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CHANGE IN THE WEATHER! Matthews played a famous old card. But Joe and Liz just wouldn’t go there: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, AUGUST 4, 2005

GLOBAL WARRING: Apparently, George Bush didn’t want to go in the books as a “global struggle against violent extremism president.” Yesterday, he dialed the lingo back to “war on terror.” Richard Stevenson reports the change in the Times. But then, the change in framing was so pronounced that even Brit Hume reported it:
HUME (8/3/05):Welcome to Washington. I'm Brit Hume. President Bush today put an end to an apparent effort within his administration to recast his war on terror as something else, although there have been a few public glimpses of the linguistic debate. Fox News has learned more about what went on behind the scenes. Fox News chief White House correspondent Carl Cameron has the story.
The global struggle against violent extremism? It’s hard to argue “intelligent design” while your word-shop is churning out clunkers like that one. As with an earlier verbal monstrosity—“weapons of mass destruction-related program activities”—the president knew what he had to do. He took a red pencil and killed it.

Meanwhile, letters pour into the New York Times about the new “design” dust-up. Our team of analysts mordantly chuckled when they read a post from Dingle, Ireland. The writer said he believes in evolution—but he believes in design as well:

NEW YORK TIMES LETTER (8/4/05): As an American Catholic, I believe that the evidence for a creator God is also overwhelming and that we and the universe are far too complex and wonderful just to have happened by accident.
Ah yes—humankind’s oldest assessment: “We are far too wonderful to have happened by accident!” It’s the ultimate pleasing tale, one that humans have always loved. And of course, it’s a measure of our poorly-“designed” human reason that we’re so quick to accept it.

BAD NEWS BARRISTERS: Meanwhile, even the kids are rushing to judgment about poor Raffy Palmeiro. In today’s “KidsPost” section of the Washington Post, Fern Shen quotes a raft of summer campers—kids who should spend less time singing campfire songs and more time boning up on the rules of evidence. “One Strike and You’re Out,” the headline reads, taking a shot at these young know-it-alls. One kid even seems to think that this whole thing is funny:

SHEN (8/4/05): The campers had heard Palmeiro's partial explanation—that he did not "knowingly" take the steroid—and they weren't buying it.
"It's not like he was sleeping and somebody came into his house and put the steroids into him," Sam [Muslin] said, rolling his eyes.
Just what we need! One more 12-year-old getting cheap laughs—and thinking he’s ready for “Conan.”

It’s not like info isn’t emerging. In today’s Times, Duff Wilson quotes an expert—not that these kids were willing to wait before they leaped to conclusions:

WILSON (8/4/05): Palmeiro said he must have accidentally ingested the drug. But medical experts say that stanozolol is almost always used in injectable form and would not show up from a contaminated vitamin or other pill. It is legal as an injectable animal steroid.

''There is no chance stanozolol could be in an adulterated pill,'' said Dr. Gary Wadler, a New York University professor and steroids expert.

On Tuesday’s Hardball, Jose Canseco helpfully suggested that Raffy might not be using now. “I do not believe right now that Rafael Palmeiro is taking steroids, not right now,” he said. The positive test may have been an unfortunate blast from the past:
MATTHEWS (8/2/05): Are you surprised that Mr. Palmeiro has been tested positive for steroid use?

CANSECO: I am not surprised, because, even if Palmeiro has not used steroids of late, steroids tend to, depending on how long you`ve used them, what type of steroids you`ve actually used and what other steroids you`ve mixed them with, oral-based or water based, seem to have a very stubborn metabolite that lasts in the system a very long time. For example, if an individual takes steroids four or five years ago in the actual past, it could show up in drug testing today.

MATTHEWS: How did you learn that? How do we know about how long a steroid stays in your system, Jose?

CANSECO: Well, we know that it stays in your system a very long time. We don`t know exactly how long it stays in your system. For example, I was caught under the same situation, where I was under house arrest. I was then tested for steroids and a metabolite was found in my system. I was incarcerated for almost four months before they realized that they had no evidence and then set me free.

