THE FRUIT OF A CULTURE: Here at THE HOWLER, weve been fighting off a touch of the 24-hour labyrinthitis. Yesterday, inspired by Dowd, we managed to ignore its effects. But were a bit behind on our general musingsand well have to wait a day for a transcript of last nights debate.
As a general matter, well stand with the analysts Uncle Walter, cringing thusly about the sad session:
SHAPIRO (4/17/08): If the debate was a dress rehearsal for the Oval Office, then the job of a 21st-century president primarily consists of ducking gotcha questions. As Obama rightly complained, deflecting a fatuous question about his seeming reluctance to don an American-flag pin, This is the kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with and, once again, distracts us from ... figuring out how we get our troops out of Iraq and how we actually make our economy better for the American people.
More on that particular question below. But let us register two impressions:
First, it was a joy to reach the debates second hour, when Obama and Clinton were finally allowed to talk about serious policy matters (however imperfect those questions sometimes were). Second, it was sad to recall how good these candidates seemed in the South Carolina and California debates, before the events of the past month brought The Cult of the Offhand Comment so deeply into this race.
Last nights debate was, in many ways, a high mass staged by priests of that cult. Why, so many offhand comments were flying around that we even revisited Hillarys cookies! But surely, the evenings most ludicrous question was the one Shapiro cited. (Sorrywe dont have a transcript.)
ABC News had traveled about, taping questions from Pennsylvanians. Which question was presented to Obama? A woman asked him to explain why he doesnt wear a lapel pin.
Should that question have been selected? You can make a case for almost anything. And its truethis matter has been bruited about; almost surely, there are other Pennsylvanians who are wondering about it. Some Pennsylvanians, including that woman, may even cast their vote on this basis. (People vote for every imaginable reason. See example below.)
But ABC News had less than two hours, and the world is full of complex issues. At some point, journalists have to set their priorities. And by the way: If ABC taped a lot of citizens, surely someone looked into the camera and asked Obama if hes a Muslimor if its true that he wont swear on a Bible. Did someone ask Clinton about all her murders? At some point, a news org has to show some judgment about which questions to pick.
In fairness, no misinformation was involved in that womans question. Obama doesnt wear a flag pin, and he once discussed his reasonsprobably unwisely. But at some point, news orgs have to judge the value of the questions which get asked.
Obama called it a manufactured question. For our money, that may not be great politics, although its certainly true (in part). But in one especially clownish recent episode, Republican congressman Jack Kingston appeared on The Abrams Report to discuss Obamas missing flag pin. Unfortunately, Kingston wasnt wearing a flag pin himself. This discussion ensued:
KINGSTON (2/27/08): I think that there are these questions that the American people want to know about. I mean, you know, when you listen to why he doesnt wear an American flag button, it`s a very convoluted answer. And, you know, American flag buttonsIve been in politics and you have been around politicians for a long time, Dan. Everybody wears them, from the mayor to county commissioner, to members of Congress to the president.
Its curious that suddenly, theres a guy who doesnt want to do it. And if you put that with the wifes comment, the first time in her adult life shes proud of Americayoure running to be the number one cheerleader in the country. So I think these questions arent off limits.
ABRAMS: All right. Congressman, first let me ask youyoure not wearing a lapel pin, are you?
KINGSTON: I will wear one and I have worn one. Im not making a statement about it.
ABRAMS: But you see my point? I had no idea you were going to show up without a lapel pin, but it seems kind of absurd that you are saying that Barack Obamas patriotism should be questioned because hes not wearing a lapel pin and then you come on the show not wearing one.
KINGSTON: Well, Dan, I dont follow that at all. Im saying I will be glad to wear one and I have worn one and I do wear one. But Barack Obama says he wont wear one. Thats a completely different thing. Youre probably not wearing one now.
ABRAMS: Im not.
KINGSTON: But you would you wear one?
ABRAMS: I would wear one. But I don`t feel
KINGSTON: Then there you go.
ABRAMS: But I wouldnt criticize someone who doesnt. I wouldnt say Im going to question someone`s patriotism. Would I wear one at some time? Ive worn one I think once in my life, at one point for something.
KINGSTON: Dan, you know why these, as you call them, attacksI don`t really think theyre attacks. I think it`s just a little banter back and forth. It seems that the leftists have their hypersensitivity buttons on. But it works. Apparently, it`s like scratching fingernails across a black board when you say Barack Hussein Obama.
