BRODER (5/12/06): The presumption of authenticity—the assumption that what he says, he actually believes—is John McCain's greatest strength going into the 2008 presidential race. That presumption will be tested this weekend when McCain speaks at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, and I will be surprised if he fails the exam.But did anyone think that McCain would pander to Falwells social agenda at Liberty? To Broder, if McCain avoids saying that gays caused 9/11, his reputation for straight-talk is intact.
My guess is that, rather than pandering to the fundamentalist's social agenda, McCain will challenge the Liberty students to bring their moral energy and religious conviction to bear on the struggle for political reform, immigrant rights and environmental improvement—the causes with which he is most identified.
But so it goes as this empty cohort keeps pushing a tale it adores. Just what is that larger tale? The voters crave pure authenticity! In his column, Broder discusses Joe Kleins new book, Politics Lost. Early on, Broder recites a familiar script, one pundits have pushed for at least seven years. In a time of war and wrenching economic change, the voters are beginning to demand more candor and more responsibility, Broder says. And later: [Kleins] plea is for authenticity, and on that score I think he reads the voters exactly right.
The voters want candor—and authenticity. As Broder notes that Dems havent had it, he extends this key pundit script:
BRODER: Klein draws a devastating portrait of the past two Democratic nominees, Al Gore and John Kerry, faulting both of them for trimming their public positions to suit what they—and their consultants—thought were the prevailing winds.The voters want candor—"straight talk— more than anything! Indeed, the voters want this candor so much that it counts more than policy views.
At times, Klein sounds like a frustrated campaign manager himself... But his fundamental point is right: The voters can sniff hypocrisy and spot what is synthetic about a candidate. They also can accept disagreement with a politician's policy views if they believe he is genuine in his convictions.
For the record, this seems like a very strange time for voters to have such an outlook. In Campaign 2000, George W. Bush found his way to the White House. But a large percentage of voters now believe that his policy views on Iraq have led to a giant disaster. At a time like this, why would voters maintain the odd belief that a candidates strength of conviction counts more than his actual views? We cant quite imagine—and Broder presents no evidence, none, that the voters really do have this outlook.
But then, High Pundits have peddled this unlikely claim ever since Campaign 2000. In that campaign, they declared that theyd found two great authentics—the twin straight-shooters, Saints Bradley and McCain. (The pair were dubbed authentic straight-shooters on the cover of Newsweek in October 1999.) But uh-oh! On Super Tuesday, voters soundly rejected the pair—and pundits staged a grand pity party. Indeed, many pundits attacked the voters, claiming that they had backed away from their love affair with The Truth (examples below). In facts, voters had never favored Bradley or McCain in the national polling; the preference for these two straight-shooters had been that of the pundits alone. But you know how our pundits project their desires! They love to pretend that their group preferences are actually those of the great unwashed voters. Yesterday, Broder continued this hoary tradition. He declared McCain the Greatest Straight-Talker—and again insisted that this is the thing the voters are now looking for.
Weve seen how massively Klein dissembles to prove that Gore was a fake, phony candidate (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/3/06). In the past few months, McCain has of course been shifting past views—but nothing disturbs the press corps great script. In fact, its millionaire pundits who dont really care about our hopefuls policy views (as Margaret Carlson explained to Don Imus, for them its just entertainment). Instead, for the past seven years, these synthetics have filled the hole in their souls by declaring that Saint McCain is authentic. His views dont matter! Its all about candor! Its all about the thrill of High Character! And rest assured: These empty vessels will never stop projecting this great longing onto the voters.
The pundits will never stop selling McCain. And oh yes—this time around, it might work. After seven long years of pimping McCain—and with the bar now set so low—these empty vessels may get their way in the 2008 White House race.
