Companion site:


Google search...


Daily Howler: Krugman has some decent ideas. Robinson has a sense of entitlement
Daily Howler logo
THE DIVINE RIGHT OF PUNDITS! Krugman has some decent ideas. Robinson has a sense of entitlement: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MAY 9, 2008

YOU MAY HAVE BEEN WITH STUPID: Yesterday, an e-mailer said that our choice for commissar has done previous posts which explain who he was talking about. His example went back some days. But he may have been right.

That said, it looks like we’ll be talking about “racial” issues a lot. We think that could be a very good thing. Our general view: Many white liberals have been trained to speak carefully about African-Americans (that’s good, for the most part), but not about working-class whites (that’s bad). We think the future includes all groups. Indeed, we think that Obama’s message.

THE DIVINE RIGHT OF PUNDITS: Barack Obama will likely be the Democratic nominee in the fall. If that’s what happens, it’s fine with us—but will he be able to win in November? We can imagine him winning big—and we can imagine him losing. But we were struck by the way two pundits discussed this important question today. Their efforts made us consider two issues—“race,” and the sense of entitlement.

Let’s start with Paul Krugman, who has favored Clinton, talking about what has to be done to help Obama win. In particular, Krugman discusses the things that have to be done to encourage blue-collar white Democrats—a group which includes so-called “Reagan Democrats”—to cast their lot with Obama:

KRUGMAN (5/9/08): More tirades from Obama supporters against Mrs. Clinton are not the answer—they will only further alienate her grass-roots supporters, many of whom feel that she received a raw deal.

Nor is it helpful to insult the groups that supported Mrs. Clinton, either by suggesting that racism was their only motivation or by minimizing their importance.

We agree with both those points (most Obama supporters have not launched tirades)—but let’s start with the second. Many pseudo-liberals don’t quite seem to know it, but the imputation of racism to working-class whites is one of the long-established pleasures of pseudo-liberal culture. It’s quite routinely done—frequently, in Krugman’s own newspaper. Question: Did some working-class whites vote against Obama this week due to “race?” Presumably yes—though we don’t know how many. But in this short op-ed piece in Tuesday’s Times, we once again saw that class condescension at work. An Indiana novelist quoted another writer—a writer who somehow seemed to know how Hoosier rubes would be voting:

SHREVE (5/6/08): It had been a rough week for Senator Obama; in the wake of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s latest comments, he’d lost his lead in most of the polls here and the race was tightening in North Carolina....

[A]nother Indiana writer I spoke to thought the Wright affair would make all the difference. “Race is going to swing the race,” he predicted. “Folks have been handed the cover issue and now don’t have to say ‘I’m not voting for Obama because he’s black,’ but instead, ‘I’m not voting for him because he listened to a black preacher.’”

Did some Indianans think and vote that way? We would assume that some did. (How many? We have no idea.) But here again, we see how easily upscale liberals cast sweeping aspersions about those white rubes. Last week, we saw a similar format as the Times interviewed upscale folk at an upscale mall, asking them how the downstate rubes would be voting. (Racially, the upscale swells said. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/2/08.) But these presumptions and condescensions are deeply ingrained in pseudo-liberal culture—so ingrained that many white liberals don’t even seem to notice. Libs and Dems have long become quite expert at losing votes this way. We issue sweeping statements about vast groups of people, then wonder why they sometimes get mad.

Typically, white liberals avoid such sweeping assertions about African-Americans (good). But uh-oh! When it comes to sweeping assertions about downscale white rubes, sorry folks—not so much.

At any rate, we agree with Krugman on that point; Democrats would be well advised to avoid making sweeping statements about racist white rubes. (On the other hand, we’d like to see newspapers do more reporting about these important questions.) But Krugman’s first point is valid too; if Democrats want to win in November, Obama supporters would be well advised to avoid tirades against Clinton. Most Obama supporters have done just that—and Obama himself has avoided that route. But then, there’s Gene Robinson in today’s Post. The gentleman launches a trademark tirade—and, to us, he advertised his majestic sense of entitlement.

