THE BERNSTEIN NARRATIVES! A former icon has embarrassed himself as he crashes about selling books: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JUNE 7, 2007
KLEINS NEW MORNING: We think Joe Klein has a case to make about his savaging on the web. Indeed, we think we web-cats serve ourselves poorly when we drift toward the demon-tale-driven mistakes we have long criticized in others. (Though this is part of human nature, in which were all involved.) But we were quite surprised by this second Swampland post, in which Klein responded to Dick Armey on the question of Social Security. It seemed to us that Klein has changed his views from a few years ago:
KLEIN (6/6/07): [L]et me take on Armey with regard to entitlements. First, Social Security. I actually went down to Chile ten years ago and looked at that country's privatized plan. It was excellent—but the money was there to fund private accounts for younger workers because the government had had a windfall, privatizing the industries than had been socialized under Allende. Also, the plan was regulated in a way that Dick Armey would never allow...Klein rejects partial privatization of Social Security; indeed, he calls it a sideshow. And he praises a voluntary add-on program...with government matching funds according to income. Indeed, the Social Security crisis (Kleins scare-quotes) is well down his list of priorities. It can be solved fairly easily, Klein says, in the ways he describes, perhaps others.
We found this surprising, because we recall Kleins position on these matters during Campaign 2000. In that campaign, Candidate Bush proposed partial privatization; Candidate Gore rejected this idea, instead proposing a voluntary add-on program...with government matching funds according to income! (Gore called this Social Security Plus.) What was Kleins reaction? Heres part of his session with Tim Russert as the mainstream press corps tore Gore apart for his disgraceful views on this matter:
KLEIN (5/6/00): The—the concern I have about the Gore campaign is that he has learned one lesson and he's kind of becoming a one-trick pony.As weve discussed in detail before (links below), this was completely typical of the way the mainstream press corps was reacting to the dueling Bush/Gore proposals. It seems to be the opposite of what Klein said in yesterdays post—seven years later.
Theres nothing wrong with changing your mind—but there were many things wrong with Klein and Russerts performance that day. For starters, Russerts account of the Clinton proposal was vastly misleading (see above); Bushs privatization proposal involved risk to the individual SS recipient, Clintons earlier proposal did not. And uh-oh! Inevitably, Russert gave his standard, unbalanced account of the simple facts of this complex issue. He suggested the press corps had failed to inform the public, who were being misled by Vile Gore:
RUSSERT: But the role of media becomes critical here, Joe Klein. If—the facts are simple: When Social Security began, Franklin Roosevelt, genius, he—the life expectancy at that point was 63. He made eligibility for Social Security 65.Of course, it could have worked the way Gore suggested—and Kleins dire prophecies seem to fly in the face of what he has said this week. But in May 2000, Gore was being trashed this way all over the mainstream press—and Bush was being hailed as a moral giant for daring to touch the third rail. Eventually, Russert found a standard way to exit this well-scripted topic:
RUSSERT: You mentioned Al Gore going to the back of the plane, being likeable, irreverent. Why doesn't the public ever see that side? Why—why doesn't he just, when he takes off his jacket and puts his earth tones on display, also have this personality that no one sees?Pathetic, isnt it? Playing the fool for Jack Welch and a multimillionaire class, Russert slickly found a way to work those earth tones in. But then, they kept pumping this perfect bull-sh*t until they had Bush in the White House.
Yep! That was May 6 in the year 2000, as the press corps was working to put Bush in power. Seven years later, Klein seems to see this policy matter quite differently. But then, Bob Herbert just said that hes baffled by the fact that Gore isnt president, seeming to forget what he did in real time to keep Gore on the outs (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/6/07). Did Pravda ever air-brush the past any better than our mainstream pundits have done? You simply cant make this group come clean about their past groaning misconduct.
We find no fault with Kleins current views. But his conduct back then helped put Bush where he is. Our question: When will this cohort start to explain their conduct from Campaign 2000? Who will be first to break the Code, to discuss our actual history?