This is “helpful,” but only to Congress. It would mean that Raffy was lying to them when he testified back in March.

Meanwhile, back at camp, kids are still being taught the old values. Finally, Shen got around to quoting a kid with something uplifting to say:
SHEN (continuing directly from above): The kids said Palmeiro should have known that it wasn't right to cheat and lie. That's something they've known since preschool.

"Our parents tell us never to do this stuff. It's wrong, it's cheating," said Cameron Kostyack, 11, of Washington.

The coaches say "there's other ways to be good in baseball," said Ruben Deleon, 8, of Silver Spring, "like, by practicing and trying hard."

You can be good by trying hard. Note that Shen had to talk to the 8-year-old kids before she got someone to say it.

A CHANGE IN THE WEATHER: Topic: “Hillary Clinton plays to the American center. Will she lose the outspoken left?” This formulation comes from the web site of the Chris Matthews Show; it represents the second topic discussed on last Sunday’s program. And yes, it’s a standard type of formulation for discussion of Dem White House hopefuls. Ever since the press lost its mind in pursuit of Bill Clinton’s troubling ways, TV pundits have responded robotically to claims that Big Dems are two-faced phonies. In Campaign 2000, Al Gore was constantly “reinventing himself” (even when he re-aired a biographical ad)—and four years later, Candidate Kerry was always said to be “flip-flopping.” In the TV pundit corps, people agreed to apply these themes in all situations. And if you watch Fox, it’s still like that today. Here was Dick Morris, laying it down on a recent Hannity & Colmes:

MORRIS (5/31/05): Hillary Clinton is one of the most competent and able politicians this country has produced. She's also one of the phoniest. But she has successfully persuaded people that she's a hawk—even though for eight years, when I knew her, she was a dove. That she's a conservative and a moderate—even though when I knew her, she was way over left. That she's not partisan, she gets along with the other side—even though she would authorize the death penalty for them when I knew her at the White House.

So, either this woman has had a genuine conversion, which I doubt, or she is proving Abraham Lincoln right. You can fool some of the people all of the time.

Speaking of fooling some of the people, Hannity quickly jumped into the fray. Morris had just recalled telling Hillary, back in the White House, that she had “become a Communist:”
HANNITY: This rewriting of Hillary's history is interesting. And it's funny and it's absurd. Only the hard-core left wingers believe it.

MORRIS: Or those who have had severe blows to the head. Took care of their memory.

HRC is a two-faced phony! The theme typified pundit assessment of Gore, then Kerry. It continues today on Fox.

But what a surprise we got this Sunday when Matthews gave his pundit panel a chance to run with this favorite old saw! When the discussion about Hillary’s “hopscotching toward the political center” began, Matthews threw to Kelly O’Donnell—and O’Donnell, more a reporter than a pundit, bored him silly with a fact-based reply which betrayed few interpretational themes. So Matthews turned to pundit Joe Klein. “What spooked Hillary?” he asked. “What made her worry about her very strong pro-abortion, pro-secularist sort of image?” For years, it’s been the perfect throw—a set-up every pundit ran with. But uh-oh! Klein played dumb today. He refused to give what was asked for:

MATTHEWS: What spooked Hillary? What made her worry about her very strong pro-abortion, pro-secularist sort of image?

KLEIN: Well, I think that has been consistent with her—“safe, legal and rare.” I don’t think there’s any change here at all. There was a change in her rhetoric in the speech she made in January, respecting people on the other side. But it’s real important to note there has not been a substantial change here...

