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CAMELOT LOST! Kennedy said he wouldn’t check with the pope. But Novak scolds solons who won’t: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 2005

AS A MATTER OF FACT, YES—THEY’LL BE PUNISHED: In this morning’s lead editorial, the Washington Post provides describes the cost of killing the estate tax for good. But in their closing paragraph, the eds indulge in some clueless self-contradiction:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (4/12/05): The estate tax is a tough vote for some lawmakers in part because of the enormous amount of misinformation surrounding it. House members who fear that a vote for the more responsible Pomeroy alternative will be used against them should ask themselves two questions: Will my constituents really punish me for a vote to exempt 99.7 percent of estates from taxation? And how can I justify adding to the deficit, or cutting other programs, to underwrite a costly tax break for the extremely rich?
In that first sentence, the editors note the load of disinformation surrounding the fearful “death tax.” But right after that, they seem to suggest that it’s silly for members of Congress to think they’ll be punished for retaining the tax. “Will my constituents really punish me for a vote to exempt 99.7 percent of estates from taxation?” they ask. But duh! The answer to that question is yes, precisely because of the disinformation the press lets the pseudo-right spread.

For decades, Rush and the gang have spread disinformation about the effects of the “death tax.” (For one key example, see the Post’s paragraph about family farms.) And, as usual, the mainstream press has refused to stand up and confront what these demagogues have been doing. But then, you know the ways of that mainstream press corps, with its “right-leaning dinner-party centrism!” Not for them the dirty task of challenging Mark Levin’s kooky best-seller—and not for them the dirty task of describing the disinformation machine that keeps misleading American voters about the way this tax really works. So yes—various members will be punished if they vote to keep the estate tax. They’ll be punished because voters have been misled by Rush and the gang for years—and because our dinner-party pundits are too timid to stand up and fight them.

That quoted paragraph is the perfect portrait of the way this cohort works. In one sentence, they note that the public has been disinformed. But in the next sentence, they seem to ridicule the idea that voters will punish the House about this. How do those two ideas go together? Next time you attend a fine Washington party, put down your wine glass and ask the eds this. But uh-oh! Don’t expect to get an invite to the next centrist soiree.

CAMELOT LOST: Today’s theocrat pundit loves to preen and show off his unyielding piety. Just consider the “outrages of the week” on Saturday’s Capital Gang, for example. Since the gang was staging a “special” show—an hour-long “tribute” to Pope John Paul II (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/11/05)—all pundits offered pope-related outrages. But uh-oh! Times have really changed! Plu-pious pilgrim pundit Bob Novak really came up with a doozy:

AL HUNT (4/9/05): Bob?

NOVAK: The Senate Tuesday voted 98-0 to honor John Paul II but thirty minutes later, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer brought up a proposal of disrespect for the late pope. He was architect of an anti-abortion policy adopted by a U.N. conference at Mexico City in 1984. The Boxer Amendment ends U.S. acceptance of the Mexico City language that bars U.S. subsidies for abortion abroad. It carried by just six votes. Shame on eight Republican Senators, who broke party ranks to thumb their noses at John Paul.

Try to believe that a Big Major Pundit said that right here in your country! Forty-five years ago, Candidate Kennedy promised America that he wouldn’t be led around by a pope. But now, religious crackpots are re-ascendent, and Novak thought it was the week’s biggest “outrage” when a United States senator made a proposal that Pope John Paul wouldn’t have liked! Incredibly, it was the “outrage of the week” when Boxer dared propose such a thing—and when Republican solons helped pass her amendment, Novak felt that they were shamefully “thumbing their noses” at the pope. So it goes as post-Camelot pundits try to put Rome back in charge.

Yes, the crackpots, the nut-cakes, are back on the prowl, as they’ve been throughout human history. How far have we come since JFK? Major scribes now call it an “outrage” when the senate won’t bow to the pope! And Kate O’Beirne was kookier still when she was asked for the week’s biggest outrage. O’Beirne, Novak’s plu-pious godmother, was simply outraged by Ireland’s conduct. Try to believe this occurred:

HUNT (continuing directly): Kate.

O'BEIRNE: The Irish government refused to declare a national day of mourning to mark the death of Pope John Paul II. Reportedly, businesses in Ireland worried about the cost of shutting down for a day.

