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THE REFUSAL TO SPEAK! David Brooks refuses to speak. E. J. Dionne gives him cover: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, APRIL 30, 2010

Olbermann’s school for hate: Laura Bush has published a book. In a review in yesterday’s New York Times, Michiko Kakutani makes it sound like the book is quite interesting, especially the early sections about Bush’s early years in West Texas:

KAKUTANI (4/29/10): Writing with impressive recall, Mrs. Bush conjures her hometown, Midland, Tex., with enormous detail, lyricism and feeling. It’s a small town in the 1950s and early 60s, when children looked forward to ice cream sundaes and pony rides, and teenagers hung out at drive-in movies and drive-in restaurants.

The world is part “The Last Picture Show” and part “American Graffiti,” but less sophisticated—a place where people gather the tumbleweeds that blow through town in the winter, tie them into threes and spray “them with white flocking to make desert snowmen for their lawns.” A place where people want houses with familiar floor plans (“a living room at the front, a den behind it, and a hallway with three bedrooms”) and think nothing of driving six hours to Dallas or El Paso for something to do.

“It was easy perhaps to be sad in Midland,” Mrs. Bush writes, “sad from loss, sad from loneliness. ‘Terrible winds and a wonderful emptiness’ were the painter Georgia O’Keefe’s double-edged words about the Texas desert plains, which I read years later, after I was grown.”

Pause now for pseudo-liberals to screech, But she didn’t write it herself! You see, we pseudo-liberals just gotta hate, as tribalists always have, all the way back through prehistory. Tribal hate is destructive—but thrilling. It makes blood rush through veins.

Luckily, the modern pseudo-liberal has a top-rate school of hatred. At the start of Wednesday’s Countdown, offering a pleasing tease, Sheik Olbermann helped young liberals see where review of this book should take them:

OLBERMANN (4/28/10): And "Bushed!"—her version: Laura Bush chastises her husband`s critics for, quote, "calling him names." Names that seem like love letters compared to jargon of the tea party. She wonders if the whole family was poisoned at the G8 in Germany. And the car crash when she was 17, and she ran a stop sign and she collided with the car of her friend and he was killed, what was to blame? The small size of the stop sign!

All the news and commentary, now on Countdown!

Laura Bush caused a fatal car crash when she was seventeen. Late in the show, the sheik dragged out the little corporate Brit he totes around in his hip pocket, and this pair of corporate hustlers taught us “liberals” that we should sneer at Bush’s treatment of this fatal accident.

For the record, neither Olbermann nor his ratty friend had actually seen Bush’s book. They were operating off an early news report about the book in Wednesday’s New York Times. But here’s how KO framed the discussion when he finally reached the topic. Perhaps you can see how pathetic this construction is:

OLBERMANN: In our number-one [final] story on the countdown, the Laura Bush biography leaked ahead of its publication date because—see if this sounds familiar—somebody from a newspaper walked into a bookstore and got a copy. The New York Times was the somebody. While she addressed the time that she at age 17 ran a stop sign and killed a friend in a second car, first she tries to settle scores on her husband`s behalf.

First she tries to settle scores? Olbermann had no way to know if that description was accurate—and it was certainly designed to teach us how to hate. Soon, he questioned Our Own Richard Wolffe about this troubling matter:

OLBERMANN: And, briefly, the story of the fatal car crash when she was 17, ran through a stop sign, caused the death of a boy in the other car. It’s obviously very painful stuff. But she`s seeming to blame herself only equally to the darkness, the dangerous of the intersection, and the small size of the stop sign. Was that event, in your opinion, pertinent to either presidential election? If so, why wasn’t it addressed? And what about her explanation?

WOLFFE: It came up in the first campaign in 2000. We asked all sorts of questions about it. They stone-walled. Very hard to establish the facts. It does sound like it was very painful. And these accidents, if anyone has been in one, you know it happens very quickly. I think it`s hard to ascribe blame, at the time or afterwards, frankly.

Olbermann’s account is truly remarkable, given the account of this matter from which he and his hack staffers were working. We’ll offer you the full section Olbermann was working from, letting you see the skill with which a man of hate can hunt down a preferred text. This is the lengthy account in the New York Times, by Anahad O’Connor, from which Olbermann captured his focus:

O’CONNOR (4/28/10): But it is her description of the deadly accident, and its subsequent impact on her life and her faith, that is the subject Ms. Bush had most shied away from speaking about in her public life. On a November night in 1963, Ms. Bush and a girlfriend were hurrying to a drive-in theater when Ms. Bush, at the wheel of her father's Chevy Impala, ran a stop sign on a small road and smashed into a car being driven by Mike Douglas, a star athlete and popular student at her school.

