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DEFININGLY SCRIPTED! All good pundits are channeling Klein, whose book is a crime on the culture: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MAY 24, 2006

ENTER BOZO WOMAN: Long ago, we ran out of ways to describe it. But as Maureen Dowd begins today’s column, we see the millionaire pundit corps’ King Kong-style inanity back at work. Yes, she did—she actually typed it, quite quickly, in paragraph 2:
DOWD (5/24/06): Al Gore must want to punch Hillary Clinton right through the hole in the ozone layer.

At the National Press Club here yesterday, the New York senator finally took a passionate stand. After giving a courteous nod to her old rival Al as “a committed visionary on global warming,” she purloined his issue and his revolution, going his Earth Tones in the Balance one better by wearing a blinding yellow pantsuit that looked as if it could provide solar power to all of Tennessee.

If the world were ending today, I would work in my garden, the sage once said. And Dowd? If the world were ending today, she would type one more “joke” about earth tones! Dowd—a human dial tone herself—just can’t stop jokes about tones.

Dowd’s column is inane in various ways—most of them scripted and wholly familiar. (Example, from above: If you get another pol to take up your concerns, you are supposed to get angry.) But let’s note two major problems Dowd shares with her cohort—the perverse denigration of mental attainment, and the love of Joe Klein’s dumb new book.

Your press corps wants to watch King Kong, not major hearings (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/22/06). And they’ve just decided that we can’t pick a president based on who’s fun drinking beer (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/23/06). Most important, they simply hate it when a pol subjects them to long, boring speeches. Your press corps just wants to talk about earth tones—and they ridicule any pol who won’t honor these stupid desires:

DOWD: Apologizing for, while really wallowing in, her “wonkish speech,'' Hillary waxed rhapsodic about ''unlocking the full potential of cellulosic ethanol'' and getting ''the low-sulfur diesel rule fully implemented.'' She droned on numbingly about carbon dioxide sequestration, biomass liquid fuel bases, ''feebate'' tax incentives, hybrid plug-ins, flex-fueled vehicles, continuous reheat furnaces, renewable portfolio standards, Danish wind power, Brazilian ethanol and Kyoto greenhouse targets. (And you thought she was incomprehensible on health care.)

She got so far down in the weeds—or switch grass—that she advised her listeners about weatherizing their homes and checking their tires to save fuel.

Incredible, isn’t it? To someone like Dowd, you’re “down in the weeds” if you discuss inflating your tires! But always, if you discuss real things, you’re accused of “droning on numbingly.” They routinely did this during Campaign 2000 when Gore agreed to take all questions, from any citizen, at his New Hampshire town hall meetings (links below). Poor pundits! They longed to return to the Wayfarer Inn, where they could chug beers with their fatuous friends and discuss the latest low-IQ movie. How dare Gore “drone on” so numbingly, daring to answer real voters’ real questions? Incredibly, Bill Bradley was praised for limiting questions—and Gore was mocked for doing the opposite, as Dowd mocks Droning Old Clinton today. Yesterday, the pundit longed for the joy of release—blessed release to her dial-tone thoughts about “tree-hugging wackos.” Poor Dowd! When Clinton dared discuss a real problem, she stamped her feet, tiny fists balled.

Yes, Clinton was “droning on numbingly” yesterday, just as Gore “droned on” in New Hampshire (links below). Indeed, in his definingly vacant new book, Klein gets in one more scripted shot at Gore for those appalling town meetings. Seven years later, the script must be typed, the angry complaint again registered:

KLEIN (page 141): In the autumn [of 1999], the vice president began holding a series of town meetings in New Hampshire, where he would go on and on (and on) about his various policy passions, and these were among his best work as a candidate. Gore wasn’t nearly as good as Clinton at explaining complicated problems—no one is—but the man was smart and creative; his answers didn’t seem canned and he was clearly qualified to be president.
Gee thanks; Gore was qualified! But just note—even as Klein gives back-handed praise to Gore’s work at these sessions, the tiny shiv must be sent to the chest. “Gore went on and on (and on),” Klein complains, as all in his cohort did before him, angered by the endless Q-and-A’s they were forced to stay and report on. How dare he take so many questions from so many actual voters? They longed to go home and watch King Kong; they longed to go back to the Wayfarer Inn and have seven beers with their pals—maybe eight. And yesterday, Dowd was angered, again, as a pol discussed a major problem. As we’ve long told you, these people are straight outta Marie Antoinette—and they just won’t be treated this way. Their powdered wigs get all out of joint when pols make them think about problems. That’s why they sit on Air Force 1 and watch Kong, skipping Hayden. And that’s why all pundits are calling Gore “nerd” as they opine about his new, weighty film. These are people who can’t conceive of respect for actual mental attainment. Truly, they’re people who just can’t imagine why we’d discuss a real problem.

