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TUESDAY, AUGUST 10, 2010

Greta crawls over broken glass: People will crawl over broken glass to get their hands on the fabulous sums paid to our cable “news” hosts. This thought ran through the analysts’ heads as they watched Greta Van Susteren open her program last evening.

If memory is serving us correctly, Fox hasn’t posted the program’s full opening on Nexis. If memory serves, we recall a number of ambiguous statements at the start of the show about who actually paid for Michelle Obama’s recent trip to Spain. At Nexis, the transcript opens as Van Susteren greets eager beaver Peter Nicholas, initiating a very long segment about the first lady’s trip. (We find no transcript or tape at Fox.)

Even here, we’d have to say the collection of “facts” about who paid was perhaps a bit ambiguous—although this sort of clowning about the cost of plane trips has long been de rigueur in discussing players in both major parties:

VAN SUSTEREN (8/9/10): Tonight: Well, they might not teach you everything at the Ivy League schools!

The first lady's fancy European vacation—smart or dumb? Well, first let's get the facts. Joining us live is Peter Nicholas, White House correspondent for the Tribune Washington bureau. The bureau serves the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun and other papers, as well. Good evening.

NICHOLAS: Nice to see you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's start with this trip. How many days was it?

NICHOLAS: It was a five-day trip. The plane took off from Washington on Tuesday, landed in Spain on Wednesday. And after lunch with the king and queen of Spain, the first lady and her daughter flew home.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, how many people were traveling with her?

NICHOLAS: Well, the first lady's daughter, Sasha, was traveling with her. When they arrived in Spain, they were joined by a couple of friends of the first lady's and three children. So it was a total of about five friends of the family who were there. On top of that, there were also some White House aides, and of course, a contingent of Secret Service.

VAN SUSTEREN: The first family pays for a portion of this trip because some of it is personal, as opposed to private?

NICHOLAS: That's correct. The first family will pay for equivalent of round-trip first class airfare and then will also pay for their hotel, which is not cheap. The rates at that hotel are $400 to $6,500. So they'll pay for that, and also their meals. And then the government will pick up the expenses of government personnel on the trip.

VAN SUSTEREN: So give us some sort of idea. They paid about $7400 per ticket for—personally, the first lady and for her daughter.

NICHOLAS: Right. That's correct.

VAN SUSTEREN: And then how much does it cost to run this Air Force plane?

NICHOLAS: The Air Force plane costs about $11,500 an hour to operate. And so, given that it's about an eight-hour—seven, seven-and-a-half, eight-hour flight to Spain, probably costs a total of about $180,000.

VAN SUSTEREN: There's the one issue in terms of the cost and what the taxpayers pay. And of course, the first family paid their portion. But there's also the sort of the political aspect, the PR aspect.

NICHOLAS: Right.

“The first family pays for a portion of this trip?” The first family pays for the whole darn thing, except for the fact that they are required to fly on Air Force planes. This ambiguity is constantly flogged in our low-IQ culture’s discussion of such trips.

One more news flash: First families, past and president, don’t pay for their Secret Service protection! (Sorry—for “the expenses of government personnel on the trip.”) Hacks like Van Susteren frequently run us rubes about such confusing distinctions.

Van Susteren beat this story to death, then beat it some more, with sticks—first with the very eager Nicholas, then with Kirsten Powers. As we’ve said, we believe that the transcript has deleted some opening gambits about who paid, although we could be wrong.

Van Susteren’s evolution at Fox has been a strange thing to see. We simply don’t know Van Susteren’s politics, but her husband, John Coale, was, for decades, and still is, a major Democratic fund-raiser. It’s possible that Van Susteren had some other political leaning—or no political leaning at all. But ever since her program’s subject matter changed, turning from tabloid crime to politics, she has thrown herself into the mix at Fox, adopting the channel’s take on events. For some reason, we were especially struck by the clowning—and by the misleading presentation—at the start of last night’s program.

Cable hosts will crawl over glass to get their hands on the fame and the money. One word of caution: Liberal hosts, and liberal editors, will crawl on that broken glass too.

Special report: Bombs away!

PART TWO—PLANET OF THE SWELLS (permalink): Here at THE HOWLER, the analysts cheered when Digby discussed Rush Limbaugh and race in this brief Monday post.

Limbaugh had authored his latest pitiful claim, showing his need to make every transaction be about so-called race. But Digby didn’t unloose an R-bomb, the simplest move a liberal can make. Instead, the high-rated blogger “used her words,” setting the stage for a longer discussion—a discussion which might even appeal to average voters who aren’t deep inside our own tribe.

