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HOW ATWATER SLIMED THE DUKE! Would a white hopeful get slimed as The Other? Just ask Michael Dukakis: // link // print // previous // next //

Possible correction—Schultz in love: Doggone it! We may have misunderstood one part of Ed Schultz’s eighteen-minute love-song this Monday.

We’re not sure if we misunderstood what he said; with Schultz, it’s often hard to tell. But we think it’s worth reviewing the part of the love-song we mean. Did Schultz mean to suggest or say that a group of midshipmen at the Naval Academy love their commander in chief?

That’s how we understood his comments on Monday night. Today, we’re no longer sure.

In fairness, let’s review what Schultz said on the “love boat” theme. Tomorrow, we’ll review his remarks about an important concept—“American exceptionalism.”

How did the love boat theme unfold? As we noted yesterday, Schultz began his 18-minute love ballad saying this:

SCHULTZ (5/2/11): Good evening, Americans! And welcome to the Ed Show, tonight from New York City, a city where thousands of Americans were killed on September 11, 2001.

And tonight, the mastermind of that attack, Osama bin Laden, is rotting at the bottom of the Arabian Sea. Got to ask you: How’s that for change you can believe in?

This is the Ed Show. Let’s get to work!

[videotaped topic teases]

SCHULTZ: Great to have you with us tonight, folks.

This is the story that the globe is paying attention to. There is no question about it. It’s the story that we are all fired up about.

I’m fired up about this guy, right here: The president of the United States.

You know, I wish I had five hours to talk to you tonight and have fun with this, because we’re going to talk about American exceptionalism tonight. And before we start with the president, we’ve got to thank those Navy SEALs and those military guys that give it all, their all, all the time for the United States of America.

Tonight, we’re going to show you some interesting footage about how they love this country, how we responded to all of this, and, of course, we just can’t forget what they have said about our president.

None of what follows is meant, in any way, as a criticism of those Navy SEALs or any other military personnel; our criticism is aimed at Ed Schultz. But as Big Ed opened Monday’s program, he seemed to say he was going to show us what “those Navy SEALs and those military guys…have said about our president.” Two minutes later, Schultz played videotape from the Naval Academy, after which he characterized a chant a group of midshipmen engaged in:

SCHULTZ: “I believe that we have won.” How about that spirit? That spirit!

Do you think those folks at the Naval Academy, the way they were feeling last night—do you feel that they love the president of the United States? Do you think they pay attention to all the political rhetoric that’s going on, or are they focused on being great servants to this country in the military? That’s what they’re all about.

This was a huge moment for our military. This was a uniting moment for this country. And they put aside all the political divide that was out there. And I have great respect for the way the president has done this, because some of the details that are coming out are so doggone interesting. This guy that didn’t have any military experience had to make some pretty tough calls…

Watching the program Monday night, we took Schultz to be saying that “those folks at the Naval Academy” “love the president of the United States.” We took this to be the point where he shared “what they have said about our president.” Watching that tape again yesterday, we weren’t sure that was what he meant. Did he mean that they love the president? Or did he mean that they are just doing their duty—that their sense of duty is motivating them, not some love for the president?

Truth to tell, we’re not sure what Schultz meant. (It’s often that way with Schultz.) Plainly, that videotape from the Naval Academy seems to be the “interesting footage about how they love this country, how we responded to all of this, and, of course, we just can’t forget what they have said about our president.” We can find no other place in Big Ed’s love song where he discusses “what they have said about our president.”

But did Schultz really mean to imply, in Il Duce fashion, that these young people “love the president?” Today, we aren’t sure, one way or the other. In real time, we thought that was the most astounding part of a long, astonishing segment. After yesterday’s re-viewing, we thought we’d suggest that you watch the tape and judge Big Ed’s meaning yourself.

You’ll see Schultz engage in a long love song—in a remarkably awful piece of “journalism.” Tomorrow, we’ll review what he and one other liberal said about an important topic—American exceptionalism. Above, you can see Schultz introducing the topic up in his opening comments. (“I wish I had five hours to talk to you tonight and have fun with this, because we’re going to talk about American exceptionalism tonight.”)

