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HISTORY NEVER GETS OLD! As we leave on the 4:45, we recommend recent history: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2011

The cult of the shiny object/Also, us beating them: In 1998, the United States seemed to be prosperous and at peace.

A sex scandal broke out, involving the president—the most significant public figure in the world. Even then, sane people said we might have more significant things to discuss.

Thirteen years later, the United States is sliding into the sea. A sex scandal broke out involving a single House member—one of 435 such persons. Even in our more perilous circumstances, the press corps couldn’t stop itself from chasing the shiny object. (Rachel Maddow complained about this, but wouldn’t name any names.)

Let us state our own views again: We don’t care if Weiner sent those messages, although young women shouldn’t get such missives just because they contact a pol. We also don’t care if John Ensign fell in love with Cynthia Hampton, although it’s better when marriages work. We don’t care that David Vitter employed the help of the DC Madam. We’re sorry that Congressmen Massa, Souder and Lee all screwed up in the last few years and surrendered their seats before Weiner.

What do we care about? For one example, we’d like to see Tim Pawlenty’s lunatic budget proposal discussed in detail on the nation’s front pages. We’d like to see a world where liberal “intellectual leaders” routinely demanded such conduct.

There’s something else we’d like to see more of—the soul of Shirley Sherrod.

Yesterday, in the Washington Post, Krissah Thompson did a new profile of Sherrod. We’ll recommend the whole thing. But at the end, Sherrod is taking Ben Jealous and some colleagues from the NAACP on a tour of her home county in Georgia. Here’s how the profile ends:

THOMPSON (6/16/11): She took them to a cooperative for rural black women that she helped organize, where the women shell pecans and make candy, and to an old school that has been converted into a community center and commercial kitchen for local residents.

“She was always there for the farmers,” said Cornelius Key, a peanut and soybean farmer who met the group. “She helped us set up markets with Whole Foods and other stores.”

As the tour neared its end, Sherrod took Jealous and the others past a 1,664 acre plantation on the edge of Albany called Cypress Pond. “It’s just beautiful,” she said. Her family and the others who invested in the New Communities cooperative that sued the federal government have placed a bid on the land and want to turn it into a modern version of their old project.

“Today, this land will belong to black people, white people, poor people,” Sherrod said. “Anyone who is a part of us. It belongs to us.”

Properly used, “us” is a very powerful word—a much more productive word than “them” (or “those people”). But it has to be widely deployed. Dr. King always knew the spirit of “us” when extended to the maximum number of people, even to those who may seem to be on some other side.

HISTORY NEVER GETS OLD (permalink): We’re off to visit our sick older friend. Presumably, we got on the 4:45 out of Baltimore this very morning.

We’re leaving a bit of history behind. Truly, it never gets old.

The following excerpt comes from the newly-finished chapter 5 of our book, How he got there. How did George Bush ever get to the White House?

We still feel that someone should tell the full tale.

For the most part, chapter 5 describes the mainstream press corps’ conduct during November 1999—the month these horrible people devoting to trashing Naomi Wolf.

On October 31, 1999, Time magazine reported that Wolf was advising Candidate Gore. A journalistic breakdown followed which lasted roughly a month. It didn’t stop until Gore was misquoted about Love Canal. This touched off a new month-long frenzy.

Our full chapter 5 is rather long, but we think it’s briskly rendered. This excerpt comes from late in the chapter. It describes the wilding which occurred on the cable show Hardball, which was influential at that time among DC’s press elite.

The liberal world let everything in this excerpt occur without a peep of protest. Today, major career liberals kiss Chris Matthews’ keister. We strongly recommend that you read the whole chapter; before this short look at the ugly clowning on Hardball, we cover the sexual trashing dished to Wolf and the three-month “campaign about clothing” aimed at Gore’s troubling wardrobe. Aimed at his boots; his suits; his polo shirts; aimed at how high he hemmed his pants. Aimed at the number of buttons on his suit jackets (three). At his alleged, troubling earth tones.