Which brings us straight to hapless Klein, the other big problem with Dowd’s dial-tone column. Horribly, Klein is becoming Official Author of Script about the conduct of Campaign 2000. In the following type-along passage, Dowd’s theory is Straight Outta Klein:

DOWD: Hillary is keeping Bill at a distance so he doesn't overshadow her, contradict her, embarrass her or hurt her attempt to pander to the right. But Al, who says he and Bill have made up and are now brotherly, may want to embrace the Big Dog this time, realizing the cost of muzzling him in 2000 (and the cost of taking hired guns' advice to soft-peddle the environment).
Dumb, Stupid Gore blew Election 2000! He should have featured Clinton more! And he should have discussed global warming! Never mind what his hired guns said! These pleasing news scripts are straight outta Klein—straight outta his definingly vacant new book (much more below). And every pundit will now type them up—even some at The Huffington Post, including, perhaps, even Arianna.

Did Gore pay a price for “muzzling Clinton?” Should Gore have discussed the environment more? These are pleasing but empty speculations, offered by those who are scripting Fine Ways to explain the outcome of Campaign 2000. For the record, there is no reason to think that either one of these speculations is actually right—and we’d guess that each one is wrong. (Although, of course, there’s no way of knowing—the situation our pundits like best.) But so what? Every Good Pundit will type up these thoughts—including, of course, nicely-scripted John Heilemann, whose New York profile we discussed yesterday. Ah yes! Dowd is quoting Heilemann today too, seeing in him a Trained Boy from the circle. Heilemann will type every tale the corps likes—and his poker-pals from the liberal elite will agree to pretend not to notice.

What are the dangers of global warming? Gore’s new film is quite alarming, and Clinton was discussing solutions in her speech. But to Dowd, the “earth tones” must always make paragraph 2. She meowed—and lied—about the tones in real time, pretending that Time had reported the story. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/03. It was really an unfounded “speculation” by Dick Morris. That was too weak—so Dowd quickly lied, along with Head Dumbkopf Howell.) And having lied about the tones then, she dumbly dial-tones about them today. But what else is new? Over the years, we’ve come to see that this is simply the shape of a millionaire press corps. They’re empty, fatuous, vacuous, dumb; they long for King Kong, and for burgers, and for beer. And uh-oh! When serious people discuss major topics, the dial tones begin to go off in their heads! They long for freedom, for sweet release—for shopping, café life, silly films, for easy scripts they can easily type. Their films must be about apes, not issues—about primates to whom they may feel a strong tie—and any pol who dares to offend will be called the next droning nerd. Could Gotham drown if Greenland breaks? Such questions offend a celebrity press corps. Hillary Clinton was down in the weeds—and a Human Dial-Tone didn’t like it.

Special report—Corps on Gore!

PART 3—DEFININGLY SCRIPTED: Sadly, hapless Joe Klein is now becoming King of Press Scripts about Campaign 2000. It would be hard to find a more laughable book than his definingly awful Politics Lost—a book whose author can’t argue his own basic themes for much more than a page at a time. But Klein offers simple-minded, dumb assessments of our recent White House races—and the usual suspects have appeared at the trough, eager to channel this wisdom. For example, at yesterday’s Huffington Post, Richard Greene quoted Klein on Gore in 2000, with a know-nothing’s assurance:

GREENE (5/23/06): [S]ince Al Gore's college days this man has had a burning passion for this subject [presumably, global warming]. So much of a passion that in 1992 he said, in his rather visionary book, "Earth in the Balance", that the environment should be "the central organizing principle for civilization".

But in 2000 Bob Shrum and his team wouldn’t let him talk about it. They ripped that authentic passion, and the soul, out of their client. In his recent outstanding article in Time Magazine about how consultants are ruining politics, Joe Klein reports that he asked Tad Devine, one of Shrum's consultants, “if he'd ever considered the possibility that Gore might have been a warmer, more credible and inspiring candidate if he'd talked about the things he really wanted to talk about, like the environment?” Remarkably, Devine answers, “That’s an interesting thought.”