Big Ed was in love—but what did he mean? Lovers are often less than precise. We thought we knew on Monday night. As of today, we aren’t sure.

Special report: Same or different!

PART 2—HOW ATWATER SLIMED THE DUKE (permalink): A ludicrous claim about Barack Obama was laid to rest last week.


According to this ludicrous claim, Barack Obama was born in Kenya and was therefore not “a natural-born citizen”—not a legitimate president. The history of this ludicrous claim has been written by others. But here’s the question we’ll be asking in this special report:

Starting with Michael Dukakis in 1988, every presidential-level Democrat has been slimed by ludicrous claims. Is this recent ludicrous claim about Obama similar to those previous claims? Or is it substantially different from those past claims? More specifically, has the ludicrous treatment of Obama been different due to the factor of race?

Among liberals, a strong presumption has arisen in favor of “different.” Last week, the editors of the New York Times went so far as to say the following: “It is inconceivable that this campaign to portray Mr. Obama as the insidious ‘other’ would have been conducted against a white president.”

We think that was a remarkable statement—and not just because previous editorial boards at the Times helped stage long-running smear campaigns against Candidates Clinton and Gore.

We think it was a remarkable statement because somewhat similar campaigns already have been conducted against white candidates. A somewhat similar campaign was conducted in 1988 against Candidate Michael Dukakis, for instance. After that, strains of the same ethnic/nativist cards were played against Candidate Kerry in 2004.

(For present purposes, we’ll ignore the narrow distinction between a presidential nominee and an actual president.)

Was Candidate Dukakis slimed “as the insidious ‘other?’” (By most accounts, Dukakis was white.) Until it became extremely cool to say that no one’s ever been slimed like Obama, this was a rather standard interpretation of the 1988 race. For starters, consider what Chris Matthews wrote in the 1999 version of his underwhelming book, Hardball.

Matthews is and was a repository of standard insider thinking. In the following passage, he described the campaign run against Dukakis—a campaign designed to make The Duke seem “un-American:”

MATTHEWS (1999): The Bush forces exploited the [prison] furlough issue to make Dukakis look weak on crime, the Pledge of Allegiance issue to make him look weak and unreliable on national defense. Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater and media strategist Roger Ailes had achieved their goal: to position the Democratic presidential nominee as a “frost-belt, big spending, big taxing liberal who comes from the state that brings you Ted Kennedy and Tip O’Neill.”

The Bush attack had an even more subversive undercurrent. Michel Dukakis was made to look not only like a far-out liberal but a political alien. He was portrayed as someone with different values than those Americans in the political mainstream. Newsweek would refer to this negative positioning of the Democratic candidate as the “un-Americanization of Michael Dukakis.”

Matthews names two important names; the 1988 Bush campaign was run by Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes. And, according to Matthews’ book, the GOP attack on Dukakis had a “subversive undercurrent.” The campaign was designed to make The Duke seem like “a political alien.” It was designed to make him seem “un-American.”

Matthews referred to a book-length Newsweek feature written after the election. In the fuller quotation Matthews sampled, Newsweek’s Peter Goldman said the following about the campaign run against Dukakis:

“The strategy of choice instead was the un-Americanization of Mike Dukakis…The result, as summer faded into fall, would be one of the most negative national campaigns since the McCarthy era—so negative, in its worst moments, as to invite the suspicion that George Bush would say nearly anything to win.”

In the Newsweek of November 21, 1988, Goldman said that Bush and Atwater tried to paint Dukakis as “un-American;” he compared what the Bush campaign did to the famous political slimings of the McCarthy era. But this was a fairly standard analysis of the Bush campaign at the time. For example:

Just after Labor Day in 1988, Rick Stengel reviewed the unfolding White House campaign for Time. Even at that relatively early date, Stengel offered a somewhat similar assessment of the Bush campaign’s basic goals. He cited some, but not all, of the bogus issues being used in the sliming of Dukakis:

STENGEL (9/5/88): The Bush campaign has seized on Dukakis' veto of a 1977 Massachusetts bill requiring teachers to lead their classes in the Pledge of Allegiance to paint the Governor as a dangerous liberal whose concern for civil liberties would undermine American patriotism. "Should public-school teachers be required to lead our children in the Pledge of Allegiance?" Bush asked his audience at the Republican Convention. "My opponent says no—but I say yes." Then he led the crowd in reciting the pledge, a gesture he repeated at a flag-bedecked political rally last week. The subtext of Bush's profligate pledging was simple: "I'm more patriotic than the other guy."


