BEINART (4/30/06): It is no exaggeration to say that Politics Lost represents the culmination of Joe Klein's life work. It spans every presidential campaign he has covered. It draws on sources nurtured over his three decades as one of the country's leading political reporters. And its topic has clearly obsessed him for a very long time: Why is American politics no longer fun?In the culmination of his life work, Joe Klein has an important question; Joe Klein wants to know why politics is no longer fun! And theres no sign that Beinart, an emerging Star Pundit, finds this bizarre question odd. Indeed: The quirkiness of that question gives this book its charm, he vacantly judges. But then, Beinart seems to be in thrall to the values of that celebrity press corps. Of course, [Klein would] like American democracy to tackle big problems and offer brave answers, he types. Trust us: Youll find few signs of such a desire if you read Joe Kleins silly new book.
Millionaire pundits just wanna have fun! And Beinart never bats an eye at this inane, vacant focus. Indeed, he soon makes a requisite claim—Klein wants our politics to be more authentic. This well-scripted mission accomplished, Beinart offers his nugget statement. With apologies for the length of this excerpt, its the familiar script of an addled elite—our modern Millionaire Pundit Corps:
BEINART (pgh 3): In explaining how those qualities were lost, Klein...provides a highly entertaining tour of how political consultants progressively hijacked the presidential campaigns of the last 40 years. In a pundit-dominated culture strikingly devoid of historical memory—where many commentators barely know why Michael Dukakis lost, let alone why Hubert Humphrey did—Klein's granular understanding of the political culture of the 1970s and '80s is unusual and impressive. His description of Patrick H. Caddell—the tortured genius who began polling for George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign while still in college, dominated Democratic politics in the Carter years and grew so disgusted with the kind of campaigns he had helped invent that he committed professional suicide in the 1980s—is both a model of historical excavation and a crucial backdrop for understanding operatives such as Bob Shrum and Karl Rove, who oversee our often tawdry, brain-dead politics today.As with Kleins self-dealing book, so too with Beinarts review. The tawdry, brain-dead politics [of] today is the fault of political consultants. The major role played by the press corps—by Beinart and Klein—is neatly and deftly disappeared. How tawdry and brain-dead is Kleins new book? And how much is Beinart prepared to ignore? Well start to give you an idea tomorrow. But something else should be said about Beinarts review, and about Kleins odd book. In this excerpt, you get the familiar taste of Beinart and Kleins curdled stew:
BEINART (pgh 4): Another great strength of Politics Lost is that, whether by accident or design, it models the kind of political discourse Klein would like to see. Against the neutered, white-washed language that dominates contemporary American political life, Klein counterposes his own edgy, raw and often hilarious rhetorical style. Again and again, he uncorks one-liners so good that the reader stops to savor. Carter was "as serious as cancer and as colorful as cement." "The 1970s were the 1960s for nerds." Dukakis "hailed from the National Public Radio wing of his party." In their obsession with the minutiae of environmental policy, Democrats "had trouble seeing the forest for the tree huggers.According to Beinart, thats the kind of discourse Klein would like to see. Its a discourse which ridicules major Democrats—and major Democrats only. Its a discourse in which we slap our knee as a former president, Jimmy Carter, is hilariously compared to a cancer—and then, just as hilariously, to a block of cement. Republicans? They can lie the U.S. into war, but its Democrats who must be ridiculed—and yes, we mean Democrats only. Indeed, Beinart—a very good, well-trained boy— makes no bones about it. Politics Lost is tougher on Democrats than Republicans, and for good reason, he writes—and then, he explains why this is. We present his strange logic below.
