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FRIDAY, APRIL 4, 2008

WHERE THE WH*RES ARE: In our view, it’s been a sad and sobering week for “liberal” and “progressive” values. We’ll start with the suspension of Randi Rhodes, who displayed appalling bad judgment in letting us know “Where the Wh*res Are.” To see Rhodes’ performance, just click here. If you want to avoid the very bad words, check the New York Times’ brief news report.

For years, there was a self-flattering story we liberals liked to tell about the nature of talk radio. Theoretically, liberal talk radio would never work because we liberals are so bright, so intelligent, so independent—such non-ditto-heads, we kept saying. To be honest, this tale never made much sense. But Rhodes, and others, have made this week a time for some sober reflection.

Are progressives really brighter than conservatives? As a group, we tended to believe it when John Dean (who we admire) wrote that book. But uh-oh! This week, we emitted a low, mordant chuckle at one part of this David Sirota piece, to which we’d been linked by the person who has kidnapped Josh Marshall.

What produced that mordant chuckle? At one point, Sirota stopped calling everyone racists long enough to say this about John Hagee:

SIROTA (4/2/08): Similarly, the media refuse to ask John McCain why he solicited the endorsement of John Hagee—a pastor who has repeatedly slandered Catholics, once calling their religion “a great whore.” Apparently, confrontational statements by a black man are "controversial" but white extremism is perfectly acceptable.

We misread that passage the first time through; we mistakenly thought Sirota had said that Hagee had repeatedly called Catholicism “a great whore.” And so, we eagerly clicked on his link, curious to see the examples he had. Surprise! We found ourselves linked to our own DAILY HOWLER piece from two weeks ago, the one in which we noted that liberal critics hadn’t presented a clear example in which Hagee made such a statement. Was David playing a bit of a joke? Or is this the way we progressives do research? We wondered again when we reviewed the major thesis of his “Race Chasm” piece, in which he basically yelled race race race at the Clinton campaign, and at Dem voters in general. In the process, he displayed a remarkably low analytical standard, offering this hapless summary of (to be honest) an unhelpful graph:

SIROTA (3/31/08): On the left of the graph, among the states with the smallest black population, Obama has destroyed Clinton. With the candidates differing little on issues, this trend is likely due, in part, to the fact that black-white racial politics are all but non-existent in nearly totally white states. Thus, Clinton has fewer built-in advantages...Put another way, the dialect of racism—the hints of the Ferraro comment and codes of Bill Clinton’s Jesse Jackson reference, for instance—is not politically effective because such language has not historically been a significant part of the local political discussion. That’s especially true in the liberal-skewed Democratic primary.

Long ago, we observed an unfortunate fact; some men go into stand-up comedy to ridicule women from a bright stage, with the help of a microphone. Similarly, some people seem to be become “progressives” so they can accuse average schmoes of racism, thus displaying their own moral grandeur.

It’s true: Sirota’s graph does in fact show that Obama “has destroyed Clinton” in “the states with the smallest black populations.” (The states in question on Sirota’s graph are these: Idaho, Vermont, Maine, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska and Kansas. We dropped Hawaii, for fairly obvious reasons.) Sirota is careful enough to say that this pattern is “likely” due to racial dynamics “in part.” But as good pseudo-progressives must do, he then moves straight to the racial insults, failing to note other obvious factors which could explain this clump of outcomes.

One such factor is fairly obvious. These are almost all caucus states; on Sirota’s chart, all the data from these states (except Utah and Vermont) reflect caucus events. How different might these data have been if these states had conducted primaries? There is, of course, no way to know. But the state of Washington is one of the states at whose results we’re supposed to gape—and Washington did conduct a primary, ten days after its caucuses. (No delegates were awarded in the primary.) The outcomes of these two events were substantially different. Obama won the caucuses by a huge margin, 68-31, as you see on Sirota’s graph. Ten days later, he also won Washington’s primary—but only by 51-46, presumably with many more Democratic voters taking part. (It’s hard to know how many people took part in the caucuses. The numbers in this Washington Post summary seem to reflect delegates chosen at the caucuses, not the number of voters participating.)

So which is it? Is Washington a 68-31 state? Or is its “real” margin 51-46? And what would have happened if those other states had conducted primaries instead of caucuses? Once again, there’s no way to know—and the force of Sirota’s lusty charge stems from the big margins achieved in low-turnout caucus events. But in a great deal of modern “progressive” politics, the real purpose of the exercise is fairly clear—the real goal is the desire to brand “low information voters” as slobbering racists. In Sirota’s hands, this led to some very slapdash analysis. (But then again, just look at his link to our piece!) By the way: However good this sort of name-calling feels, we’ll also assume that it’s a very bad way to get Dems elected to office. This includes Obama, of course. By the way: Obama doesn’t name-call this way. Neither, of course, did Dr. King.