The Republicans took another sideswipe at Dukakis' patriotism last week when Idaho Senator Steve Symms told a radio interviewer that Kitty Dukakis had been photographed "burning an American flag while she was an antiwar demonstrator during the '60s." The rumor is totally unsubstantiated, but that has not stopped zealots from spreading it. Replied Mrs. Dukakis: "It's untrue, unfounded, and there is no picture." Said Dukakis, in obvious frustration and fractured syntax: "I find oneself in the position of denying nonexistent facts.”

According to Stengel, Dukakis’ patriotism was being called into question. Republicans had even invented the claim that Dukakis’ wife had once burned an American flag. Years later, his invented claim was echoed in insinuations about the patriotism of Candidate Obama’s wife.

Dukakis was a white nominee, of course, but many people said at the time that his Greek heritage was being used to suggest that he was a bit of an alien. Consider the way Matthews recalled this campaign in early 2000. At the time, a second Bush campaign was sliming John McCain in South Carolina. For Matthews, this brought back 12-year-old memories.

Matthews spoke with Molly Ivins. Note the way he characterized that first Bush campaign’s strategy—the strategy devised by Lee Atwater in 1988:

MATTHEWS (2/15/00): I mean, I remember the '88 campaign, what the Bushes did to Michael Dukakis. They turned him into a foreigner and a communist and a friend of killers and prisoners and rapists.

IVINS: And remember also that Karl Rove, the man they call Bush's brain, is a specialist in the under-the-radar campaign that we're particularly familiar with in east Texas, which is the most southern part of our state. And that's the kind of campaign—and let me say that there are Democrats who have been known to run exactly the same kind of campaign.

By now, the late Atwater had made way for Karl Rove. But Matthews recalled a campaign designed to turn Dukakis into “a foreigner”—and into “a communist” too. This recollection was offered a good eight years before similar themes were unloosed on Obama.

Eight years later, in 2008, NBC’s Chuck Todd recalled that 1988 campaign in a similar way. By now, unusual attacks were being directed at a presumptive nominee named Obama. As with Matthews in 2000, these attacks reminded Todd of the smears lodged against Dukakis:

TODD (7/23/08): I mean, only Michael Dukakis, who was the first sort of ethnic Democratic nominee, somebody that was not like the others in a while— You know, here’s this second-generation Greek immigrant—

MATTHEWS: A newcomer, really.

TODD: —a newcomer. And the Republican Party did a good job of painting Dukakis as sort of not—you know, not one of, not one of us. And we’re almost seeing the exact— I’ve always thought if Republicans, if John McCain wins, it will mean that he was able to do to Obama what George H. W. Bush was able to do to Michael Dukakis.

According to Todd, the GOP had painted Dukakis as “not one of us.” To Todd, the McCain campaign was trying to do the same thing to Obama—the same thing the Bush campaign had done to Michael Dukakis.

The language of these ruminations tracks the language used today to describe the moronic attacks on Obama. According to these observers, the 1988 Bush campaign painted Dukakis as “not one of us.” It made Dukakis seem like a “foreigner,” like “a political alien.” His patriotism had been called into question. The campaign had a subversive undercurrent which recalled the McCarthy era.

Dukakis had been slimed as “un-American.” So Newsweek, then Matthews, judged.

Did Republicans ever suggest that Dukakis was born in a different country, as has been done with Obama? No, they plainly did not. But do you really think they wouldn’t have claimed that, had the opportunity been present? Of course they would have made that claim, just as they falsely claimed that Kitty Dukakis had burned an American flag—just as President Reagan joined a procession of major Republicans who falsely claimed that Candidate Dukakis had mental health problems. (Chuckling, Reagan refused to comment, saying he didn’t want to pick on “an invalid.”)