Please remember—all that follows was permitted by people we liberals currently love. Our liberal “leaders” permitted and engaged in this conduct. At some point, serious people still might want to ask why.

To read the full chapter, just click this. Excerpt follows:

Excerpt from Chapter 5:
A campaign about clothing/a virtual wilding: The press corps’ month of Wolf

FOR A SENSE OF THE TRASHING EXTENDED TO GORE, LET’S RETURN to Hardball, the Washington-based cable show which was influential within the DC press elite. In chapter 4, we watched as Chris Matthews and pundit guests puffed the virtues of Candidate Bradley. How did Matthews and his guests react to the news about Wolf?

In truth, they reacted quite poorly. As the month of Wolf unfolded, Candidate Gore would be widely assailed. But no one did it more harshly than Hardball—and no one else started so fast.

The onslaught began on Monday evening, November 1. As he started his discussion, Matthews compared Wolf to Nancy Reagan’s astrologer, although he did offer one mocking distinction. “At least [the astrologer] was providing actual information, astrological charts,” he said. “What exactly is this woman doing for Al except sort of building up his beefiness, or whatever—his masculinity?”

According to Matthews, Wolf had been assigned the task of building up Gore’s masculinity. Conservative writer Christina Hoff Sommers quickly seconded this notion. “Well, apparently Naomi Wolf has been hired by the campaign, by Al Gore, to help him assert his masculinity,” she said. “And this is pathetic. It's really sad that he has to operate at that level.”

A virtual wilding had begun. On this first evening of the onslaught, Matthews was helped by two conservative women—Sommers and Susan Molinari, the former Republican congresswoman. With their eager participation, the pounding of Wolf began at a very high level of insult. The basic claims were assumed to be true: Naomi Wolf had told Gore to wear earth tones, and to behave like an alpha male. On this basis, standard insults were fashioned: Al Gore doesn’t know who he is! And, of course, Al Gore hired a woman to teach him to be a man!

Al Gore hired a woman to teach him how to be a man! In effect, Sommers and Matthews joined forces this night to craft that standard insult. “You can imagine the serious people on this campaign must be mortified that he's listening to this young woman,” Sommers said. “And one thing,” Matthews quickly replied. “Bill Clinton may have had a lot of problems…But he didn't need anybody to teach him how to be a guy.”

A standard insult was struggling to be born. Moments later, Matthews and his conservative guest went where rubber meets road.

“Let's get to the issue that is really at the tip of our tongues,” Matthews said to Sommers. He warned his pundit guests that the issue in question was “very tricky to talk about, even an adult show like this one.” But finally, he popped the question: “Christina, what are some of the more outlandish proposals this woman has made about the upbringing of women in the sexual department?”

Sommers took over from there. “Well, now that you’ve asked,” she coyly inquired, “is this a family show?” Urged to speak freely, she lowered the boom. “Let's just say she celebrates female sexual ecstasy,” Sommers said. “And she has very detailed programs on how a woman can get in touch with her inner slut.”

Wolf had “very detailed programs on how a woman can get in touch with her inner slut?” This notion came from the mind of Sommers; none of the language, and none of the tone, was drawn from Wolf’s actual work. But Matthews quickly affirmed this claim and Sommers was soon advancing another: “I mean, her views are very, very eccentric. Even among feminists, she's eccentric, unusual—a little bit outrageous.”

Naomi Wolf had always been a respected figure within the mainstream press. But now, she was advising Gore—and a wilding had begun. “It's like Hillary changes her hair every two hours,” Matthews soon said, adding another colorful insult. “This guy changes his face every two hours.”

Other insults were offered this night, along with a bit of feigned confusion concerning the “alpha male” concept. But this first discussion of Wolf and Gore showed where Hardball was headed. By Tuesday evening, November 2, Matthews had his new insults down cold. “Hiring a woman to teach him how to be more like a man,” he sputtered. “This is like political Viagra!” Again, a few moments later: “Hiring this woman to teach him how to be a man, this alpha male thing, I never heard of before.” Later, he recited his script a third time: “I call it his political Viagra. Now he's got a woman telling him how to be a man!” For the next few weeks, Matthews would rely on these standard denigrations as he fashioned other insults which were uniquely his own.