So Rhodes was calling Clinton a wh*re, and Sirota was calling the public racists. At TPM, whoever has kidnapped Josh was tip-toeing along behind him, trying to wink and insinuate without quite saying such things. (Click here, for example. The person who has kidnapped Josh is quite good at clearing his throat.)

Are we liberals more intelligent? Or are we name-calling ditto-heads too? Let’s return to whoever has kid-napped Josh—because, in yet another third example, that person does seem to have stifled Greg Sargent. It has now been four full weeks since the “very short break” described in this post stopped the noise at Greg’s Horse’s Mouth site. Check out the work Greg was doing right before Josh’s kidnapper acted and you will perhaps wonder, as we have, if ditto-heads now rule your world.

Greg was discussing an obvious point, a point which has absolutely nothing to do with the relative merits of Obama and Clinton. Yes, large parts of the press corps have savaged Candidate Clinton, often in repugnant ways. Surely, this isn’t a controversial notion—and it continues an obvious pattern which extends back sixteen years. Did the person who kidnapped Josh think this was too much to ask young liberal readers to bear? We have no way of knowing, of course. But the “very short break” we were told about has now extended four weeks. And yes: We progressives used to laugh at the other side for just this sort of thing.

Today, though, progressives channel “Mister Drudge” and let the world know “Where the Wh*res Are.” Could it be we’re all ditto-heads now? For years, we did tell ourselves silly tales about our goodness and brilliance.

Note: Scrambling as always to tidy his messes, the person who has kidnapped Josh links to Brendan Nyhan, who has done some highly technical work examining Sirota’s thesis. By the way, what did Brendan quickly do when he reworked David’s material? Duh. He dumped the caucus states out of the mix—the ones David urged you to gape at.

This, at least, gives readers a choice. If you want to call average people and party leaders racists, you can read Sirota’s piece and feel a thrill go up your leg. Or you can go to Brendan’s highly technical work—in which case you won’t have the slightest idea what he is talking about. “As you can see, the results look somewhat less clear,” Brendan says, early on. Until shown otherwise, we’ll guess that he’s right. But most likely, you won’t “see” that at all.

Increasingly, this is the kind of choice handed to liberals and progressives. Of course, conservatives have been stuck with a form of this choice for a good many years.

ENDLESS SEQUEL: We’ve discussed The Age of the Novel this week. For that reason, it’s hard to skip Al Kamen’s column in this morning’s Post. In this case, though, we visit the Age of the Homeric Bard. In this culture, once you get a story you like, you recite it for thousands of years.

Kamen pretends to discuss the flap between the Clintons and Bill Richardson. In reality, though, it’s fairly clear that he simply wants an excuse to sing his cohort’s all-time favorite song. We join his balladeering in progress. We’ve cut-and-pasted well:

KAMEN (4/4/08): Last weekend, a red-faced, angry Bill Clinton, in a private meeting in San Jose with uncommitted California superdelegates, said Richardson had told him he would either support Hillary Clinton or stay neutral, according to news accounts. So it seems it was this alleged lying, as much as anything, that infuriated Clinton the most.

One participant in the meeting said Clinton said Richardson "told me five times to my face that he 'did not have sex with that woman #Gx%MR . . . ERROR 404738! Keyboard Malfunction!!!

Sorry, let's try that again...

Did not have sex[ual relations] with that woman! For this gang, it’s a magical phrase. It makes a thrill run up their leg; there’s a special key on their keyboards for it. Kamen bungles it slightly, of course, obeying their edict: Get everything wrong. But readers, they live for that thrilling old phrase. In truth, they always will.

During Campaign 2000, Kamen also served the clan’s narratives well. On December 24, 1999 (Christmas Eve!), he devoted his column to the family photo on the Gore family’s Christmas card. What had Kamen discerned from the shot? What else? From the photographic process employed, he could see that Al Gore was a phony. No, we didn’t make that up. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/24/99.

Last evening, we felt bad because we’d asked, once again, if these life-forms are actually human. Then, today, we rose from our bed and came upon one childish answer.

Special report: Ryan’s rerun!

BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: Lizza’s profile of life on the bus recalled life from eight years ago:

PART 1: Lizza profiled life on the bus. Amazingly little had changed. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/1/08.

PART 2: Journalists still “run out of questions” when they ride around on that bus. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/2/08.

PART 3: Reporters asked the darnedest things on a great saint’s fabled bus. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/3/08.

In part 4, we recall how we got here:

PART 4—HOW WE GOT HERE: Will John McCain win the White House this fall? If we had to bet, we’d say no. But why does he still have a fighting chance? In part, because of the good jolly fun our “journalists” once had on his bus.

Eight years ago, shortly after New Hampshire, the race for the White House was going strong. But so what? Richard Cohen described the way the “press corps” was behaving:

COHEN (2/8/00): Oddly enough, in all the analysis I've read of McCain's unanticipated success, the word "fun" is never mentioned. But the man is having fun. A trip on his bus is, well, a trip. You laugh and laugh—at least I do—and when, once, I asked him why in the world he would talk to the press hour after hour, totally on-the-record, he said it was "fun." He was having fun.

