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WE DON’T TRY HARDER! Ten years later, a major Dem leader comes up with a brilliant idea: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MARCH 24, 2008

WE DON’T TRY HARDER: In this morning’s New York Times, John Harwood authors a fairly standard piece about John McCain’s current advantages. But at one point, Harwood offers an unintentional, stinging indictment of liberal and Dem Party leadership:

HARWOOD (3/24/08): Democratic operatives have prepared a sustained attack against what they call myths underlying Mr. McCain's reputation for straight talk. ''It's going to take a while to tear that down,'' said Jim Jordan, a consultant who will lead a Democratic Party advertising campaign to aid its nominee. Lamenting the Clinton-Obama fight, Mr. Jordan added, “That's why it would be nice to get this over with as soon as possible.”

That highlighted statement is revealing—and sad. Speaking of McCain’s undeserved “reputation for straight talk,” Jordan makes this pitiful statement: ''It's going to take a while to tear that down.''

If only people of Jim Jordan’s ilk had thought of that ten years ago!

As everyone on earth must know by now, McCain has been relentlessly pimped—as an authentic straight-shooting straight-talker—for at least the past dozen years. This pimping hasn’t been done by the RNC; it’s been done by the mainstream press corps. No one has ever really disputed the claim that the mainstream press corps pimps McCain hard. Indeed: All the way back in May 1998, Brother Chas Pierce wrote a tongue-in-piece profile for Esquire, entitled “John McCain Walks on Water.” Once again, this was May 1998—a year before the start of McCain’s first White House run. But even then, Brother Pierce was rolling his eyes at the way the big pundit corps pandered:

PIERCE (5/98): By any standard, McCain has become a star in that increasingly elastic firmament in which politics is emulsified with modern celebrity. His national profile never has been higher. His influence—particularly among the nation's chattering classes—at times seems comically powerful. He sends Don Imus into stammering flummery, and he turns Tim Russert into a puddle on the floor. During the 1996 campaign, when McCain was Bob Dole's most effective surrogate, Michael Lewis of The New Republic wrote about McCain more rapturously than he'd once written about his second wife's derriere.

“The nation's opinion makers have come to regard him as more than simply a reliable source of informed commentary,” Pierce wrote. “Instead, they look to him as a source of moral witness.” Again, Pierce wrote this in the spring of 1998, long before the full-blown fawning which defined press coverage of McCain’s first White House run. The press corps has always fawned to McCain. And everyone always has known this.

Everyone has always known this—except, of course, for your Dem Party leadership. Only now, in the spring of 2008, do these slumbering city mice announce that “it's going to take a while” to tear down McCain’s reputation. Voters have heard that McCain is a saint for ten years. Today, Jordan gears for the fight!

But this has been the shape of Dem Party leadership over the course of the past two decades. This also reflects the type of “leadership” which has come from liberal and progressive “intellectual elites.” To all appearances, these elites just don’t really care—they don’t really care who wins our elections. They’ve mal-adapted that old Avis slogan. We’re number two—and we don’t try harder.

The RNC (and the rest of the conservative world) would never have tolerated the sanctification of some Big Major Democrat of McCain’s type. But liberals and Dems have stared into space as McCain has been endlessly vested with sainthood. By any normal interpretive standard, our liberal/Dem elites just don’t seem to care. Judged in any normal way, they don’t care who wins our elections.

We’ll be exploring these themes all week. We’ve been number two—and we haven’t tried harder! Why is that? we’ll ask all week. Why is Jordan gearing up for a fight about McCain’s public profile long after the fight has been lost?

THE WIT AND WISDOM OF PROGRESSIVE “ELITES:” Do you enjoy being played for fools? If so, let us give you a few more reasons to appreciate Barbara Ehrenreich. Last week, Ehrenreich warned you about Hillary Clinton’s “ever-shifting hairstyles” (and distant affiliation with Hitler) in a deeply unfortunate piece at The Huffington Post. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/21/08.)

In our view, progressive, liberal and Democratic Party interests have long been harmed by the hapless ways of liberal and progressive “intellectual leaders.” Ehrenreich’s piece helped show us again: Until our movement is cleaned of certain corrosive elements, liberal and progressive interests will be at a disadvantage in our electoral politics.