Indeed, when it comes to trashing Dems, Beinarts review is even more one-sided than Kleins weirdly unbalanced book. In his review, Beinart hammers a string of Big Dems—and never mentions a single one of the savage indictments of major Republicans found in Politics Lost. Its true—Klein offers his criticisms of Republicans in passing, contributing to the weird tone of his book. (In Kleins book, Bush is demagogic and quite often wrong on the facts at his crucial first debate with Gore. But incredibly, its Gores alleged sighs which have him upset—just as it has long been written in all Approved Pundit Corps Scripts.) But at least, in Kleins actual book, the record of Republican misconduct is offered. Beinart omits this record completely. In Beinarts review, our politics has been lost because of consultants—consultants to Big Dems, no one else. That fleeting mention of Karl Rove—see above—is Beinarts only mention of any Republican. The hilarious jokes he stops to savor are aimed at Big Dems—no one else.
Kleins new book is bizarre, fake and false; well start to give you a sense of its ethics tomorrow. But when we examine its major themes (next week), well return to that one all-encompassing theme, that theme which weve discussed for years. When millionaire pundits describe the decline of our politics, they never cite their own role in the matter—the role of their own vacant, fun-loving cohort. And obedient climbers—climbers like Beinart—know they must play it dumb too.
Millionaire pundits just wanna have fun! They want to cash their large, juicy checks, and they want to build those homes on Nantucket! And oh yes! For reasons which remain unexplained (and are often unasked), they want to trash major Democrats only! People like Klein just want to have fun—the fun of lying through their teeth as they rewrite our nations recent history.
TOMORROW: The shape of the ethics which Beinart accepts.
FOR THE RECORD: Parts of Politics Lost are quite accurate. At least one part is fairly new--and quite important. We'll discuss those matters next week too. But the book is dominated by Klein's tortured adherence to that prime script--Dems must be fake, inauthentic. This script will reappear for Campaign 08. Dems and libs should prepare for it now. BEINART PUTS ON THE BIG SHOES: Could Beinart be a bigger clown if he landed the Ronald McDonald account? Go ahead—enjoy a good laugh as he proves that Republican pols are authentic:
BEINART: Politics Lost is tougher on Democrats than Republicans, and for good reason. As Klein shows, political consultants are at their most debilitating when the politicians they serve lack the courage of their convictions. And in recent years, it is Democrats who have been more ideologically insecure. In 1976, Klein writes, Ronald Reagan hired a fancy consultant named John Sears, whom he didn't know and who didn't share his right-wing instincts. But when he ran for president again in 1980, Reagan fired Sears, trusting his long-time confidantes—and his own gut—when it mattered most. By contrast, Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 lacked the self-confidence to fire the consultants who kept them from saying what they really believed.How gutsy! Reagan fired Sears—four years later! We dont mean this as a criticism of Reagan—only of Beinart, for his silly script-pimping. But remember the script, the Hard Pundit Law: Democrats are fake, inauthentic. Republicans are straight-talking straight-shooters. And every single event must prove it! Beinart, once bright, now plays the fool—and earns his pundit guild card.
For the record: Yes, Reagan rehired his fancy consultant in 1978, to run his 1980 campaign. (Apparently, his gut wasnt yet in full working order—although he was 67 years old at the time.) After describing Sears alleged bungling in 1976, Klein writes this: And yet Sears somehow survived to fight another campaign, Reagans second try for the nomination in 1980 (page 74). But readers, how did Sears somehow survive to fight again? Duh! He survived because Reagan chose to rehire him! The Gipper finally cut Sears loose after the 1980 New Hampshire primary.
This pointless incident proves next to nothing. (By the way, Klein harshly criticizes Gore for firing too many consultants. Needless to say, it proved that Gore didnt know who he was/wasnt sufficiently loyal/etc., etc., and so on.) But Beinart knows his cohorts scripts. Dems must always be fake, inauthentic. Republicans must always be the straight-shooters. And every single event must prove it! Tomorrow, well start to sketch the shape of Kleins dissembling—the dissembling which Beinart, and the rest of his cohort, signed on to long ago.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Major pundits just wanna have fun! Thats precisely what Margaret Carlson told Don Imus, way back in October 2000. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/03. Scroll down to Pundits just want to have fun.
Note: Carlson deserves credit for her unvarnished, accurate statements to Imus. Her statements create a powerful record of why the press corps behaved as it did during Campaign 2K.