did Gingrich actually mean? Today, like yesterday, we have no idea—but savvy players should have been suspicious of that strangely clipped “quotation.” Gingrich often says strange things—but it would be extremely strange for him to say or imply that Johnson shouldn’t have passed civil right legislation. Indeed, it’s standard practice for modern Republicans to stress the fact that many Republicans supported Johnson’s legislation, while many Democrats opposed it. That presentation is itself a bit misleading. But did Gingrich really say or imply that Johnson shouldn’t have passed civil rights? In that clarification, Balz quotes Gingrich hotly disputing that impression—and Balz makes no attempt to stand by the inference many folk drew from the “quotation” as it appeared.

A quick take: People who say that they care about race should be careful, and respectful, in the way they write about this topic. We do not mean this as a criticism of Krugman, though it worries us when our MVP seems to drift in a bloggish direction.

We do mean this as a criticism of Rachel Maddow, who continues to mark herself as one of the least reliable people we’ve ever seen on cable.

Last night, long after Balz had clarified, Maddow played the Gingrich quote card. She had seen Balz’s clarification, but she wanted to go there anyhoo; assuming minimal competence, we’d say her presentation was less than honest. You can read her transcript when it gets posted, or you can watch the tape (click this). We think the progressive world is poorly served when people this unprepared—or this cavalier—are thrown at the head of our parade.

Simple story: Maddow seems to have the soul of an evangelist, and we don’t mean that as a compliment. There are few things she won’t say and do when she goes after her apostate enemies. Consider the ludicrous presentation she made last night when she went after Senator Blanche Lincoln.

On December 24, Lincoln voted for the Senate health reform bill. (Without her vote, it wouldn’t have passed.) This week, Lincoln says she will vote against the reconciliation package; this package will make various changes to that original bill, and it will include a new measure concerning student loans. Sister loves to ridicule those who aren’t quite as godly as she—and she often seems indifferent to accuracy when this need arises. Last night, this was part of her treatment of Lincoln. In the process, Sister treated you like a gang of clueless rubes:

MADDOW (3/22/10): As final passage of the bill gets closer and more inevitable, conservative Democratic strategy against reform is also getting wacky. As you know, I’m in Arkansas today where Sen. Blanche Lincoln has released a statement on health reform, quote, unquote, "I am pleased that the House approved the Senate Health Insurance Reform Bill that I helped craft. Even with its imperfections, this bill represents the most morally and fiscally responsible approach to health reform."

So more than just a yes vote, Sen. Lincoln is now taking credit for the Senate bill. And she’s also now pledging to vote against it becoming law, saying, quote, "The reconciliation package devised by the House employs a legislative process that wasn`t subject to the same transparency and thorough debate that we used in the Senate. I cannot support this process.”

Say what? According to Maddow, Lincoln was “taking credit for the Senate bill.” And she was also “pledging to vote against it becoming law!” Obviously, that is not an accurate account of this matter. But it drove the level of ridicule higher, so Sister—treating you like fools—just plumb hauled off and said it again:

MADDOW (continuing directly): So Blanche Lincoln voted for the bill in December and will now vote against it becoming law, not on its merits but because of a process concern, thus casting a vote both for health reform and against health reform.

Which means that of the population that cares one way or another about health care, Blanche Lincoln has provided exactly zero percent of those people with a reason to vote for her. Ta-da!

That highlighted passage is total nonsense. But it did drive up the level of ridicule, and it let us admire Maddow’s greatness when she wonderfully clowned at the end with a fun “ta-da!”

From what came before in this program, it’s obvious that Maddow knew that this construction was bogus. We felt sorry for poor Chris Hayes, who was now brought onto the program. Poor Chris! Obviously, he would know how bogus this foolishness was, and he’d have to correct his host. (Howard Fineman had clarified this very matter one hour earlier, on Countdown.) Sorry! When hacks like Maddow are placed in power, bright people like Hayes may slowly start to bend to their will. Hayes made no attempt to clarify the nonsensical thing his clowning host had just said. Soon, he himself was saying this about what will occur in the Senate:

MADDOW: How long do you expect the overall process to take? One of the things Republicans have talked about is just trying to make the process take an interminably long time in the hopes they win by wearing the other side down.

HAYES: So my understanding—and again, this is like pretty, this gets pretty esoteric. But my understanding is there`s a 20-hour clock that started running either, starts tonight or starts tomorrow for the amendment proposing period.

The people on the Senate that I’ve talked to seem to think it’s going to happen Friday or Saturday and not extend much beyond that, given—unless there’s some surprise.

Hayes doesn’t know how the twenty-hour restriction works? Why then does MSNBC bring him on as an expert?

Hayes is smart and seems like a decent person; Maddow seems clueless about domestic politics and she constantly say bogus things. But just as Chris Matthews corrupted a generation of pundits during his years as Jack Welch’s beard, bright young progressives seem at times to be playing the fool for Sister. Sister was in a bit of bad faith when she pimped the Gingrich “quotation;” assuming even minimal understanding, she was simply playing you when she made that presentation about Lincoln. By the way: Both Maddow and Hayes said they couldn’t imagine why Lincoln would want to vote no on reconciliation. Sadly, it’s easy to believe that Maddow really doesn’t know. We find it hard to believe that Hayes doesn’t understand the obvious politics here.

Maddow is one of the biggest jokes we’ve ever seen on cable—and that claim takes in a lot of spoiled ground. Last Friday, she began her show with a long, two-segment “report” on the federal investigation of Senator Ensign; this report included some of the most ridiculous conduct we’ve ever seen on TV. In our view, the topic is trivial—but the clowning, dissembling and cluelessness seem endemic on this program. For that reason, we plan to discuss Sister’s report on Ensign’s sexy-time conduct before the week is through.

Final note about last night’s program. At one point, Sister showed us what was really at stake in the abortion-funding debate. Sister spoke with Rep. Jan Schakowsky. She voiced a heartfelt concern:

MADDOW: I don’t like to get too caught up in the process and in protocol and in manners in Washington. I think we tend—we in the press tend to read too much into that. But with that caveat, I do want to ask you if the White House consulted with you and with the Pro-Choice Caucus about what it was doing, or if it just worked this out with Congressman Stupak and the other anti- choice members. The reason I’m asking, of course, is I think the people who are pro-choice in this country are wondering if pro-choice members of Congress are getting disrespected by the White House, if they are getting the kind of access that their numbers would indicate that they should.

“We in the press!” Go ahead! Throw your head back and roar!

That done, note what was troubling Sister. She wanted to know if, at any time, pro-choice members like Schakowsky had been disrespected by the White House. In this exchange, you see a member of one ruling elite kissing the asp of another.

Maddow was worried for poor Jan Schakowsky. Can we tell you what you’ve never seen in Maddow’s several interviews with Schakowsky about the funding dispute?

Under terms of the Senate/Obama bill, 16 million additional people will get health coverage through Medicaid. None of them will be eligible for abortion coverage; since many of these people will be low-income, women who receive this coverage may well be unable to pay for an abortion out-of-pocket. But guess what? You have never seen Maddow ask Schakowsky about the plight of these low-income millions. Instead, Maddow has worried about middle-class women being forced to write two checks. Last night, she was haunted by the thought that Schakowsky may have been disrespected.

Maddow is a clueless nightmare. She’s cable’s newest millionaire—and it shows. She simply wasn’t ready for the position she currently holds. But then, the guy who directs prime-time programs at MSNBC had no background in news at all when he landed that post!

MSNBC has always been a nightmare “news” channel, right from its earliest days, when it gave the nation Ann Coulter. The channel’s gong-show has been reinvented. But the insult to viewers lives on.