With apologies for transmitting Rush’s obsessions, this is what Digby wrote:

DIGBY (8/5/10): Limbaugh's contribution to the wing-nut hoopla around Michelle Obama's vacation is to say that liberals and the media are being soft on her because we believe our "slave past" means she deserves a "taste of the wealth of America.”

I'd love to know if there is even one liberal in America who thinks that Michelle Obama should have a trip to Spain because she's black and deserves a taste of American wealth. It certainly never occurred to me to think of it in those terms, but it's interesting that Rush went there. It appears that he thinks liberals see everything the Obamas do in terms of the black experience, which may say more about him than it does about us.

This foolishness may say more about Rush than it does about us? Plainly, that is the case. But Digby’s basic framework here would appeal to many Americans, of many persuasions, of different ages, in various parts of the country. Many Americans have come to see that they don’t want the world to be chained to race in the ways evil history dumped on our heads. They want to take the step beyond that—have already been taking such steps. These people are found all over the country. Many such people are not “on our side,” a point Frank Rich correctly noted in his July 4 column:

RICH (7/4/10): [T]he news in New York was preceded by happier tidings from South Carolina, where the flag of the Confederacy still flies at the state Capitol. Republican primary voters there gave victories both to an African-American candidate for Congress, Tim Scott, and an Indian-American gubernatorial hopeful, Nikki Haley. Liberals have argued that these breakthroughs come with a caveat: Scott and Haley are often ideologically to the right of even their conservative competitors. True enough, but that doesn't alter the reality that some very conservative white voters in the land of Strom Thurmond did not let any lingering racial animus override their other convictions. They voted for Haley, the daughter of Sikh immigrants, despite the urging of a local G.O.P. official that they reject a ''raghead.”

Scott's victory had an added irony because he defeated Thurmond's son.

We rarely cheer Rich, but we made an exception this time, even as he added a grouchy disclaimer: “But we shouldn't read too much into these results from low-turnout primaries.” Are you kidding? “Low turnout primaries”—the kind of primaries which turn out a party’s “base?” Good lord! Haley got 233,000 votes, swamping her white male opponent. Scott got 25,000 votes—more than those received by his two principal opponents combined (the sons of Thurmond and former governor Carroll Campbell). We shouldn’t “read too much” into any event, but Rich’s disclaimer about the low turnout was pretty silly—a sop to us pseudo-liberals. You see, we white liberals sometimes have a rather perverse relation to race. We sometimes refuse to take yes for an answer. We don’t want to give up the self-glorying card we have played so long and so poorly.

Most people don’t want the world of Rush Limbaugh—but when we drop our R-bombs around, we sometimes make such people scatter. This brings us to Howard Dean’s latest attempt to call the roll about race.

Good lord, but we liberals are willing to settle for miserable representation!

Dean appeared on last Thursday’s Countdown, poorly prepared as always. He was asked about a new Democratic strategy, in which Republican candidates would be linked to positions taken within the Tea Party. On the plus side, Dean broke new ground for this cable program, on which the prevailing analysis has long been that the Tea Party is nothing but a group of “redneck racists” whose “limbic brains” aren’t working correctly. But even as Dean threw this theory down the stairs, he authored his latest fumbling attempt to describe this group:

OLBERMANN (8/5/10): Pressing for the Republicans to declare their stance on the Tea Party and Tea Party issues. Is it a good idea or is there a boomerang in there?

DEAN: It probably is a good idea because I’m sure they’ve polled for it. Here’s the problem with the Tea Party: There are really two Tea Parties. There are a bunch of people in the Tea Party that are reasonable, thoughtful people who are really worried about the deficits.

There are also a lot of people in the Tea Parties who carry signs and saying Obama is a Nazi. And [chuckling] it was somebody today said the marriage thing out in California was Soviet-style takeover of marriage. I mean, these people—you know, this is exactly what middle-of-the-road people, this is why they abandoned the Republican Party to elect President Obama.

To watch this full segment, click this.

Question: Are there “a bunch of people in the Tea Party that are reasonable, thoughtful people who are really worried about the deficits?” Presumably yes, though it all depends on what the meaning of “a bunch” is. On the other hand: Are there really “a lot of people” carrying signs saying Obama is a Nazi? That’s a very strong bit of denigration, rather casually tossed on the pile by a very casual player. From there, a chuckling Dean moved to an anecdote—an anecdote in which “somebody today said the marriage thing out in California was Soviet-style takeover of marriage.” For the record, he was apparently referring to Maggie Gallagher, a long-time conservative columnist/activist, past president of the National Organization for Marriage, a conservative group which opposes same-sex marriage. (You know? Like Obama? And Hillary Clinton?) That morning, Gallagher’s newest column had appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. It included a passage which Dean overstated, giving us rubes a good laugh.