In fact, about three thousand profiles had mentioned the fun by the time Cohen wrote this piece. But what were they laughing and laughing about? Three months earlier, Cohen himself had helped explain it to perplexed Post readers:

COHEN (11/16/99): Reporters sit with him in the back of his campaign bus and ask him anything they want. We talked about the Vietnam War and Kosovo, Chechnya and gun control, abortion, homosexuality, campaign finance, Marlon Brando movies, great books, flying off a carrier, reciting exciting movie plots to his fellow POWs, going over the wall at the Naval Academy lo those many years ago, and that dish from Rio, the fashion model he had such a crush on. For a while he wanted to find her but then someone told him, no—it's best to remember her as she was.

Reporters were laughing and laughing and having great fun discussing that dish from Rio. But it wasn’t all about fashion models! On the day before New Hampshire voted, Maureen Dowd showed up to take the wild ride. Reported her bus-capade two days later, she expanded the list of key topics:

DOWD (2/2/00): He reminisced about an exotic dancer he had once dated. "Marie, the Flame Thrower of Florida," he said. Asked what she was like, he replied, "She was pretty volatile," and then slapped his knee and laughed, Har, har, har!"

So in fairness, exotic dancers were in the mix too. There was also talk about the times McCain would drunkenly crash through screen doors. Nancy Gibb discussed that in Time—in the same piece where she said her tribe was “taking McCain off the record” when he displayed too much candor:

GIBBS (12/13/99): And then there are the stories he tells—to which, if there's a pattern, it's to exalt other people and deflate himself. A presidential candidate is not supposed to tell you about the rules he broke or the strippers he dated, or the time he arrived so drunk that fell through the screen door of the young lady he was wooing. The candor tells you more than the content, and reporters sometimes just decide to take McCain off the record because they don't want to see him flame out and burn up a great story.

For the record, Dowd had perhaps been thrown off-stride by all the straight talk on the day of her ride. As more careful reporters had made clear, the dancer’s real name was “Marie the Flame”—not “Marie the Flame Thrower.”
But everyone cited the laughter and fun. Here was David Von Drehle, reporting the scene for the Post:

VON DREHLE (1/31/00): Now a Happy Warrior is plying the roads of New Hampshire in a big white bus that rings with laughter...The rolling bull session has become the must-see show of the presidential campaign. In recent days, senior brass from the Wall Street Journal, ABC News and the New York Times have all scored tickets for the primo seat: an easy chair beside McCain.

But should senior brass from our biggest news orgs be scoring tickets for all that big fun? To their credit, a few major scribes (Joe Klein and the late Lars-Erik Nelson, for example) wrote pointed pieces about the way their colleagues were misbehaving. But the clowning never stopped. Not on the bus, and now in the pages of the news orgs which were making this great man a saint.

Of course, at the same time they were clowning this way, they were inventing two years worth of tales about Gore. They made one man a demon—and one man a saint. We all know how Part One turned out.

Today, McCain still carries the public approval which was crafted, in part, during that clowning. The public has heard, for the past many years, about the straight talk this great hero provides. The “press corps” never dropped the novel it crafted during all those revels. And to be honest, the people who “represent your interests” never much tried to stop them.

Here are the names of five progressive journals—journals which provide our “intellectual leadership.” Go ahead! Tell us when you saw these journals fight the demonization of Gore—or the sanctification which has helped keep McCain in the race:

The New Republic
The Nation
The Washington Monthly
The American Prospect
Salon

Go ahead! When did you ever see those journals fight against this ludicrous process? When have you ever seen them name names?

Do you think they don’t understand?

McCain still has a chance to win for the same reason that Bush reached the White House. Your “liberal leadership” has been in the bag when it comes to mainstream press conduct. They refuse to fight; refuse to complain; refuse to represent your interests. They want to go on Hardball too. You—your children; your interests; your community; your values—can all go straight to hell.

They refuse—they simply refuse—to tell the truth about the people who do this. Or, as Rachel so memorably confessed: Did you know that the brilliant Chris Matthews is America’s most brilliant known pundit?

ADDENDUM: Yesterday, we failed to include one part of a passage from Bill Greider’s Rolling Stone profile. Reporters asked the darnedest things! Just check what we left out:

GREIDER (10/28/99): Back on the bus, en route to Laconia, the reporters divert him with a series of fanzine questions. What are you reading, Senator? "John Updike's Best American Short Stories of the Century." What was your favorite book as a child? "King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table." Favorite living hero? "Ted Williams: best pilot, best baseball player, best fisherman."

Favorite drink: Stoli on the rocks. Tree: cottonwood. Music: Fifties and Sixties rock&roll; "I listen to the stations my kids hate. "Favorite Beatle: "I met Ringo Starr once, so I guess he's my favorite."

They even asked him to name his favorite tree! In a big white bus that rang with laughter, inquiring minds wanted to know that.