We know, we know—by all press corps scripts, it’s Clinton who feels so entitled. And no one knows such scripts better than Gene. He launched that particular Standard Assessment in today’s opening paragraph:

ROBINSON (5/9/08): From the beginning, Hillary Clinton has campaigned as if the Democratic nomination were hers by divine right. That's why she is falling short—and that's why she should be persuaded to quit now, rather than later, before her majestic sense of entitlement splits the party along racial lines.

Perfect scripting! Pundits have recited these things for years—and they said the same sorts of things about Gore. They feel entitled to make sweeping assessments of character and motive, even after it has become quite clear that they are the world’s worst judges of same. For two years, they trashed Gore’s character, endlessly misstating facts to do so; rather than apologize or explain, they simply started right in again, this time trashing Clinton. How vast is this cohort’s sense of entitlement? Just yesterday, George Will felt entitled to put that Cubs/Yankees bullsh*t in a headline on this same page, nine years after it became quite clear that this Press Construct was blather. But nothing stops them from typing their scripts—and nothing destroys the sense that they’re entitled to say things as dumb as the statement which follows. In this passage, Robinson is discussing those white, blue-collar Dems who may (or may not) vote for Obama:

ROBINSON: Let's examine those premises. These are white Democrats we're talking about, voters who generally share the party's philosophy. So why would these Democrats refuse to vote for a nominee running on Democratic principles against a self-described conservative Republican? The answer, which Clinton implies but doesn't quite come out and say, is that Obama is black—and that white people who are not wealthy are irredeemably racist.

Truly, it’s hard to get dumber. Why might these people vote for McCain? Perhaps because they’re part of that group long described as “Reagan Democrats?” In short, people in this group have sometimes voted Republican before—you may have heard the term “swing voters”—and some may vote Republican again (in part, thanks to the effort by Robby’s crowd to make McCain into a sun god). Everyone knows this, including third-graders. Everyone but Gene, that is. By virtue of his lofty standing, he has always felt entitled to say any goldarn thing he might please—even things like that.

In his column, Robinson launches a major tirade against something Clinton recently said. Her statement was clumsy—and for ourselves, we find it hard to believe there’s a way for her to get nominated. But if it’s the sense of entitlement we’re discussing, we were struck by that very quality in the passage which follows. Robinson does what his cohort has always done, the thing which sent George Bush to the White House. We’ll offer you the whole passage in question. And we’ll highlight the place where we see that remarkable sense of entitlement:

ROBINSON: From the beginning, Hillary Clinton has campaigned as if the Democratic nomination were hers by divine right. That's why she is falling short—and that's why she should be persuaded to quit now, rather than later, before her majestic sense of entitlement splits the party along racial lines.

If that sounds harsh, look at the argument she made Wednesday, in an interview with USA Today as to why she should be the nominee instead of Barack Obama. She cited an Associated Press article "that found how Senator Obama's support . . . among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on."

As a statement of fact, that's debatable at best. As a rationale for why superdelegates should pick her over Obama, it's a slap in the face to the party's most loyal constituency—African Americans—and a repudiation of principles the party claims to stand for. Here's what she's really saying to party leaders: There's no way that white people are going to vote for the black guy. Come November, you'll be sorry.

As we’ve said, Clinton’s statement was clumsy. But talking about race is hard, and Robinson’s scruples to the side, the AP report was discussing a potential problem for Obama. What sorts of things might people do to encourage “Reagan Democrat” types to vote for Obama? In our view, Krugman made some decent suggestions; Dems should be thinking of many more. By contrast, Robinson threw a tirade, in which he showcased his sense of entitlement. As these people have always done, he felt entitled to tell the world what Clinton is “really saying” these days. In his recitation, of course, Clinton was “really saying” a rather vile thing. But people like Robinson have plied this trade for a very long time now.