Back to that unfortunate, but revealing, piece at The Huffington Post:

In her piece, Ehrenreich was helpfully letting readers know that Clinton is a right-wing tool—that she’s been drawn “into the sinister heart of the international right.” Her evidence for such a remarkable statement? For starters, Clinton attends the Senate Prayer Breakfast, thereby allying herself with Hitler—and then, there’s all the right-wing legislation which the solon has pimped. In the following passage (we’ll quote at some length), Ehrenreich turns readers into a play-toy. In substantial part, this is how Democrats lose elections—and conservative interests prosper:

EHRENREICH (3/19/08): Clinton fell in with the Family in 1993, when she joined a Bible study group composed of wives of conservative leaders like Jack Kemp and James Baker. When she ascended to the senate, she was promoted to what Sharlet calls the Family's "most elite cell," the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast, which included, until his downfall, Virginia's notoriously racist Senator George Allen.

This has not been a casual connection for Clinton. She has written of Doug Coe, the Family's publicity-averse leader, that he is "a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God."

Furthermore, the Family takes credit for some of Clinton's rightward legislative tendencies, including her support for a law guaranteeing "religious freedom" in the workplace, such as for pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions and police officers who refuse to guard abortion clinics.

What drew Clinton into the sinister heart of the international right? Maybe it was just a phase in her tormented search for identity, marked by ever-changing hairstyles and names...

It should be appalling to see someone like Ehrenreich typing that crap about Clinton’s hair-styles—but, as we will see below, Ehrenreich has been pushing political porn of this familiar type for a very long time. And sadly, Ehrenreich wasn’t kidding when she said that Clinton has been drawn into “the sinister heart of the international right.” The example she gave? That troubling “law guaranteeing ‘religious freedom’ in the workplace.”

Let’s understand the extent to which “progressive intellectual leaders” are willing to play you for fools.

The (proposed) law at issue is fairly complex. But let’s keep things fairly simple:

The (proposed) law to which Ehrenreich refers is the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA). Variants of the bill have been presented in Congress for years; it may be a bit of a Potemkin measure, repeatedly offered as a way of pandering to certain groups. But the WRFA is a bipartisan bill, with somewhat unusual blends of sponsors and opponents. In 2005, for example, the bill was introduced in the Senate by Rick Santorum—and by John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts. (In 2004, Kerry was the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.) In the House, the bill was introduced by Rick Souder, the Indiana Republican—and by Carolyn McCarthy and Anthony Weiner, two Democrats from New York.

Has Clinton been drawn “into the sinister heart of the international right?” If so, Kerry (and McCarthy) seem to be there too—a point Ehrenreich absent-mindedly forgot to mention in her unfortunate rant. For the record, Kerry has introduced some variant of this bill every year since 1999, after two of his constituents got fired for refusing to work on Christmas Day. Ehrenreich omitted that too.

Our question: Will liberals and progressives (and Democrats) ever tell “intellectual leaders” like Ehrenreich that they can’t play the game in this manner?

Is the Workplace Religious Freedom Act a good idea? We don’t have the slightest idea. (For a bit more detail on the bill, see below.) But as we watch another White House election sliding into a place of some peril, we think this: There ought to be a special circle in hell for hustlers like Barbara Ehrenreich.

And make no mistake—Ehrenreich understands how to lose. She knows how to misjudge major politicians—big-time. How gruesome is her political judgment? Just consider her brilliant work during Campaign 2000.

By now, we’ll guess that everyone understands—Campaign 2000 was a turning point in world history. Candidate Bush ended up in the White House, and the U.S. Army ended up in Iraq—even though Al Gore, Bush’s opponent, warned against the folly. (As you may know, Gore now holds the Nobel Peace Prize for his subsequent work.)