Kingstons closing remark was disgraceful; more below. But no, the solon didnt contradict himself with what he said about the flag pin. There actually is an argument there; you have to judge if its a good one. And yes, there are people out in the country who may even vote in this basis.
But in a different cultural era, Kingston would have been mocked to the death for showing up without a flag pin to criticize Obamas lack of a flag pinand he would have been roasted over hot coals for that last, indefensible comment. But we dont live in an era like that. We live in this political eraan era in which ABC News decided that the womans question was more important than the million global issues they failed to get to in last nights debate.
The political media are a broken institution. Hopeless, Digby wrote last night. This morning, when we went to ABC News to see if theyd posted a transcript, we found this story at the top of their page, with a photo which was simply delicious:
Kims Embarrassing Panty Pic
Reality star Kim Kardashian successfully pleads with "pap" to erase picture.
In the real world, some questions are more equal than others. And some questions reflect the broken-souled culture of a broken, multimillionaire press corps. A press corps which our liberal journals have accepted, without a peep of complaint, for a good many years.
Why have these journals done that?
MANY THINGS DONT HAPPEN: Did the following event really happen? Gail Collins seems to be referring to the April 14 dinner which is reported here. But as weve learned down through the years, many events described in Times op-ed columns didnt happen in the real world. Our question: Did this really occur?
COLLINS (4/17/08): It's amazing how often age comes up in this campaign...
This week, while Obama was doing his fired up speech at the Philadelphia Democratic Party dinner, he told the story about how he went to a sparsely attended gathering at Greenwood, S.C., feeling tired and slightly depressed until a local woman appeared, crying out: ''Fired up and ready to go!'
She's seen some years,'' Obama said, describing the scene to a room full of well-fed politicians and union officials. ''She's maybe close to 60 ...
Oh, no! Some middle-aged women in the crowd started to hiss. The battered Obama campaign aides must have been swooning. First the gun lovers, now the baby boomers.
This long, long primary has come down to a matter of ageor at least tenure under the presidential spotlight.
Wed already seen several elements in Collins column which seemed to benefit from creative retelling. But did this incident really occur? We can find no report of Obama saying this anywhere in the Nexis archives. Darlings, it makes for splendid enjoyment! But did it really occur?
Of course, Times columnists have long enjoyed improving dull, unhelpful facts. Later, Collins offers this familiar portrait. In our view, its based on a factual howler. Try to ignore Collins tone, developed inside a palace:
COLLINS: Maybe the problem is Pennsylvania. Not that it isnt a lovely place. (Full of people who despite their economic woes are in excellent moods all the time.) But whenever the candidates pollsters crunch Pennsylvania they seem to determine that the entire stateand possibly the presidencyhinges on a couple of exurban neighborhoods full of alienated outdoorsmen. This causes Democrats to go into strange contortions to try to woo them. Witness Obama and Clinton at the debate, racing away from gun control as if they were a pair of greyhounds.
This makes for familiar entertainment, with Democrats pictured as big pander bears. We dont have the transcript yetbut if memory serves, Clinton endorsed reinstatement of the assault weapon ban last night, blaming Republicans for letting it lapse. We dont recall Obama playing greyhound either. In short, Collins had some good solid fun. You and the truth can go hang.
Note: Were using Collins text from this mornings hard-copy Times. Changes have occurred on-line. The Dems are still big phonies, of coursebut the bungled facts are now AWOL.
Darlings, we hope you enjoyed the fun. They do love to hand you their novels.
SMILE-A-WHILE: People vote on every conceivable basis. This example caught our eye today. Its from David Broders column, for entertainment purposes only:
BRODER (4/17/08): Another Democratic voter, Ellen Sharm, 49, of Fort Washington, is unequivocally opposed to Clinton because my father hated Bill Clinton and he hated her.
Sharm herself is equivocal about Obama and McCain and she said she is "halfway between" their opposing views on Iraqwith Obama urging an immediate start on a pullout and McCain saying the United States should remain there in force until Iraq is stable. Sharm described her own position on the war as "wishy-washy" and, while her disqualification of Clinton "out of respect for my father" dictates a vote for Obama in the primaries, she said if its Obama versus McCain I'll have to consider" what to do in November.
Too funny! People vote for various reasonsincluding the desire to show their respect for their (late?) fathers sanctified hatreds.