The pope had plenty to say about that priority. He had a special relationship with Catholic Ireland, making the Emerald Isle his third international pilgrimage in 1979, when two-thirds of the population greeted him at his stops. Castro has announced three days of mourning and cancelled public celebrations. Couldn't Ireland have done more than that?

Excuse us? Ireland didn’t shut down business to honor the pope—and that was the week’s biggest outrage? Of course, we didn’t shut business or close schools here either—but O’Beirne was outraged when Ireland stayed open! But then, crackpots of this plu-pious type have always been eager to lecture all comers. They’ve always been ready to march off to war, subduing the offending peoples of various troubling lands.

Yes, religious kooks are back on the march, all throughout the American press corps, even as husbands and hacks are sent out to tell the rubes something different. And their pious parson is Newsweek’s Jon Meacham, who’s always ready with a sermon or three (more on the parson tomorrow). But on Saturday night, an outraged pilgrim and his furious godmother really showed us how strange they’ve become. The Senate refuses to bow to the pope! The Irish should learn to self-abase fully! This is the shape of your plu-pious press corps. More on their brilliance to come.

AND SOME PLAY IT DUMB: Of course, the ones who haven’t lost their minds know that they’re paid to play dumb. On this Sunday’s Chris Matthews Show, a fast-talking host simply luvved the way George Bush had done Rome:

MATTHEWS (4/10/05): Let me talk about coming over here. What I was struck by was the way in which everyone knows that the president—and I—by the way, he was wonderful in coming over here. I think—and we all agree, we've been over here this week—his presence was wonderful coming over, and the first lady was great and, and bringing the two former presidents. He did it just the right way. But it seemed to me odd that the part—one party seemed to almost monopolize the event. It seemed like a Republican visit. Didn't it, Chris [Jansing]?
After gushing over Bush’s brilliance, Chris was trying to figure out why it had “seemed like a Republican visit.” And as the panel talked it over, no one could figure it out:
JANSING (continuing directly): Well, I don't know that it seemed like a Republican visit. They got more publicity—

MATTHEWS: That's what I meant.

JANSING: —because the president is a Republican.

After the four-member panel batted it around, Chris went back to his gushing And all his panelists took the chance to join the Group Gush with their host:
MATTHEWS: There's this feeling in the country—I thought it was interesting. I bumped into John Kerry the other day strolling through the Pantheon, in front of the Pantheon here in Rome. Nobody seemed to notice the Democrats. I go back to my point: I think the Republicans made a pronounced appearance here, a wonderful visit by the president. I think people are going to remember that he was the first president ever to come to a papal event over here in the Vatican, and I think a lot of American Catholics are going to be quite grateful for that. Do you think, Chris?

JANSING: I think they are going to be grateful for that. I think they expected it. I think that this is something that defies politics, but George Bush is representing America here.

DAVID GREGORY (NBC News): And, and, you know, George Bush had a real—a real reaction to the pope. The first time he saw him, he said, “I can't put it into words what it was like to be in his presence.” And as he was leaving to go back to America after the funeral, he said that attending the funeral was one of the highlights of his presidency.

GAVIN HEWITT (BBC): And increased his faith, I think he said.

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

All the pundits knew they should pander—and Gregory knew that he should vouch for the sincerity of every word Bush had said. And all the pundits seemed to know that they mustn’t state the obvious—that the trip “had seemed like a Republican visit” because Bush had only invited one Democrat! Duh! If Bush had taken Jimmy Carter instead of Condi Rice, would it have seemed so much “like a Republican visit?” There had even been a week-long flap about why Carter didn’t attend. But all four pundits behaved nicely this day. Their host was gushing about Bush’s “wonderful visit,” and his three polite panel guests all knew they should choke down the obvious.

None of this nonsense was worth discussing—but note the clowning when it was discussed. Yes, you now have two American press corps. You have the crackpot right, which scolds Big Pols when they don’t obey the Pope. And you have the “dinner-party” contingent—the centrist gang that will do and say anything to keep their sweet place at the table.

Final note: On Capital Gang, one evening earlier, E. J. Dionne’s “outrage of the week” concerned the way Carter got kissed off by Bush. But in Rome, all three guests—enjoying their place at the table—knew that it mustn’t be mentioned.

WHATEVER: Here’s the site for the Chris Matthews Show. They’re a little behind on the transcripts.

MUST-READ NYT: This morning, Kristof explains why the press isn’t trusted. Tomorrow, we offer our own nagging thoughts. Also coming: The great parson Meacham.