GOODWIN FEELS THE SPIRIT TOO: Doris Kearns Goodwin doesnt just copy books—she also copies her cohorts great scripts. On Thursday morning, she called Don Imus and confessed her love for the sainted McCain. We dont know if shed read Broders column. But its themes? She had them down cold:
IMUS (5/11/06): Now, Im hangin everything on McCain. And, um—
GOODWIN: Well, you know, he has this wonderful quality, I think, that people see in him what they want to see in him. You know, that, they—if theyre liberal, you know, they hope that theres a liberal part of him. If theyre conservative, they hope theres a conservative part in him. And thats a really important quality, I think. And the most important thing is hes got to keep that straight-talking honesty—not seeming to move for the wrong reasons. And I think hes got a great shot because of that. I mean, I like him enormously too. And Im sure he and I disagree on a lot of issues, and yet I have this feeling that hes going to be a good leader.They disagree on the issues—but that doesnt matter! Had Goodwin already read Broders column? Masterfully, she recited its themes. But then, she didnt actually have to read it. Every top pundit always knows the prime scripts—and knows that shes there to recite them.
Theres a lot to dispute in Goodwins statement. On the other hand, most of her statement could be defended. But note the way every turn in the road must be interpreted in McCains favor. Suddenly, its a wonderful thing when McCain seems to be all things to all people. That portrait was endlessly painted of Clinton—as proof of how fake the man was!
McCain has flipped and revised in recent months—but nothing flips or revises the script about his sainted straight-talking honesty. But then, if you had a vastly empty soul, earned by a vastly empty career, you might want to feel the spirit as you declared for a sainted soul too. More on this psychiatric theme as we continue to thumb Kleins book. At points, this theme seems to shout out at us.
HOWLER HISTORY—THE WAY THEY WERE: During the primary season of Campaign 2000, neither Bradley nor McCain ever led in the national polls; on a national basis, voters never even came close to preferring the straight-talking pair. Result? The Twin Authentics got clobbered on Super Tuesday—and pundits staged a large pity party. Several made a remarkable claim—the feckless voters had backed away from their love affair with the sainted straight-talkers. Here was Frank Rich in the New York Times:
RICH (3/11/00): Whatever happened to Americans' supposed hunger for authenticity and straight talk as an antidote to Bill Clinton? Wasn't that supposed to carry us through the whole election year? Well, as Gilda Radner's Emily Litella used to say, Never mind.What had become of the hunger for authenticity? At the Washington Post, the late Mary McGrory asked the same question, lighting into the feckless voters. Her column was called Stupor Tuesday:
MCGRORY (3/9/00): Thank you, wed rather be trite.Good God! In fact, the voters had never said that [they] wanted authenticity above all. That had been the great cry of the press corps! But so what? McGrory slammed them all the same, because they had so badly hurt her. The only surprise of the conforming states was New York, she insultingly tut-tut-tutted, where sophisticated voters pay close attention. (Shed expected the other states to be dumb.) Other pundits trashed the voters as the wake for the losers ground on.
Thats what 11 states said on Super Tuesday.
Give us the predictable, voters said from coast to coastwith the honorable exception of four New England states [which voted for McCain]. Fizz is fine, yes, and its true we told you last fall that we wanted authenticity above all, but weve thought it over, and theres a lot to be said for the hackneyed and the hacks.
This week, Broder continues to project his cohorts desires onto the voters. By now, though, the press has pimped their saint for seven years. In 08, the voters may conform.
HE HURT TOO: The late Michael Kelly was deeply hurt too. Heres a sample of his great cry, on the same page with McGrory:
KELLY (3/90/00): [I]n choosing Bush over John McCain, the party of perversity has done it again.At the time, Bush was a tool of his partys bigots; hed proved it when he went to Bob Jones. This weekend, McCain is going to Liberty U—and on that same op-ed page in the Post, the bar has been drastically lowered.
Had McCain prevailed, the greatly superior general election candidate would have been the Republican one: a smart, tough, funny, cool (the first cool Republican in living memory), experienced, forthright, genuinely attractive war hero, running against an inside-Washington, no-controlling-legal-authority-citing, Naomi-Wolf-hiring, interest-group-kowtowing, silver-spoon-gumming, establishment-perpetuating son of privilege.
Instead, the GOP put forward Bush. Bush, who proved with his bowing to Bob Jones III that he is as much a tool of his party's bigots as Gore showed himself to be in his bowing to Al Sharpton.
The rules have been set in Broders column. McCain will be praised for his great strength of character, no matter what he says this weekend. But then, empty scribes always play it that way. Its why they long for authenticity. Its why they project it on a great saint, then insist that no other thing matters.