The denigration was constant. Gore was mocked as “Bionic Al” and as the Incredible Hulk. He was described as “a man-like object;” this revived a favorite Hardball insult from the month of September. He was compared to Peter Pan; to Mr. Wizard; to the cartoon figure Clutch Cargo. According to Matthews, Wolf was helping Gore be “more Johnny Carson than Ed McMahon;” she was teaching him to be “more John Wayne and at the same time more Alan Alda.” Gore was “a bit like Jackie Mason,” he mused; the notion that Wolf was advising Gore was “like a Billy Crystal movie”—a very silly such movie at that. (Matthews went into great detail about what would occur in this film.)

For her own part, Wolf was “this sort of Svengali,” “a strange guru for a grown-up guy to be listening to.” She was compared to Nancy Reagan’s astrologer on three different Hardball programs. She was also compared to Miss Lewinsky; playing tape of Wolf’s appearance on This Week, Matthews said, “That sounds like Monica Lewinsky talking! That sounds like Valley Girl talk!” Meanwhile, the smutty jibes about Gore’s “masculinity” were being updated nightly. On November 5, Matthews sadly noted the “fact” that Gore “doesn’t have his gender straight.” The night before, he had said that Gore was “growing into this protean new person, this new today's man-woman.”

On that same November 4 program, Watergate burglar Gordon Liddy improved one of the corps’ standard insults. According to Liddy, Candidate Gore now had “a girl trying to teach him how to be a real man” (author’s emphases).

By the end of week one in this month of Wolf, Hardball’s banter had descended to a truly unfortunate level. By November 4, pundit guest Patrick Caddell was alleging that “there’s a weird relationship somewhere here with the wife or the daughter, I don't know what.” Liddy was opining that “at its most charitable, it’s a bit bizarre, being tell this guy how to be a real man.” The next night, Matthews was back on his Viagra kick. (“I call her the political equivalent of Viagra.”) Ending the week on a scripted note, he joined NBC’s Andrea Mitchell in an extended exchange about whether Gore even knew who he was. The pair of insider pundits agreed: In Mitchell’s words, “It's incredible that, after all these years in public office, that either he doesn't know who he is or that he doesn't like who he is.”

For the record, Mitchell was responding to this question from Matthews: “Who is Al Gore? Does he need advice, not on hair color or whatever, but on who is he? He's got a woman telling him how to be an alpha male, whatever that is.” (The notion that Wolf was helping Gore with his hair was advanced on four programs.)

It’s hard to capture the depth and the ugliness of the inanity spewed on this nightly program. But as the month of Wolf unfolded, how foolish could Hardball’s discussions get? Just consider the number of buttons Matthews had spied on Gore’s suits.

It’s true: As of November 1999, Candidate Gore was appearing in public wearing three-button suits. For the record, the three-button men’s suit was completely conventional at that point in time. On November 17, the Los Angeles Times noted that Gore “certainly isn’t in danger of getting out front of the voters in fashion...The three-button suit has been hot for so long now it's almost out.” Nor was the three-button suit the fashion preserve of our radical leftists. In the conservative Wall Street Journal, the conservative clothier Brooks Brothers was running display ads for its own three-button suits.

No matter! Such facts were going to make no difference as the jeering of Gore continued. On Hardball, Matthews spent the month of November counting the buttons on Gore’s troubling suits, routinely advancing bizarre accounts of what the buttons meant.

For one example, consider the program of Friday, November 12.