Good old Robinson! As you may recall, he and his deeply entitled colleagues always knew what Gore was “really saying.” He was “really saying” that he invented the Internet! He was “really saying” that he discovered Love Canal—and that he inspired Love Story! No, Gore didn’t actually say those things—but thanks to their remarkable powers, the pundits could tell that he “really” had said them! Scum-bags like Robinson gamboled and played; he himself, in a massive sense of entitlement, waved three punishing profiles into print as Gore tried to launch his campaign. Has any candidate ever been profiled this way? Thanks to Robinson, Gore was “the vanilla pudding of the species” (Kevin Merida); he had “even giggled like a girl at one point,” said Ceci Connolly.

Robinson laid it on thick in those days, secure in his cohort’s brilliant judgments. The dead of Iraq thank him for it today. But by the divine right of pundits, he is back at work this morning, this time explaining what Clinton is “really saying”—and, of course, making a truly odd statement about those white blue-collar Dems.

The sense of entitlement is never far when you read the Post’s op-ed page. You saw it yesterday in that Cubs/Yankees headline—a headline which kept promoting a fraud nine years after the fraud was debunked. But then, fraud is one of this group’s chief entitlements. They pimp their frauds is by letting us know what people they hate “really said.”

BIG RED: We really wouldn’t have thought that Chris Matthews could still surprise us—but we were startled by the way he laughed, chortled and haw-hawed last night. He was laughing at the comical notion that the votes of Puerto Ricans are part of the Dem nomination fight. Duh! Everyone knows that Puerto Rico is part of the nomination process—and pundits have long discussed the way the Puerto Rican vote could help Clinton win the overall popular vote. But Christopher was, as always, surprised—and he thought the idea was absurd on its face. Late in the show, Phil Bronstein embarrassed himself as only these fools know how to:

MATTHEWS (5/8/08): Phil, I have to ask you, all the way from California and San Francisco—we just had Howard Wolfson come on and say that one of the metrics the Clinton people have come up with is, if they lose the votes here in terms of elected delegates, if they lose here in terms of popular vote, they will use the popular vote from Puerto Rico to claim victory. What do you think of that latest development in this changing of score cards?

BRONSTEIN: You know, you talk about the card, and there has been a lot of talk about using the race card—using the race card, Chris. I’ll tell you something, if a donkey walked got in a polling station and cast a vote for Hillary Clinton, she would be playing the animal card. She’s going to play any card she can play at this point.

“Bronstein, you are something!” Chris said. And the talker had a point. Asked about the votes of Puerto Ricans, Bronstein just couldn’t help himself. He pictured donkeys voting.

Of course, Chris also surprised us with his newly-red hair; he must have inherited Strom Thurmond’s stylist. And since we’ve been discussing entitlement, just ask yourself this: If a Big Major Dem changed his color that way, how would these simpering losers react? Does Chris Matthews even know who he is? It’s a question these clowns have long turned to.

Update: Comedian Jeff Caldwell e-mails his nickname: Chris Matthews, “the russet ranter.”

Special report: From one side now!

PART 3—PARSE/POSTURE/PANDER: Let’s be clear: This flag fandango isn’t about Obama, and it isn’t about Clinton. In June 2006, Obama and Clinton each voted “no” on an amendment to outlaw flag-burning; on the same day, they each voted “yes” on a bill that would have outlawed flag-burning in a range of circumstances (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/6/08). In 2005, when the House passed the flag-burning amendment, Clinton had proposed a similar bill. Below, we’ll show you Obama’s statement about that original bill.

So none of this is about the Two Big Dems, or about the other Democrats who understand the peculiar politics of this unfortunate subject. These posts have been about “World’s Dumbest Man” Richard Cohen, and about Lady Collins, the vaunted folk-singer; each of them told us, in the past few months, that Clinton lacks Obama’s character because of these flag proposals. Yes, Obama and Clinton cast the same votes. But Cohen and Collins sang the same song: They could tell that Clinton lacked Obama’s high character because of her troubling stance.