By now, we’ll assume that everyone sees how badly many pundits misjudged when they insisted, during Campaign 2000, that Bush and Gore were two peas in a pod. Needless to say, Ehrenreich was one of those brainiacs. Indeed, in the November 20, 2000 Time (published on November 13), she was happily boasting about her bad judgment. “Don't Blame Me,” the long headline proclaimed. “I voted for Nader as a genuine protest. If Gore loses, he did it all on his own.” And then, the dim-witted joking began, right there in Ehrenreich’s opening paragraph. This is your brain on stupidity:

EHRENREICH (11/20/00): The death threats keep pouring in. There are rumors that Gloria Steinem wants me to turn in my SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL T shirt, that Jesse Jackson says my soul is toast. They didn't even notice us Naderites for months—until, of course, their candidate decided to prove he isn't "wooden" by demonstrating how fast he could sink. Then, quicker than you could say, "Florida's Electoral College votes," that great, flabby, inchoate entity, the Democratic Party, morphed into a disciplined Leninist organization, dispatching its leading cadre with the message, "Vote for Nader, and you'll never eat lunch in this country again."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Gore tried to prove that he wasn’t wooden! Ehrenreich was indulging herself in the brain-dead imagery of the Maureen Dowds of the world, even as history was being decided in Florida. Of course, for brilliant analysts of Ehrenreich’s caliber, the jokin’ was easy as world history changed. In the opening sentence of her column in the November 1 Progressive, for example, Ehrenreich had mockingly referred to Gore as “the inventor of the Internet,” thereby giving her readers another good solid, enjoyable laugh. Today, the dead of Iraq enjoy her humor—as they look up from the ground.

By now, you’d almost think that people like Ehrenreich might have spent a moment or two pondering their gruesome past judgment. But no! Eight years after that reign of brain-dead political porn, she’s out there complaining about Clinton’s hairstyles—and she’s deceiving her readers about the bill which shows that Clinton has been drawn “into the sinister heart of the international right.”

Of course, it isn’t surprising to see such work thrown at the rubes by the Huffington Post. But at some point, liberals have to come to terms with the gruesome “intellectual elites” who treat them like complete total fools—and who keep electing Republicans. (No one trashed Gore as a liar and clown more than Huffington did.) Eight years ago, Ehrenreich was getting good solid laughs with her comments about how wooden Gore was. Today, Gore holds the Nobel Peace Prize, and the dead of Iraq stare up from the ground. And Ehrenreich has moved on—to talk about Clinton’s vile haircuts.

MORE BRILLIANT HUMOR: Ehrenreich gave her readers many good solid laughs as history hung in the balance. Again from Time, the brilliant work of a “progressive” “intellectual leader:”

EHRENREICH (11/20/00): One of the major charges leveled against Nader voters is that we pretended—in some perverse kind of optical malingering—that we couldn't see the difference between the major candidates. Well, I'm capable of making fine visual distinctions. But a lot of people who probably never wandered near the Nader camp kept muttering, "Bush, Gore? Gush, Bore?" right up to election eve...

Bush and Gore? No—Gush and Bore! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, the dead of Iraq are now telling themselves. And of course, they enjoy a good solid laugh when Ehrenreich moves on to those thoughts about hair-styles.

HOW TO RUN THE RUBES: People like Ehrenreich will do and say anything in order to drive the rubes to market. Case in point:

In her piece, Ehrenreich says that the Workplace Religious Freedom Act—the (proposed) bill which shows Clinton’s “sinister” ways—guarantees religious freedom to “pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions and police officers who refuse to guard abortion clinics.” From her post, you might think that this is the actual aim of the bill. But in fact, this is a concern about the possible effects of the bill—a concern which has been expressed by groups which oppose the measure. Proponents of the WRFA say the bill wouldn’t have those effects. Honest brokers continue working—or pretending to work—to address these points of concern.

As noted, this bill is proposed year after year—and it never passes. We’ll guess that it may be one of those measures which gets introduced to placate certain groups, though no one really means to enact it. (We don’t know if that is the case.) On balance, is the bill a good idea? We don’t have the slightest idea. Why not ask John Kerry or Carolyn McCarthy, two others who have found themselves drawn “into the sinister heart of the international right?”

At some point, liberals and Dems will have to decide: How long do we tolerate rube-running conduct of this type from our “intellectual leadership?” How long do we plan to be insulted by “leaders” who mainly love running us rubes?