Of course they would have made that play, had that play been possible! On what planet must editors live to wonder about that point? But please understand how these slime campaigns work: Under the rules of Atwaterism, Republicans don’t invent crazy tales out of thin air; there has to be some factual predicate from which to launch the lunatic claim. In the case of President Clinton, Vince Foster really did die in 1993; this was exploited to make the amazingly ugly claim that the Clintons had been involved in the killing of Foster. (In fact, Foster committed suicide.) In time, this ugly claim grew like topsy, with major conservative figures saying or insinuating that the Clintons had been involved in many killings.

Is it true, what the New York Times said? Is it true that these professional slime merchants would only paint a black president as “the insidious other?” Please! Consider what conservative insider John Fund said on Hardball in March 2004.

In this appearance, Fund accurately described one of the ways the GOP was going to pursue Candidate Kerry, who had only recently become the presumptive Democratic nominee. When it came to playing the foreigner card, Kerry’s family history gave Republicans less to work with than Obama’s family history would. But they played that card as hard as they could, just as Fund predicted in this prophetic chat with Matthews and Howard Fineman:

FUND (3/16/04): By the time this is over, the Bush people are going to try to paint John Kerry as “Jean Francois Kerry.”

MATTHEWS: What does that mean?

FUND: Well, that he's French, basically. That he's representing French interests. Well, Chris, if you look—

MATTHEWS: What does that mean? Help me.

FUND: He's from France. He speaks French. He went to French finishing schools. They're going to try to paint him as French.

Now here's the thing about—

MATTHEWS: Are you serious?

FINEMAN: He's not from France, you know.

MATTHEWS: What does this mean? Help me out here with this metaphor.

FINEMAN: The family isn't from France.

MATTHEWS: What was the charge?

FUND: There was a reunion of 200 people, a reunion of 200 Kerry relatives in France two years ago.

Look, I'm not saying this is accurate. I'm simply saying this is going to be the caricature that is going to be put down.

Matthews and Fineman were fashionably clueless, but Fund was right on the money. In fact, he had mentioned only the half of what would come. Before they were done, the slime merchants had slimed Kerry for that (extended) family home in France. They had also slimed this white candidate for attending school in Switzerland for two years, when he was just as a boy. For the record, why did Kerry attend school in Europe? Because his father was serving his country in Europe! When Kerry was 11, his father was appointed legal adviser to James Conant, head of the U.S. High Commission for Germany. Kerry attended school in Switzerland while his father was stationed in Berlin. But so what? As Fund explained to Matthews that day, none of the nonsense which was coming would represent an attempt to be “accurate” or fair. It was an attempt to appeal to weak, gullible minds by painting Kerry as French.

Matthews and Fineman were fashionably clueless this day. (At this time, Bush remained a potent commander in chief.) So Fund just kept explaining:

MATTHEWS (continuing directly): That makes someone a liar, because you can't call a person a foreigner who was raised and born in this country.

FUND: No, no, no. It's going to be transference. Dukakis—Dukakis was viewed as weak because he rode around in the tank and looked silly.

MATTHEWS: You didn't call him a Greek.

FUND: Because Kerry's–

MATTHEWS: A scurrilous campaign! You're going to call the guy a foreigner?

FUND: Look, it's a caricature.

“It’s going to be transference,” Fund accurately said. Soon, Matthews was huffing and puffing and feigning high outrage. Uh-oh! Because of Bush’s wartime status, he had stopped recalling the way Bush pere once slimed The Duke:

MATTHEWS: Let's go to a man who sounds suspiciously French, Jacques De Graff. Jacques, I don't know where we get into xenophobia about looking for foreigners under every bed, but let's assume—

FUND: A sense of humor, Chris. Come on.

MATTHEWS: No, because I sense that this isn't funny! I'm serious! You don't think it's funny, because you're talking about it. You're talking about strategy and these unspoken clever innuendoes that the guy is not quite one of us is not a joke.

