HOW ATWATER SLIMED THE DUKE! Would a white hopeful get slimed as The Other? Just ask Michael Dukakis: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MAY 5, 2011
Possible correctionSchultz in love: Doggone it! We may have misunderstood one part of Ed Schultzs eighteen-minute love-song this Monday.
Were not sure if we misunderstood what he said; with Schultz, its often hard to tell. But we think its 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?
Thats how we understood his comments on Monday night. Today, were no longer sure.
In fairness, lets review what Schultz said on the love boat theme. Tomorrow, well review his remarks about an important conceptAmerican exceptionalism.
How did the love boat theme unfold? As we noted yesterday, Schultz began his 18-minute love ballad saying this:
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 Mondays 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:
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 werent sure that was what he meant. Did he mean that they love the president? Or did he mean that they are just doing their dutythat their sense of duty is motivating them, not some love for the president?
Truth to tell, were not sure what Schultz meant. (Its 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 cant forget what they have said about our president. We can find no other place in Big Eds 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 arent sure, one way or the other. In real time, we thought that was the most astounding part of a long, astonishing segment. After yesterdays re-viewing, we thought wed suggest that you watch the tape and judge Big Eds meaning yourself.
Youll see Schultz engage in a long love songin a remarkably awful piece of journalism. Tomorrow, well review what he and one other liberal said about an important topicAmerican 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 were going to talk about American exceptionalism tonight.)
Big Ed was in lovebut what did he mean? Lovers are often less than precise. We thought we knew on Monday night. As of today, we arent sure.
PART 2HOW 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 citizennot a legitimate president. The history of this ludicrous claim has been written by others. But heres the question well 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 statementand 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, well 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 ones 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 Dukakisa campaign designed to make The Duke seem un-American:
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, Newsweeks 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 eraso 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 campaigns basic goals. He cited some, but not all, of the bogus issues being used in the sliming of Dukakis:
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 Obamas 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 campaigns strategythe strategy devised by Lee Atwater in 1988:
By now, the late Atwater had made way for Karl Rove. But Matthews recalled a campaign designed to turn Dukakis into a foreignerand into a communist too. This recollection was offered a good eight years before similar themes were unloosed on Obama.
Eight years later, in 2008, NBCs 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:
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 Obamathe 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 wouldnt 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 flagjust 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 didnt 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 dont 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, Kerrys family history gave Republicans less to work with than Obamas 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:
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:
Its going to be transference, Fund accurately said. Soon, Matthews was huffing and puffing and feigning high outrage. Uh-oh! Because of Bushs wartime status, he had stopped recalling the way Bush pere once slimed The Duke:
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 wayand 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 presidentand 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 mustnt 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 hes ever seen in his life. But then, Matthews always treats viewers like fools. The editors of the New York Times behave in similar ways.
Lets be clear: No one has ever been slimed in the exact same way Obama has been slimed. Reason? No other Democrats 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 wouldnt have played those same cards against a white candidate or president, you must be smoking some very potent Pineapple Express! Were sorry, but lets speak frankly here: At this late date, it takes a very unintelligent pundit to fail to see the patterns herepatterns in which other Democrats have been accused of everything up to and including serial murder.
It takes a very unintelligent punditor 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 Obamain 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 otheras 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 Bushand 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 wasnt 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 todaythough 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 yearsludicrous 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 Clintonand 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 treeand the ludicrous book that pimped that claim became a number-one New York Times best-seller? (Aldrichs 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 Goreand 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 samethe 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
Mondaypart 4: Why do white liberals do this?