On this evening, Matthews had invited jury consultant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius to help him assess Gore’s connection to Wolf. (By now, this pointless topic had driven his program for two solid weeks.) The following exchange occurred, an emblem of the sheer inanity consuming large parts of the press corps:

Matthews: You know, there's been a lot of talk about the new costuming of Al Gore. You know, he used to wear blue suits like I do, or gray suits. Now he's wearing these new olive suits. He's taking up something rather unconventional, the three-button male suit jacket. I always– My joke is, “I'm Albert, I'll be your waiter tonight.” I mean, I don't know anybody who buttons all three buttons, even if they have them. What could that possibly be saying to women voters, three buttons?

Dimitrius: Well, I, I think that–

Matthews: Is there some hidden Freudian deal here or what? I don't know. I mean, Navy guys used to have buttons on their pants. I don't know what it means. Go ahead.

To her credit, Dimitrius seemed puzzled by Matthews’ questions. After some initial fumbling, she took a diplomatic approach to the problem, suggesting that Gore might understand that “olive green, dark green is much more approachable” than dark blue in a man’s suit. “Is that why Peter Pan wore green?” Matthews quickly responded. As Dimitrius fumbled again for an answer, her host finally asked a relevant question:

“How does my mind work that way,” he asked his puzzled guest.

Whatever the answer may have been, Matthews’ mind kept “working that way” throughout the month of November. He raised the topic of Gore’s three buttons on half a dozen Hardball programs, running through November 24. On five of these occasions, Matthews said the three-button suits made Gore look like a waiter; he told his “I’m Albert, I’ll be your waiter” joke on three different programs. Nor was Matthews the only major press figure counting the buttons on Gore’s troubling suits; on November 9, Arianna Huffington attacked Gore for allegedly wearing four-button suits. “The way he's now dressing makes a lot of people feel disconnected from him,” she told a panel of pundits on Geraldo Rivera’s nightly CNBC show. “It's just not the way most American males dress.”

Gore hadn’t worn any four-button suits. Huffington had simply added a button, making her nonsense stand out from the pack. But a virtual wilding was now underway. Chris Matthews was setting the standard.

On cable, Matthews was the leading face of the NBC news behemoth. For reasons no one has ever explained, he was now making an ugly joke of a critical White House campaign.

BUT THEN, THE NATIONAL PRESS CORPS HAD WOLF ON THE BRAIN during the month of November. Reporters found ways to talk about Wolf in every conceivable context. A few examples:

On November 21, Bush did the full hour on Meet the Press, the nation’s most influential news program. He wasn’t asked about the pop quiz he had recently failed. But Tim Russert did ask him to comment on Wolf, two separate times.

On November 22, the New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani wrote a lengthy, front-page report about the various books the major candidates had written. She devoted roughly 900 words to Gore’s 1992 best-seller, Earth in the Balance. In a weirdly disjointed and hostile account of the once-heralded, best-selling book, Kakutani mentioned Wolf, or earth tones, or alpha males, three separate times.

Naomi Wolf had nothing to do with Gore's environmental best-seller.

Elsewhere, the lunacy wore no disguise. On November 11, Cal Thomas devoted his nationally syndicated column to Wolf’s role in the Gore campaign. “[I]t appears the unofficial theme will be ‘Victor/Victoria,’ ” he wrote in his opening paragraph, “with Al Gore in the lead role of a man playing a woman playing a man.” Later, Thomas said that Wolf prescribed “teaching [kids] to get naked with one another in school and to masturbate.” According to Thomas, these were “two of her recommended strategies to keep them so preoccupied they won't give their parents or the country any trouble.”

Thomas was the nation’s most widely-read political columnist. According to the Nexis archives, no press critic ever challenged the astonishing things he had said.

We’ll end our excerpt at his point: For the record, Matthews was working for Jack Welch at this time, According to People, he was being paid more than $1 million per year by this time, on his way to five. A few years later, he had enough swag to buy that home on Nantucket.

We’ll recommend the whole ugly chapter, which presents the wider context for this material—and we’ll recommend that you feel disgust for the hustlers, self-dealers, movers and shakers who have kept their mouths shut about Matthews’ conduct from that day right up to this.

They have to build their careers, after all. Hardball money spends good.