''In those awful seconds, the car door must have been flung open by the impact and my body rose in the air until gravity took over and I was pulled, hard and fast, back to earth,'' she says. ''The whole time,'' she adds later, ''I was praying that the person in the other car was alive. In my mind, I was calling 'Please, God. Please, God. Please, God,' over and over and over again.''

Ms. Bush concedes that she and her friend were chatting when she ran the stop sign. But she also suggests a host of factors beyond her control played a role—the pitch-black road, an unusually dangerous intersection, the small size of the stop sign, and the car the victim was driving.

''It was sporty and sleek, and it was also the car that Ralph Nader made famous in his book Unsafe at Any Speed,'' she states. ''He claimed the car was unstable and prone to rollover accidents. A few years later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration went so far as to investigate the Corvair's handling, but it didn't reach the same grim conclusions. I was driving my dad's much larger and heavier Chevy Impala. But none of that would ever ease the night of November 6. Not for me, and never for the Douglases.''

Ms. Bush reveals that she was wracked by guilt for years after the crash, especially after not attending the funeral and for not reaching out to the parents of the dead teenager. Her parents did not want her to show up at the funeral, she states, and she ended up sleeping through it.

''I lost my faith that November, lost it for many, many years,'' she says. ''It was the first time that I had prayed to God for something, begged him for something, not the simple childhood wishing on a star but humbly begging for another human life. And it was as if no one heard. My begging, to my seventeen-year-old mind, had made no difference. The only answer was the sound of Mrs. Douglas's sobs on the other side of that thin emergency room curtain.''

Mrs. Bush goes on to say that in her public life, she has encouraged young drivers who have been in serious accidents to speak to loved ones, counselors or spiritual or pastoral advisers.'

'But while I give this advice in my letters, I didn't do any of that,'' she reveals. ''Most of how I ultimately coped with the crash was by trying not to talk about it, not to think about it, to put it aside. Because there wasn't anything I could do. Even if I tried.''

KO’s hacks sifted that text—and they spotted a way to let young liberals hate. You see, tribal hatred keeps viewers coming back for more. It puts millions in KO’s pants pockets.

By the way—it’s very much like the 2000 press corps to be “asking all sorts of questions” about a car accident involving a candidate’s spouse when she was 17. Those ratty fixers rarely asked about the things which actually mattered. But good lord! How they did pursue matters like that! (Or so they tell us now.)

Olbermann is a wealthy man, a man who instructs young liberals in hate. There was no particular reason to discuss this book at all. But when he spotted those seven highlighted words, he knew where he could take you.

About that inquisitive press corps: The “press corps” from that 2000 campaign should all be rotting in prison, serving time on some sort of “public impersonation” rap. Just this week, we read a column, for the first time, which describes an event from that campaign. Given Our Own Richard Wolffe’s remarks, we think it’s worth excerpting.

In June 2000, Candidate Gore flew to the state of Washington, where he helped open a national monument. Seven years later, in a column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Joel Connelly recalled the press corps’ focus that day. (Sorry, can’t find a link to this column.) The “ice” he recalls from that “icy 2000 flight” refers to their hatred of Gore:

CONNELLY (6/11/07): The trivia and torments draw me back to an icy 2000 flight on Air Force Two.

The Clinton administration had designated a Hanford Reach National Monument, protecting the last undammed stretch of the Columbia River in Eastern Washington. Gore went out on the Zodiac boat of local activist Rich Steele to get a look at the river's bluffs, its white pelicans and habitat for the Columbia River's last big wild salmon run.

On the plane, however, press talk was all about how the river's breezes exposed America's most carefully combed-over bald spot, plus the lampooning of Gore's earth-tone suits. Gore secluded himself in the front of the plane.

In his new book "No Excuses," Gore's media adviser Bob Shrum discusses the impact of this tension on the campaign: "(Gore) was an inveterate tinkerer who sometimes got the little things wrong, but got the big ones right. Unfortunately, in 2000 with a press corps largely disillusioned with Clinton and convinced that Gore was a `phony,' the little things—the overclaiming, the exaggerations, the miscues of tone and tactics—would become the biggest factors of all.”

According to Connelly, America’s most prominent political “journalists” were focused on Gore’s bald spot—the bald spot to which Maureen Dowd had devoted a strong of columns. And sure enough! This was the opening paragraph of Sandra Sobieraj’s AP report, that very day, in real time:

SOBIERAJ (6/9/00): Wind mussing his hair, Vice President Al Gore sped up the Columbia River Friday in a boat named "Can Do II," turning the administration's designation of new national monuments into a campaign event.

Sobieraj started with Gore’s mussed hair, then suggested that he had been playing politics. (Here’s a real-time piece from the Seattle Times, which turns straight to the bald spot.)

According to Our Own Richard Wolffe, these same public servants were asking and asking about the details of that old car wreck. Sadly, they couldn’t get us voters the answers we desperately needed.

Special report: Brooks & Dumb!

