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Daily Howler: Big Dem hopefuls keep getting slandered--and only John Dean seems to care
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DEAN CARES! Big Dem hopefuls keep getting slandered—and only John Dean seems to care: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 28, 2006

LET’S NOT PLAY HARDBALL: Ann Coulter has been visibly disturbed since she hit the scene in the mid-1990s. But so what? She does good business among the rubes and for all we know, Jack Welch may adore her. Meanwhile, when she writes a book that is largely made-up, the New York Times counts her “footnotes” and hails her “research,” then heads off for a long Hamptons weekend (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/02). Which leads us to last night’s sad performance by cable’s Potemkin pundit, Chris Matthews. Poor Chris! He wouldn’t spend ten seconds with Coulter if he were allowed to decide for himself. But he’s in the game for the big dough. In his Hardball, he’s a willing team player.

And so we saw Potemkin efforts to criticize Coulter’s new book last night. Because it had been such a slow news week, the author was booked for a full half-hour. Matthews’ assignment? Pretend to challenge the things Coulter says, while never pushing any critique to anything like real completion.

First example: Even as he played some kiss-kiss-smooch, Matthews posed an obvious question:

MATTHEWS (7/27/06): You are a controversial lady, you write beautifully. You have a brilliant brain.

COULTER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: I stayed up last night reading your chapter on Willie Horton, which was absolutely stunning in its satire. It reminded me of the young George Will.

COULTER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: The question I have is, do you have a soul? I mean, really? I mean, look at the way you make fun of people, because not everybody is tall and lanky.

COULTER: From the Willie Horton chapter?

MATTHEWS: No, no. I’m asking you a question. You call Mike Dukakis—now, you don’t have to vote for Mike Dukakis. You call him the "midget Greek." Is it his fault he’s Greek?

In short, Matthews began with an obvious question—why does Coulter traffic in nasty and pointless ad hominem insults so much of the time? The trick, of course, is to raise the question without ever forcing the author to answer. Betraying the nine-year-old mind that she puts on display in her books, Coulter soon offered a hapless parry:
COULTER: Can we do something we haven’t done on this book tour yet, and that’s talk about the book than rather than the words I use? Can we talk about the book since you read some of it?
Yes, that’s what she actually said—several times. Coulter wanted to talk about her book “rather than the words she uses.” But Matthews was fully up to his task—the task of being bested in debate by a guest with a nine-year-old’s mind. Read his transcript to see the way he avoided forcing an answer to his simple opening question. Why would Coulter refer, in an insulting way, to Dukakis’ height and ancestry? This was a perfectly obvious question, given this author’s dim predilections. But Matthews skillfully found the way to allow poor Ann to avoid answering. (Best way to let a guest off the hook: Ask her serial questions on some topic, instead of sticking with just one good question. This gives her vastly more ways to change the subject and avoid what you’ve asked. Matthews, an experienced interviewer, knows this. Read the transcript, though; watch it occur.)

For us, the saddest part of Matthews’ performance involved the much-maligned “Jersey Girls.” By now, every half-wit on the planet has interviewed Coulter about her treatment of these women in her new book. Everyone knows what she’ll say when she’s challenged about it—and surely, Chris knows how stupid her stock statement is. Why did Coulter make sneering remarks about the state of these widows’ marriages? Why did she say that, for all we know, their husbands were about to divorce “these harpies?” Here’s what she told her host last night, just as she always does:

COULTER: What makes them experts, and the reason you have them on [TV] every night, is because of who they were married to. So the basis of their expertise is so absurd, I am illustrating that by saying, this would kind of punch a hole in it.
As always, she made her standard claim—the “Jersey Girls” got all that attention only because their husbands had died, only because they were widows. Obviously, that isn’t true—and one would assume that Matthews knows it. For example, Kristin Breitweiser has appeared on Hardball many times—and virtually every time she does, she is by far the smartest kid in the room. She knows much more about her subject than the typical cable pundit; as other victims of violence have sometimes done, she has assembled a mountain of expertise in response to her family’s tragedy. (Is John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted on TV all the time just because his son was murdered?) Is there any way Matthews doesn’t know that Breitweiser has real expertise? Is there any way he didn’t notice this during her superlative guest appearances? Probably not, but he also knew last evening’s rule—whatever you do, don’t put Ann in a corner. So the meek little burgher with the big island mortgage mouthed these weak words in reply:
MATTHEWS: "These harpies"—does that add to the knowledge of this discussion? Does that help us understand? Perhaps they are having a liberal agenda. I agree with you: they may have a liberal agenda. They may not be typical at all of the wives that lost husbands or husbands that lost wives.

COULTER: I don`t think so.

MATTHEWS: They have a point of view. But you have no knowledge of the marital condition of those people.

Did Breitweiser “have a liberal agenda?” Did pushing for a congressional investigation of 9/11 count as “having a liberal agenda?” As Matthews knows—but knew not to say—Breitweiser says she was a Republican who voted for Bush in Election 2000. But Matthews was careful not to say that. After all, he has big nuts to pay each month on his several mansions.

And so it went as a Potemkin pundit pretended to run a public discussion. So it went—as our public discourse was dragged down to the regions defined by those Multimillionaire Pundit Values. After all, Matthews will return to Nantucket this weekend, and he’ll have to hang with Jack at the club. How could he explain himself if he had said the things he actually knows or if he’d displayed the skills he possesses? He knew the rules! He just kept telling his guest—and she’s visibly nuts—that she’s really quite brilliant. (Amazing! On Hardball, it’s Coulter who’s the brilliant one—and it’s Breitweiser who has an agenda!)

For us, the evening’s most pitiful moment came right at the end, when Coulter strained to wrap with something outrageous. As we’ve mentioned, she’s a visible nut. She strained to get it in:

COULTER: Right, Kofi Annan and the U.N. peacekeepers have done a terrific job keeping the peace, and as you know, Israel mistakenly bombed some of them a few days ago. I think most Americans are looking at that and hoping they can hear about the installation on 42nd street.
Ha ha ha! Another top joke! Maybe Israel will bomb the UN building too! Yes, she strained to cram this in at the end—and her weak little host sat and took it.

But the most mordant moment had come before that, when Matthews pretended to challenge Coulter for daring to call Al Gore a “fag,” right there on the august program Hardball. How hard Chris pretended to be offended! And if you’re puzzled, just remember the rules: It was OK for Matthews to go on TV and say that Gore “doesn’t seem very American, even.” It was OK to lie about the Buddhist Temple, over and over, and over and over and over again. It was OK to say that Gore “would lick the bathroom floor to be president;” to call him a “bathtub ring” (forty times); and to say he was wearing three-button suits because, like a sailor with buttons on his fly, he was somehow trying to signal to women. All those dumb-ass things were OK—but daring to say that he was a fag? Now, that was just totally wrong!

Today, Chris jets to his house on Nantucket, the one he bought with his past jibes and lies. Last night, we saw the price the culture pays as he maintains his very large mortgage.

LET’S PLAY SPIN-THE BOTLE: Coulter is one of the biggest fools of the age. Her mental age does seem to be nine. Until she shows up on Hardball, that is, helping us figure out who’s a fag and hoping the UN building gets bombed. Then, it’s time to play spin-the-bottle. Here’s what a weak little man will do to live in a home near the swells:

MATTHEWS: You write beautifully. You have a brilliant brain.

COULTER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: I stayed up last night reading your chapter on Willie Horton, which was absolutely stunning in its satire. It reminded me of the young George Will.///

MATTHEWS: Look, you`re brilliant. You can choose any vocabulary word you want to.///

MATTHEWS: Your book is beautifully written, but you choose ethnic language.///

MATTHEWS: But the book is written so well, and then you get to these points, it’s like you said, now I’ll put it in. If I put the shiv in now, this book will really make noise and people like me will complain about it and you’ll sell another 100,000 copies.///

MATTHEWS: You have a book that`s going to do fabulously—it’s already doing fabulously—and it will do more because of it being on this program.///

MATTHEWS: I’m going to come back and talk about more with this brilliant writer. A brilliant writer—we`ll be back with Ann Coulter. [end of segment]

MATTHEWS: Well, you hear it—thanks, Ann. You’re great.