How odd! Just three years earlier, Matthews himself had gone on Imus and said that Gore “doesn't look like one of us.” “He doesn't seem very American, even,” this outraged fellow had said. Three years later, Matthews feigned surprise at the very idea that Kerry would be treated that way—and he failed to remember the way Bush pere had done this to The Duke.

So it goes when liars like Matthews adjust their comments to shifting times. In early 2000, he served Saint McCain, recalling what Bush I had done to Dukakis. By the next year, Bush II was an ascendant wartime president—and Matthews was sliming Gore in the exact same way. By 2004, Matthews feigned outrage at the idea that Kerry would be painted as “not one of us.” But Bush II was still in high command. Matthews seemed to know that he mustn’t say that Bush I had done that same thing.

Today, Matthews has been repurposed as a tool of pseudo-liberalism. He therefore pretends that the moronic attacks on Obama resemble nothing he’s ever seen in his life. But then, Matthews always treats viewers like fools. The editors of the New York Times behave in similar ways.

Let’s be clear: No one has ever been slimed in the exact same way Obama has been slimed. Reason? No other Democrat’s life story ever presented the same opportunities. Before Obama, no president or presidential candidate ever had a father from an exotic foreign country; no such candidate had ever been born in our most distant and exotic state. But please! If you think the modern GOP wouldn’t have played those same cards against a white candidate or president, you must be smoking some very potent Pineapple Express! We’re sorry, but let’s speak frankly here: At this late date, it takes a very unintelligent pundit to fail to see the patterns here—patterns in which other Democrats have been accused of everything up to and including serial murder.

It takes a very unintelligent pundit—or it takes a pundit like Chris Matthews, a man who has always been in the bag to prevailing political narratives. A man who has always had shape-shifting careerists right there at his side.

Has race played a role in the moronic claims about Obama—in the fact that these moronic claims have been widely believed? Presumably yes, it has. But what could possibly make New York Times editors think that things like this have never happened before? What could make these low-IQ souls think that no such campaign would be run against a white Democrat? All these themes have been used before, to the extent that circumstance permitted. And yes, Virginia: Dukakis was painted as the other—as “not one of us.” To the extent that family history allowed, so was the Frenchified Kerry.

“Not one of us!” In November 2001, Matthews used that very phrase as he kept sliming non-American Gore in service to Dear Leader Bush—and in service to Rich Leader Welch, who was at the time Matthews’ owner. (Joan Walsh kept her big trap shut. Last night, there she was on Hardball!)

Somewhat like Obama, Dukakis wasn’t one of us! Even uglier themes were used against Candidate and President Clinton, the drug-dealing serial murderer who visited Moscow in the late 1960s, possibly as a Soviet agent. (Yes, Virginia, this moronic theme was pimped around about a sitting white president.) And for the record: The New York Times editorial board played dumb during the slimiest wars against Clinton, just as its board is doing today—though today, the board plays dumb in a different direction. (The Times editorial board quite actively pushed many other dumb themes about Clinton.)

The claims about Obama have been extremely foolish. The fact that such ludicrous claims get widely believed represents a deeply troubling fact about American political culture.

But are these ridiculous claims really different from the ludicrous claims of the past twenty-five years—ludicrous claims which have dominated our political discourse since Bush I brought Atwater onto the scene? Is public reaction really different from the days when Jerry Falwell peddled murder claims against Clinton—and gullible GOP voters believed them? (From the day in 1999 when Matthews gave the ludicrous Gennifer Flowers a full half-hour to recite these murder fantasies?) Are things really different from the day when Gary Aldrich claimed that the Clintons used drug paraphernalia to decorate the White House Christmas tree—and the ludicrous book that pimped that claim became a number-one New York Times best-seller? (Aldrich’s book was on the Times’ best-seller list from July 1996 through December.)

Are things really different from the days when Matthews pimped ludicrous claims against Candidate Gore—and a whole bag-full of striving pundits grinned and said they believed them?

Or do the ludicrous claims against Obama come closer to being the same—the same as these past moronic claims? We think the answer is fairly obvious. That said: God must love dumb liberals and dishonest “journalists,” he made so many of each.

Tomorrow: Played by Smiley

Monday—part 4: Why do white liberals do this?