Of course, what’s really “remarkable” is the silly idea that Shrum and his team could somehow stop Gore from talking about some subject. But so what? Greene swallows Klein’s scripts whole, without seeing how poorly founded they are. Clearly, Greene has it all worked out, having read a column in Time: As we gape at Devine’s reply to Klein, we’re supposed to think it’s clear that Gore would have prospered if he’d discussed the environment more. But of course, that notion is pure speculation; in fact, it’s quite possible that Gore would have been worse off if he’d spoken more on the subject. (Which may be why he chose not to.) Truth? When Devine said to Klein, “That’s an interesting thought,” Devine was probably thinking this: Why in the world did I ever agree to be interviewed by this self-impressed dope? But Greene doesn’t seem to know the first thing about politics, and so he swallows this KleinThought down whole. Gore didn’t show us who he was, and that is why George Bush reached the White House! This theory works well for mainstream pundits; it blames Gore and his team for Campaign 2K, and wipes the press corps’ gross misconduct entirely off the face of the earth. But alas! Many people are now quoting Klein, thereby obscuring what actually happened in the course of Campaign 2000.

It was Gore’s fault! No, it was Gore’s dumb consultants! The mainstream press corps has labored hard to insist that Gore somehow blew a sure thing. Arianna is doing it too, and so is the wondrously scripted John Heilemann (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/23/06). In the process, liberals are being trained not to see what actually happened in Campaign 2000—and what is happening in Campaign 08. The press is pre-scripting that next campaign too—inventing the saint who will go on to win it. And we libs are so easy to misdirect, we don’t see what’s occurring. Once again.

For what it’s worth, Klein may be the least coherent human being currently found on the planet. As everyone knows, he claims to be seeking an “authentic” politics, in which candidates defy their wretched consultants, speaking their real minds to the voters in inspiring “Turnip Day” moments. (Pages 23-24. A “Turnip Day” moment is a “spontaneous moment” that “gives us real insight into those who would lead us.” In Turnip Day moments, a politician “shows us something of himself, something that hasn’t been pureed by pollsters.”) And yet, when Klein discusses the Bush-Gore campaign, he constantly seems to praise Bush for hiding his soul—and he seems to criticize Gore for doing the opposite. For example, consider the start of his chapter on Bush versus Gore. In his opening paragraph, Klein explains why Gore entered politics:

KLEIN (page 136): I once asked Al Gore if he would have chosen politics as a career if his father hadn’t been in the business. Gore thought for a moment and replied, “Probably not.” He went on to muse a bit about how he might have been more comfortable in academia. It seemed an aha! moment: Gore wasn’t thrilled by his chosen profession, which seemed clear enough when you watched him stumble along the campaign trail. (I later learned that Bill Clinton had been non-plussed by Gore’s comment.)
If you’re rational, you might imagine that this was a “Turnip Day” moment; Gore is asked a personal question, and he seem to answer it perfectly honestly, even though the answer he gives might not be the savviest one for a pol. (Clinton, the veep’s more political half, didn’t like the answer, we’re told, perhaps accurately.) But you’d only think that if you believed that Klein was actually planning to apply his own themes to his most basic anecdotes. Soon, Klein imagines asking Bush the same question—and he seems to be impressed by the thought that Bush would have been more evasive:
KLEIN (page 136-7): One of my smaller regrets in life is that I never thought to ask George W. Bush the same question. My guess is, he probably would have found some way to laugh it off: “Well, I wasn’t good enough to pitch for the New York Giants. . .” (Which, Bush knew, was something he and I had in common: our favorite baseball team). Or, “Well, I wasn’t having much luck in the oil business.” But Bush—a natural politician—would never have answered the question directly because he would have understood in his central nervous system that it was a trick: there was no good answer.
So much for Klein’s desire for an “authentic” politics filled with straight-talking, “Turnip Day” moments. In this anecdote, Klein himself is going around asking “trick questions,” and his sympathy seems to lie with Bush, the “natural politician” who would have found a way to avoid telling Klein—and the voters—the truth about who he really is. (Klein also seems to imagine himself being flattered by Bush, who would have known to make a reference to Klein’s favorite baseball franchise.) Fairly clearly, Klein seems to be saying that Bush would have found a smarter way to deal with this question. This basic judgment would make perfect sense, except Klein’s book is built on the notion that politicians should just tell us the truth and let the chips fall where they land. But all through his chapter on Bush and Gore, Klein seems to praise Bush for avoiding the truth—and he seems to criticize Gore for answering journalists’ questions. Fairly quickly, Klein is rolling his eyes at Gore because he once answered a journalist’s question about a favorite book, The Drama of the Gifted Child. (The scribe who asked Gore was the Post’s Katherine Boo, in 1992, although Klein makes it sound like Gore goes around forcing scribes to hear his thoughts on the book. In 1992, Gore answered Boo’s question—and Klein, exponent of Turnip Day moments, calls this conduct “really embarrassing.”) And then, he rolls his eyes at Gore because, when asked by Louis Menand of The New Yorker, Gore acknowledged that he does, in fact, admire The Phenomenology of Perception (Maurice Merleau-Ponty). Why aren’t these all perfect “Turnip Day” moments—moments in which in an unguarded pol is simply letting us know who he is? Klein is too stupid (and distracted) to wonder. Within moments, he’s typing this, about Bush’s take on the “gooblydegook” which Gore expressed to Menand:
KLEIN (page 138): Bush’s reaction to the [New Yorker] piece was ecstatic: “Venus and Mars, man! I can’t imagine anybody who’s less like me,” he told McKinnon [one of Bush’s consultants]. “This makes it easy for me to run against him.”