COULTER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: You heard it here—Ann Coulter. By the way, she’s back by popular demand. [end of segment]

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you, Ann. Thanks for coming on. And a smart lady, her book is called "Godless," sometimes being smart isn`t enough for civil discourse. We`d love to have her back. [end of appearance]

Al Gore will lick the bathroom floor? Boys and girls, can we all say “projection?”

Special report: How Big Dems get done!

PART 4—DEAN CARES: Oh, what’s the difference? That asked, we do recommend the “Preface” to John Dean’s new book, Conservatives Without Conscience, in which Dean discusses the 1991 book, Silent Coup—the best-seller which posed the pleasing idea that Watergate had really been all about some sort of call-girl ring. Dean displays a rare trait as he offers his discussion—the ability to be disturbed and surprised when people simply make things up and enter them into our public discourse. In the past fifteen years, our Major Dems have had a lot of history with that sort of thing—and liberal and Democratic elites have rarely seemed real troubled about it. Just this morning, Paul Krugman makes a reference to this troubling tradition in his Times column:

KRUGMAN (7/28/06): The people now running America never accept inconvenient truths. Long after facts they don't like have been established, whether it's the absence of any wrongdoing by the Clintons in the Whitewater affair or the absence of W.M.D. in Iraq, the propaganda machine that supports the current administration is still at work, seeking to flush those facts down the memory hole.

But it's dismaying to realize that the machine remains so effective.

Question: How many average Americans have ever really heard about “the absence of any wrongdoing by the Clintons in the Whitewater affair?” Very few, we’d have to guess. Even fewer have ever seen anyone ask the obvious question—where so many bogus Clinton scandal stories came from in the first place.

We were very struck by Dean’s “Preface,” because it seems to trouble him to think that people simply make things up—and it makes him want to know what process lies behind it. We can’t recommend the rest of his book, which seems to stretch the psychiatrization of modern politics beyond a point which is wise. (He goes well beyond Ann Coulter, and we don’t think he does it especially well.) But it’s too bad Dean doesn’t do a better job, because in his Preface, he asks—and seems to suggest—the questions people should be asking. Why are so many bogus tales now infesting our party politics? More specifically: Why did voters hear so much pure crap about Gore, then get taken by that laughable book by the Swift Boat Veterans four years later? These aren’t the examples Dean works with. But he’s starting to ask the right questions.

What lies behind these bogus tales? What kinds of people are making them up? Few career liberals have seemed to care—and that creates a perfect setting for making up more tales about Big Dems. No one spoke up in defense of Gore when the public heard tales about him. Why should voters be suspicious when they hear more weird tales about Kerry?

As we’ve said, the Swift Boat book—Unfit for Command—was a laughable, embarrassing mess. The endless shifting of their stories was a public disgrace; Eric Boehlert does a superlative job of laying that out in Lapdogs (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/27/06). But these episode seem to come and go, and very few people seem to be troubled by the pattern. Ten years later, for example, we still get to hear that Candidate Gore “collected campaign cash at the Buddhist temple.” Simply put, that isn’t true. But Democrats and career liberals don’t much seem to care.

It’s the law—you can say any damn thing you want about a Big Major Democrat. More precisely, you can say any damn thing you please and no one will much seem to care. That’s how Bush found his way to the White House—and it’s how John Kerry got sunk four years later. We were struck by Dean’s Preface (if not by the rest of his book) because he seems disturbed by the practice; because he wonders how such nonsense is happening; and because he seems to feel that the public ought to be warned about such breakdowns. Of course, that’s the take from a former Republican. As our hopefuls keep getting slandered, very few major Dems seem to care.