But so it has gone, for the past sixteen years, as these people have novelized politics—as they’ve told you the stories they like about at least three Big Huge Dems.

So this isn’t about Obama or Clinton; it isn’t about who should be the Dem nominee. This is about the upper-end press corps, and their astounding effort, down through the years, to peddle silly, bogus stories designed to make you hate who they hate. Might we state simple facts for a moment? When people deceive the public this way in financial industries, they are soon singing their folk songs in jail. But Cohen and Collins have done this for years. In their business, this leads to promotions.

More background: None of this conduct is new for these people. They sold you bogus stories during Campaign 2000, when they simply hated Gore and worked quite hard to make you do so. At some point, liberals and Dems have to come to their senses and see the shape of this world. But we mortals, built in the way we are, love to play our shirts-and-skins politics. Doggone it! A smart, valued reader took mild offense and e-mailed us on Tuesday:

E-MAIL (5/6/08): There is a difference between Clinton and Obama on flag-burning.

As you point out, in 2006, the flag burning bill was, in effect, a way to cover the derrieres of Dems who voted against the flag-burning amendment.

But the bill that Hillary co-sponsored in 2005 was not such an "inoculating" alternative. We don't know how Obama would have voted, because it never got that far. But we do know that Obama wasn't a co-sponsor.

Aaarrgh! The 2005 Clinton-Bennett bill was designed as a CYA measure. As we noted on Tuesday, the House passed the flag-burning amendment in 2005; this was the bill originally designed to give political cover to Senate Dems (and one or two Senate Reps) who wanted to stop the amendment. The Senate vote didn’t come until 2006, and the Clinton-Bennett bill was changed a bit at the last minute. But just for the record, here is Obama’s official statement about that original bill. This appears in the Congressional Record on the day of the 2006 vote. Bill Willis posted this some time ago, Chez Kos. Bill Willis knows his stuff:

OBAMA (6/27/06) There is, in fact, another way. There is a way to balance our respect for the flag with reverence for the Constitution. Senators CLINTON and BENNETT are proposing an amendment to this proposal that would protect the flag without amending the Constitution. Their statutory approach is a new one that doesn't fall into the same constitutional traps that doomed previous flag protection bills. The Clinton-Bennett amendment is narrowly drawn to meet the first amendment tests the Supreme Court has laid out in previous court decisions. It makes it illegal to burn a flag in a threatening way or to incite violence. I believe this statute will pass constitutional muster and be upheld by the Supreme Court.

I will vote for the Clinton-Bennett amendment in an effort to find a way to balance our respect for the flag and our protection of the Constitution. I urge my colleagues to do the same.

No biggie. But to all appearances, Clinton and Obama took the same positions on these bills, in every way possible. As we said in Parts 1 and 2, everyone knows why these machinations occur. Everyone except Cohen, that is.

But the press corps won’t tolerate matters like this, in which Senate Dems do what they must, as a group, to achieve an obvious objective. The corps has a loathing for the Clintons and Gore—nor is the press corps especially bright. Result? When Clinton co-sponsors a bill most Senate Dems will vote for, familiar words are quickly used in editorials like this:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (12/7/05): Senator Clinton, in Pander Mode

Hillary Clinton is co-sponsoring a bill to criminalize the burning of the American flag. Her supporters would characterize this as an attempt to find a middle way between those who believe that flag-burning is constitutionally protected free speech and those who want to ban it, even if it takes a constitutional amendment. Unfortunately, it looks to us more like a simple attempt to have it both ways.

Duh! It was an attempt to have it both ways, you numb-skulls—that’s the whole point of bills like this! But no matter! In this passage, the know-nothing Times explains why this effort was “pandering” on Clinton’s part:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (12/7/05): It's hard to see this as anything but pandering—there certainly isn't any urgent need to resolve the issue. Flag-burning hasn't been in fashion since college students used slide rules in math class and went to pay phones at the student union to call their friends. Even then, it was a rarity that certainly never put the nation's security in peril.