And so, Bush took pains to play it simple...

Gore is the one who’s answering questions. Bush is the one who’s deciding how to “play it.” But it’s perfectly obvious who is the chump as Klein makes his way through these puzzling pages. What ever happened to Turnip Day moments, where honest pols reveal who they are? Gore is answering questions here—and Bush is “taking pains” about how to “play it.” But, in this book about being authentic, it’s Gore who is, again and again, plainly the big dumb-ass chump.

In fact, Klein’s chapter on Bush and Gore is definingly incoherent—if you remember that Klein is supposed to be pining for a simpler, more authentic politics. He shows Bush and his campaign team planning out how they want Bush to “appear” and laughing at Gore and his team for wasting their time working out careful policies (see postscript). None of this would seem to explain why Bush is supposed to be more authentic. But so what? By the end of the chapter, Klein explains how Gore “lost the election”—and it fits with his Sweeping Theme, perfectly:

KLEIN (page 158): Well, [Gore] won Michigan and Pennsylvania. But he lost the election, even though the public agreed with him on most issues. He lost the election—actually, it was a dead heat—because he did not seem like a credible human being. And he did not seem like a credible human being because he had shoehorned himself inside the Message Box that had been created for him—because he had been polled and focus-grouped and dial-grouped and market-tested literally to the point of distraction.
Somehow, our authentic author can’t make himself say that Gore won the popular vote. The best Klein can bring from himself is the claim that “it was a dead heat” (although, in fact, it wasn’t). That said, this summation at least has the virtue of conforming to Klein’s much-ballyhooed themes; Gore “lost the election” (or whatever) because he’d been “focus-grouped to the point of distraction”—because the Real Gore wasn’t present. Of course, how does Klein support this claim? As the reader may recall, he supports this claim with a baldly dishonest account of an episode from Bush and Gore’s Debate 2—with the butchered account of Bush and Gore’s discussion of guns, a discussion we went through a few weeks ago (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/3/06). How does Klein show that Gore was a fake—unable to express his own views on the issues? He shows this with a blatantly faked account of a major debate—with the kind of bald-faced lying which would land his keister in jail if he headed a major corporation, like Enron. In this remarkable passage from Politics Lost, Joe Klein “proves” his case against Gore with something we really do have to term “lies”—there’s no other word for this passage. (Again, to review Klein’s work, click here.) Klein pretends that Gore just couldn’t or wouldn’t speak up, he was so overwhelmed by all the polling. In fact, Klein’s account of this incident is just baldly false. But so what? Major dim bulbs around the corps are now typing Joe Klein’s great themes.

Dowd types Klein’s dumb themes today. Greene lauds Klein at the Huffington Post. And yikes! Even Arianna was channeling Joe in that column we looked at yesterday. By the way: What would be the actual reason why Gore had trouble seeming authentic? Yesterday, we showed you the major reason. Here it is, once again—and other columns exactly like this were typed ten thousand times:

HUFFINGTON (2/6/00): [Bill] Bradley has warned voters to watch for Mr. Gore's "tricky" way with words, going as far as to compare him with Richard Nixon...In fact, not only this campaign but Mr. Gore's entire career has been laden with untruths—all demonstrating a pattern of serial abuse of language, truth and reality.