Say what? For a decade, pundits always knew where to run with this throw—they always knew to have some fun pretending that Gore had “reinvented” again, or that Kerry was again flip-flop-flipping. But incredibly, Klein walked away from the past. “It’s real important to note there has not been a substantial change here,” he said. Surprised—perhaps a little bit hurt—Matthews now turned to Elisabeth Bumiller. “Most people go, this woman’s a big government liberal,” he said. “Isn’t that what she’s trying to change?” There—surely, the desired script was clear now! But Bumiller didn’t want to play either:
BUMILLER: Well, she’s been moving that way for a long, long time. It’s not just in the last six months or a year. I mean, you look at the New York Times editorials criticizing her on her position on welfare reform in the last few years. I mean, she’s been moving that way for the last few years. And I would agree with Joe, certainly, that her position on abortion is not that different. And it also conveniently happens to be where most of the country is right now. You know, she’s with the majority of the country on that position.
What the f*ck? Was Chris’ mike on? He tried, one more time, to make Bumiller see. “But the people you meet in Democratic Party headquarters...are all pro-choicers and pretty tough pro-secularists too,” the desperate host said. “Does she have those people now? She can move to the center because she’s got them locked?” There! Surely everyone knew what he wanted now! But Bumiller still wouldn’t go there:
BUMILLER: Well, she’s always had those people. And in terms of a secularist, Hillary is one person who can talk about religion as she did when she was in the White House.
What the “Al Gore doesn’t seem very American” f*ck? But the deadly Rule of Three had been met, and Matthews, a professional, limply surrendered. “Enough of this argument,” the defeated host said, although there hadn’t been much of an “argument.” Instead, everyone had simply ignored or rejected the tired old script he’d suggested.

Our long-suffering analysts were quite struck by this unusual discussion. When had it ever happened? they asked. When’s the last time a pundit panel passed on the chance to batter Big Dems for their phony, two-faced positions? First, the national press had made fools of themselves accusing Gore of “reinvention.” Then, with Kerry, they had more fun exploring his flip-flopping ways. (For old time’s sake, they even invented that fake NASCAR “quote,” as they’d done so often with Gore.) But suddenly, nobody wanted to say that Hillary was a big two-faced phony. Over on Fox, the script still plays. But the pundits brushed Matthews away.

Our interpretation of this odd moment: We’re wondering if a fever has broken. The two-year trashing of Candidate Gore resulted from the press corps’ war against Clinton; his ten blow jobs had driven them wild, and they took it out on his vile successor. No, they didn’t treat Kerry as badly, but they still were all too happy to adopt the RNC “flip-flop” framework. But here’s our guess: At long last, the mainstream press has noticed something: The Bush II reign has been a disaster. And this disaster has been so extreme that they’re even dropping their famous preference for a certain tired old script. To our ear, Matthews wanted to play an old game. But Klein and Bumiller just wouldn’t go, suggesting that a different day may be dawning for major Dem hopefuls. Unless McCain gets the Rep nod, of course.

FIRST GLIMMER: Back in March, Matthews began to observe this new morning. He chatted with Cokie Roberts:

MATTHEWS (3/3/05): Over 60 percent of the American people in every category, Cokie, in every category, men, women, left, right, center, believe—are convinced now that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic candidate for president.

ROBERTS: And she`s clearly the person to beat on the Democratic side. And I have noticed in the last couple of weeks, Chris, a new kind of Hillary popular wisdom going around here in Washington, which is that suddenly it`s not that she`s going to be bad for the party. She`s the obvious person for the party. And she`s moved to the center. And she`s tough. And she`s—

MATTHEWS: Witchcraft! There`s witchcraft going on.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Everybody`s brain is being turned in a matter of two weeks from “I hate that woman” to “wonderful woman.” Is this witchcraft, do you think?

ROBERTS: No, I don`t think it`s witchcraft.

Frankly, Matthews was puzzled. In his crowd, he was used to hearing, “I hate that woman” when the question of Clinton came up. Now he was hearing a different tune. Cokie assured him—no witchcraft was involved. So he played his second card. As is standard, he mocked Gore and Kerry:
MATTHEWS: Could it be that, standing next to Gore and Kerry, she looks delightful?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! He played a cable pander-card. If at first you don’t succeed, offer cheap laughs about Gore and Kerry.

Poor Chris! Remember what a great ride it’s been, sliming people like Kerry and Gore? Gore, who “didn’t seem very American, even?” Who “doesn’t even look like one of us?” On Sunday, this cheap, phony man may have met a new world—one that may be a bit more fair to people less worthless than Bush.