There certainly wasn't any urgent need to resolve the issue? Good God! The House of Reps had already passed the flag-burnng amendment; even with the use of this safety-valve bill, the amendment eventually failed to pass the Senate by only one vote! But words like “pander” have long been pleasing when applied to the Clintons and Gore. Eight days later, Know-Nothing Cohen whipped off a ten-minute wonder:

COHEN (12/15/05): Star-Spangled Pandering

Last month Justice Antonin Scalia was politely quizzed by Norman Pearlstine, the outgoing Time Inc. editor in chief. The event, held in Time Warner's New York headquarters, was supposedly off the record, but so much of it has already been reported that it will not hurt to add Scalia's views on flag burning. He explained why it was constitutionally protected speech. It's a pity Hillary Clinton was not there to hear him.

Truly, it’s hard to get dumber. As noted, the House had already passed the amendment which would have ended flag-burning’s reign as “constitutionally protected speech.” Cohen seemed to have no idea that the Bennett-Clinton bill was designed to address that problem. He blundered ahead in his usual way, and soon he was typing the novel long typed about the Clintons and Gore. Please remember the basic rules: For a ten-minute quickie about these people, just scatter “pander” and “posture” all through your copy. And oh yes! Be sure to say this: You don’t know who [Clinton/Gore] is:

COHEN: In this and other examples, political observers discern political posturing. Maybe they are right. Whatever the case, though, the flag bill along with other examples of Clinton's willingness to court political reactionaries raises disturbing questions about who, exactly, she is. Consistency is not always to be admired in a politician, but when a supposed liberal is one of only two senators to sponsor a bill to restrict freedom of speech, then we are talking about something basic. If this is a pander, it is in the worst possible taste.

What a fool! In response, Bob Kerrey took crayon in hand and wrote the letter designed to clue Cohen about life as it’s lived on this planet (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/6/08). Useless! Years later, Cohen typed another ten-minute wonder about how Clinton’s vote on the flag bill proved that she lacked Obama’s wonderful character. He corrected that (in small print) the next week, after a reader let him know that Obama—like most Senate Dems—had voted the same way as Clinton.

Oh by the way: Did we mention that Anti-Obama Girl also raged about Clinton’s vast perfidy? It came two days after that Times editorial. People, be sure to say “triangulate/parse” when typing this Standard Old Novel:

DOWD (12/9/05): As Condi used weasel words on torture, Hillary took a weaselly position on flag-burning. Trying to convince the conservatives that she's still got a bit of that Goldwater Girl in her, the woman who would be the first woman president is co-sponsoring a Republican bill making it illegal to desecrate the American flag. The red staters backing this measure are generally the ones who already can't stand Hillary, so they won't be fooled.

The senator doing Clintonian triangulating is just as transparent as the secretary doing Clintonian parsing.

Pander, triangulate, posture and parse! These are the columns which type themselves up. When this was done to Gore for two years, our country was sent to Iraq.

The moral of this story is clear. Hillary Clinton co-sponsored a bill which (in slightly modified form) more than half of the Senate’s Dems supported. She voted the same way Obama did; he seems to have praised her original offering. But Clinton was called every name in the book, as is required in The Big Book of Scripts. And in just the last three months, three major columns in the Post and the Times have cited these very issues as the proof that Hillary Clinton lacks Obama’s high character.

We say “three columns” because, along with Cohen and Collins, there was also the piece by Jeffrey Rosen. It appeared in the Times on March 1. Here are the opening paragraphs:

ROSEN (3/1/08): If Barack Obama wins in November, we could have not only our first president who is an African-American, but also our first president who is a civil libertarian. Throughout his career, Mr. Obama has been more consistent than Hillary Clinton on issues from the Patriot Act to bans on flag burning. At the same time, he has reached out to Republicans and independents to build support for his views. Mrs. Clinton, by contrast, has embraced some of the instrumental tacking of Bill Clinton, whose presidency disappointed liberal and conservative civil libertarians on issue after issue.