He invented the Internet, discovered Love Canal and was the inspiration for "Love Story." He lives on a farm,
was "always pro-choice" and claimed that, "unlike Sen. Bradley," he had co-sponsored the original McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill—even though Mr. Feingold was not elected to the Senate until Mr. Gore had already left to become vice president.
Could that be why Gore struck some voters as phony? Or could it have been because of this—this amazing attack on Gore’s character:
HUFFINGTON (4/5/00): When the people who like Al Gore try to explain why, they typically wax lyrical about his competence. But it is this very competence, combined with an utter lack of core principles he'd be unwilling to jettison in his pursuit of the presidency, that makes the vice president such a frightening specimen of the modern politician Candidatus No-Shameus. Over the course of Campaign 2000 alone, Mr. Gore has shown himself to be a political shape-shifter of unsurpassed skill—a sure-fire first-ballot inductee into the Panderers' Hall of Fame.
Yes, we like and admire Arianna—and we forgive these vast misjudgments. (Even the gross misstatements of fact, about those iconic misstatements by Gore—the misstatements Gore never made.) But why, exactly, did Candidate Gore have trouble seeming “authentic” and truthful? Duh! Because these lies were typed again and again—and again, and again, and then ten times more! Klein, of course, evades this nicely, presenting a far more pleasing story—although he can’t seem to stick to his themes from one paragraph to the next. But so what? Dumb-ass pundits are typing Klein’s scripts—Dowd, and Heilemann, and Greene, and others—and many young liberals are being fooled about their lives in the process. Yes, we liberals are getting fooled once again, by a vacuous millionaire press corps—even as this inexcusable gang is scripting our next White House campaign. That next campaign—the one they’re now scripting—is going to be won by a saint.

DEFININGLY AWFUL: Politics Lost is definingly awful. Almost every paragraph screams for review, but here is the way the great “gin-soaked” pundit (page 244, and yes, we believe him) describes the campaign of the Great Authentic who “won the election” in 2000 (well—“actually, it was a dead heat”). In this passage, Klein presents the thoughts of Bush consultant Mark McKinnon, who describes the way Bush and his consultants planned out the 2000 race. See if you can figure out how this could make Bush more authentic than Gore, the alleged A-1 prize phony:

KLEIN (page 146): McKinnon was amazed that the Democrats had never quite figured this out. In fact, they had it ass-backwards...In the television era, fleeting impressions counted far more than cogent policies. Fleeting impressions were all most people had time for. Presidential politics was all about character—or rather, the appearance of character. Did he (or she) seem strong? Trustworthy? Care about people like me? The utter simplicity of it was astonishing; it wasn’t about the economy, stupid.

It was about the appearance of caring about the economy, stupid.

Yes. Incredibly, that’s the way Klein describes the Bush camp’s approach to the race. It was all about appearance and seeming—about “the appearance of caring.” And by the way—what did the Democrats “have ass-backwards?” In that passage, McKinnon is laughing at the Gore campaign for wasting their time working out careful policies! Voters don’t care about that, McKinnon says (and Klein seems to agree). “There wasn’t a single breathing swing voter in the fifty United States who would make his or her presidential decision on the basis of which candidate had the better prescription-drug plan for the elderly,” Klein types on page 146—just before McKinnon mocks Gore and the Dems for their dumb, wasted effort.

It was all about appearance—about “fleeting impressions.” Gore was stupid to work out real policies. Result? In Bush and Gore’s Debate 1, Bush kept misstating his own drug plan—and when Gore sighs at Bush’s misstatements, Klein jumps right down Gore’s troubling throat (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/11/06). But this is the utterly crackpot book which your pundits will all be channeling as they assure us how phony Gore was—just as they said in those fact-challenged columns which they now carefully disappear.

Good old Klein! He “proves” that Gore “wasn’t a credible person” by presenting that exchange on gun control from Bush and Gore’s second debate—but Klein’s account is totally fake, a masterwork of misstated “evidence” (again, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/3/06). Repeat: If Klein headed a corporation and lied like that, he’d be headed straight to jail. In this matter, though, liberals quote him—and other liberals get misdirected, helping us lose once again.

Joe Klein’s new book? It’s definingly awful—a gin-soaked crime on our political culture. Yes, we’ll return to its pages again. But all you really need to do is read through its massively fake account of what Gore said to Bush about guns. The pattern hasn’t changed in years. As in 1999, so today. Major pundits lie and lie—to “prove” that Gore lacked character.