PART 4—THE REFUSAL TO SPEAK (permalink): Let’s return to a very important part of Thomas Friedman’s latest column. In the following passage, Friedman comes close to defining an age:

FRIEDMAN (4/28/10): Much of our politics today is designed to make people stupid, confused and afraid of change.

In fact, much of our politics has been so designed over the past several decades. So has much of our “journalism.” We refer to the type of “journalism” whose noxious effects Brooks pooh-poohed last week.

Let’s review some highlights:

In the 1990s, a string of shrieking “journalists” tried to convince the public that Bill and Hillary Clinton were perhaps serial murderers. (One such “journalist” was Rush Limbaugh. Another such “journalist” was Jerry Falwell, a frequent guest on cable.) You might regard these lunatic claims as a form of politics, though they often appeared in the form of journalism. But whatever you call them, these claims were designed to make people stupid, confused.

They did great harm to this country.

In the late 1990s, a gang of shrieking journalists concocted a two-year war against Candidate Gore. They invented streams of pseudo-facts about what a Big Crackpot Liar he was. These claims were designed to make people stupid, confused.

They did great harm to this country.

In the last few years, Glenn Beck has emerged as a major figure, screeching and shrieking, day after day, about the Communists surrounding Obama. Vast confusion and vast stupidity are involved in this project too.

What can we say about these efforts to make the public stupid, confused? We can surely make this statement: David Brooks has refused to confront them! Cowering in his ivory chamber, stuffing his salary down into his pants, the well-bred noble looks away from the problem Friedman defined. Indeed, how vast is Brooks’ myopia? In last Tuesday’s column, he even suggested that a happy ending to this story has been found. Try to believe that he wrote this nonsense about a certain new study:

BROOKS (4/20/10): [T]he core finding is that most Internet users do not stay within their communities. Most people spend a lot of time on a few giant sites with politically integrated audiences, like Yahoo News.

But even when they leave these integrated sites, they often go into areas where most visitors are not like themselves. People who spend a lot of time on Glenn Beck’s Web site are more likely to visit The New York Times’s Web site than average Internet users. People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to foxnews.com than average Internet users. Even white supremacists and neo-Nazis travel far and wide across the Web.

It is so easy to click over to another site that people travel widely.

In Brooks’ panglossian world, these facts are supposed to show that the Internet really isn’t “lead[ing] to a more ghettoized, polarized and insular electorate.” But this is an utterly ludicrous claim about our political world.

What is the truth about our world—a truth which involves cable TV and talk radio as well as the Net? Here’s the truth: We now live in a dangerously “ghettoized” political world! It’s a world in which “liberals” hear perfect smack from KO and the Brit he totes in his pocket, while “conservatives” have a very wide range of lunacies to select from. We live in a world where a cosmic nullity like S. E. Cupp is publishing gong-show books about religion—and getting them reviewed in the Washington Post!

Every manner of pure stupidity is on display in what was once described as the marketplace of ideas. The fact that people click around on the web in no ways changes this fact, or the damage that is resulting.

Forty years ago, things were different. In the age of Murrow and Cronkie, only a narrow range of people were allowed at the top of the discourse. As a matter of theory, this isn’t a great way to run a democracy. But in those days, screaming lunatics and cosmic fools simply weren’t allowed on the air. They weren’t given the presumed authority of positions high up in the national media. If average people wanted to hear things that were blatantly stupid, they had to go to a corner bar—or they had to seek out dusty corners of the published discourse.

Today, the loonies and fools are on TV. They get reviewed in the Post.

This started with Imus; then came Howard Stern. After that, they even let Limbaugh on the air. Soon, the Limbaugh imitators were all around. Now, the Limbaugh imitators are found on MSNBC too. They’re not as bad as Limbaugh yet—but their skill sets are growing.

And in the midst of all this stupidity, there sits Brooks, suggesting that this really isn’t happening.

Simple story: Princes like Brooks have ducked this story every step of the way. They refused to stand and tell the truth about the things Rush was doing. They refused to stand and tell the truth about the war against Gore. They glanced away from the Clinton murder claims; they didn’t much discuss death panels. Just a guess: Life is simpler when they keep their heads down—when they type columns which start with Cass Sunstein’s wonderful wisdom, then tell us, only a few grafs later, that the Beck Effect isn’t that bad.

People! Beck has been calling Sunstein a Communist for the past year. Millions of people see him do it and lack the first clue.

Just a guess: Brooks didn’t know that.

Quite plainly, your nation is dying from Dumb. David Brooks will not address it. But then, the prince is in good company. E. J. Dionne won’t go there either.

Go ahead—search the archives for columns where these comfortable fellows have told you the truth about these matters. You’ll have a very long search on your hands. During that time, Glenn Beck will tell his viewers ten times about Sunstein’s vast love for Mao.

A nation can’t survive this way. Isn’t this already clear?