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Mainstream pundits praised Bush for his daring plan—and battered Vile Gore for disagreeing. For a fuller treatment of this painful story, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/30/06 (scroll down to Second excerpt.) Or see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/15/02, one part of an earlier series.
THE BERNSTEIN NARRATIVES: Theres only one word for it—embarrassing. On Tuesday night, the former iconic star journalist, Carl Bernstein, appeared on The OReilly Factor. We start with Mr. Os first question, about Hillary Clinton. Then, we watch Bernstein twist in the wind:
O'REILLY (6/5/07): Did she break the law?Did Hillary Clinton break the law at some point? Bill OReilly wanted to know—and Bernstein gave him four separate answers: Yes, yes if, no and maybe. After that, he said he thought she did—and then again, he said he thought she didnt. Finally, he said he didnt know. I wasnt in the room, Bernstein said—bringing a whole new standard of proof to historical explanation.
Such are the fruits of the seven years Bernstein says he spent on this puzzling book.
But so it has gone in the early days of Bernsteins embarrassing book tour. His session on Charlie Rose Monday night left Rose scolding his guest for his dithering, back-and-forth style. (Clintons authenticity isnt the point of the book, Bernstein said—after talking about it incessantly. You can watch the whole mess here.) Eventually, Bernstein offered Rose this deep personal insight:
BERNSTEIN (6/4/07): One of the things I say in this book that is so fascinating is, she has experimented with so much more in life than Bill Clinton has that theyre not—theyre not even close to each other.I don`t see you sliming fish in Alaska, by the way, Rose said at this point.
Theres a word for insights of this type, and that word is embarrassing. Bernstein cant see Bill Clinton sliming fish—and so he turns this into an insight about his relationship with his wife. For the record, Bill Clinton has had a varied life himself; he has attended Oxford—and he has campaigned for votes in shaky juke joints in the most rural parts of off-the-path Arkansas. Bernstein cant see him sliming fish? Well only suggest that you watch this interview; even Rose loses patience with his guests exasperating ways.
But then, Bernsteins book tour has suggested the decline of a once iconic journalist, a decline that typifies the era. On the tour, Bernstein stoops to the level of modern trivia journalism, offering silly details like this as keys to Clintons character:
ROSE: You know, I mean, she believes shes responsible for generating her own success. She did well at Wellesley. They asked her to be the speaker at the graduation. She did well at Yale Law School.Two things are remarkable in that embarrassing passage.
First, theres the sheer absurdity of the judgment Bernstein expresses to Rose. Theres an inauthenticity to Hillary Clinton, he says—because she didnt tell friends and later associates that she flunked the DC bar exam. (Were going back 35 years for this sign of her troubling character.) By normal standards, thats called a leap—but its typical of the flimsy style of (negative) character judgment that came to rule the mainstream press in the 1990s, as the Clintons and Gore were savaged. Several times, Bernstein tells Rose that he is holding Clinton to a higher standard of judgment because thats the standard she maintains for herself. But so it has gone as our greatest former journalists have looked for ways to justify their increasingly kooky judgments.
But if Bernsteins particular judgment here is a stretch, something else is equally striking—his statement to Rose that inauthenticity is a word that I have used, not in the book but in discussing it (our emphasis). Indeed, right from Bernsteins first Today show interview last week, he has paraded around complaining about Clintons inauthenticity as he discusses his book. Yet, as he acknowledged to Rose, this word—this theme—isnt part of his book, the one he says he spent seven years on. Hillary Clinton displays an inauthenticity! It seems that Bernstein cant say this enough—except in his actual book! But then, Bernstein is leading his book tour with several claims that dont seem to appear in his book. These themes may prime book sales among Clinton-haters, and they may endear Bernstein to some in the press. But their absence from the book itself raises an obvious question about Bernsteins authenticity.
Yes, theres a word for work like this, where a famous author sells a book with themes that dont even appear in the volume. Or maybe there isnt! After all, when have you seen a former icon sell a book in such an odd manner?
TOMORROW: Savaging women.