Mr. Obama made his name in the Illinois Legislature by championing historic civil liberties reforms, like the mandatory recording of all interrogations and confessions in capital cases. Although prosecutors, the police, the Democratic governor and even some death penalty advocates were initially opposed to the bill, Mr. Obama won them over. The reform passed unanimously, and it has been adopted by four other states and the District of Columbia.

In the Senate, Mr. Obama distinguished himself by making civil liberties one of his legislative priorities. He co-sponsored a bipartisan reform bill that would have cured the worst excesses of the Patriot Act by meaningfully tightening the standards for warrantless surveillance. Once again, he helped encourage a coalition of civil-libertarian liberals and libertarian conservatives. The effort failed when Hillary Clinton joined 13 other Democrats in supporting a Republican motion to cut off debate on amendments to the Patriot Act.

That wasn’t the first time Mrs. Clinton tacked to the center in a civil-liberties debate. In 2005, she co-sponsored a bill that would have made it a federal crime to intimidate someone by burning a flag, even though the Supreme Court had struck down similar laws in the past. (Mr. Obama supported a narrower bill that would have satisfied the Constitution.) And Mrs. Clinton opposed a moderate proposal by the United States Sentencing Commission that would have retroactively reduced the draconian penalties for possession of crack cocaine—a proposal supported by Mr. Obama, and by liberal as well as conservative judges.

We’re puzzled by what Rosen wrote. (For the record: Unlike Cohen and Collins, Rosen isn’t a serial harlequin. We e-mailed yesterday and this morning asking for comment. We’ll pass along whatever we get.) On civil liberties matters, Rosen prefers Obama to Clinton; that is perfectly fine with us. But we’re puzzled by that last paragraph, since Obama seems to have issued high praise for that original bill. As we said, we’ll pass on whatever Rosen sends us.

There’s much more to cringe at in this matter, of course, including the people who wrote that Clinton had supported a flag-burning amendment. (Omigod! Noam Scheiber! In the Washington Monthly! Still uncorrected on Nexis!) Much of the commentary is deeply gruesome, once you know that Clinton’s triangulatingposturingpander represented the stance of most Senate Democrats. But we thought we’d leave you with one perfect squelch. On June 27, 2006, more than half the Senate’s Dems voted for the flag-burning bill. Two days later, in the Los Angeles Times, you-know-who swung into action:

HUFFINGTON 6/29/06: Triangulating her way over the cliff

Tuesday’s Senate debate on flag desecration was emblematic of Hillary Rodham Clinton's ongoing attempt to rebrand herself as a red-state-friendly Dem by supporting a bill that would have criminalized flag desecration, while still holding on to her liberal bonafides by voting against the Constitutional amendment banning that desecration. It was eating your patriotism cake and having it too.

Even if Clinton doesn't know what she stands for any longer, doesn't she at least read the polls?

“Even proponents of the amendment admit that there have been just four incidents of flag desecration this year and about 50 in the last five years,” Arianna said, with cosmic irrelevance. “But for Clinton, it's stars, stripes and triangulation forever.” A few months later, she sounded off in the Playboy interview:

HUFFINGTON (11/06): Hillary Clinton should not be the Democratic nominee. Period. The end. We need to decide that now. She does not deserve it. She has failed to speak out when it matters. She has failed to show leadership on Iraq, and she has kowtowed to an obsolete view of how you win elections, which is that you triangulate, you split the difference. She supported an anti-flag-burning bill. What was that about?

“What was that about?” We’re not sure. Why not ask Obama or Durbin? Why not ask all the Big Senate Dems who voted the same way she did?

Your political life is lived in a novel. A hapless elite types it up. If it’s a case of the Clintons or Gore, they know they must always type parse/posture/pander. Darlings, this is High Pundit Law! After that, it’s off to the club, where they drink themselves under the table.

The Lady Collins is folk-singing there. We’ve looked at life from one side now, she warbles. After that, she names some small towns, and everyone shares a good laugh.