Gallagher has been expressing very conservative social views for a very long time now. As far as we know, she has no particular connection to any Tea Party group, although we could be wrong about that. Nor did she say that same-sex marriage “was Soviet-style takeover of marriage,” but the claim made for good entertainment.

In these comments, Dean tossed off a very casual overview of the Tea Party movement. Just a guess: It’s unlikely he knew who he was talking about when he made his remark about Gallagher. But then, Dean is typically poorly prepared when he comes on TV to discuss such issues. And soon, he was calling the roll of the racists, as he did in the aftermath of the Shirley Sherrod matter—an episode in which he embarrassed himself by being so poorly prepared.

Dean always knows who the racists are—and he always knows who they aren’t! Olbermann didn’t even prompt him in this; he began calling roll by himself. And when he did, he helped define certain rules of the road. To wit: No one from Howard Dean’s class is a racist. But millions of mere rabble are:

OLBERMANN: So, there are two goals here in the midterms that we’ve been able to identify so far on the part of the Democrats, which is one, to equate the Republicans to the Tea Party, and to equate these Republicans to the previous Republicans who occupied the White House, which would be Bush. But is there, does the transitive property apply here? If you’re comparing them both to the Tea Party and to Bush, are you comparing the Tea Party to Bush, and does that work?

DEAN: It sort of does. You know, the Bush family—actually, the President Bush’s father, who I thought was—I understood the presidency, he was a decent president, even though I didn’t agree with him on a lot of— But they both have relied on this far-right wing.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

DEAN: President Bush Sr. was certainly not a racist, nor do I think his son was, but they both didn’t mind appealing to the racist elements of the Republican Party in order to win, or the extremist elements in the Republican Party. Let’s not forget that H.W. Bush was pro-choice before he had to be anti-choice when he was selected as Ronald Reagan`s running mate.

So, you know, these guys, they take advantage—they are personally not Tea Party people but they certainly don’t mind having the fringe support. And they certainly aren’t mainstream Tea Party people who are really upset about deficits and did not vote for the Republicans because of what they did to the deficit.

Without prompting, Dean began dropping his R-bombs around. And just that quickly, we were transported to Howard Dean’s “planet of the swells.”

This was the third recent TV program in which Dean began calling the roll of the racists—tossing around the most aggressive claim that exists in American politics. And have you noticed the rules of the game when Dean starts dropping his R-bombs? Here they are: No named person from Dean’s elite class ever turns out to be a racist. But he will routinely suggest that many members of the rabble are racist.

So far, Dean has passed judgment on four named people. All four come from Dean’s high station. None of the four are racists:

Newt Gingrich isn’t a racist. (Fox News Sunday, 7/26/10)
Chris Wallace certainly isn’t a racist. (Fox News Sunday, 7/26/10)
George H. W. Bush certainly wasn’t a racist. (Countdown, 8/5/10)
George W. Bush wasn’t a racist. (Countdown, 8/5/10)

Dean is quick to let us know that these high-ranking people aren’t racists, even when they play race cards in the most egregious fashion, as George H. W. Bush did in 1988. For ourselves, we don’t have a problem with that evaluation, though we don’t know who appointed Dean to call the roll for all the rest of us mortals. But while Dean is quick to give a pass to race card-players in the GOP, he is constantly suggesting or saying that millions of other people are racist—as long as they are average people, or people with no known names. “Fox News” is racist, he boldly said, without naming anyone’s name. (Did he mean Hannity? O’Reilly? Why won’t he say?) More importantly, millions of average voters seem to be racist, or so he routinely suggests in his sweeping characterizations of those who don’t come from his class. You see, Dean is from old money, and he’s from Yale—and so are both the Bushes. Dean is a famous political celebrity—and so is Gingrich, who plays every race card “Fox News” deals, except he plays them harder.

Darlings! Dean is from Yale, and so are the Bushes—and so, by law, they can’t be racist! But he drops implied R-bombs on everyone else, in a very casual manner.

This is very bad on the merits. Beyond that, it’s the dumbest possible way to do politics—to seek the votes of all those “reasonable, thoughtful people who are really worried about the deficits.” It’s also an ugly, unintelligent way to pimp yourself out about race.

Throughout this appearance, Dean and Olbermann seemed to define a new political theory about the Tea Party. Olbermann plainly joined Dean at one point, agreeing that some members of the Tea Party are “middle-of-the-road, ordinary Americans,” agreeing that Democrats should “pursue them as voters, literally ask for their votes, because the fiscal responsibility that those who are genuinely interested in that topic are claiming as their raison d’etre clearly is not in the Republican manifesto at the moment.” We tend to agree with that approach, which Olbermann even expressed in French—but it’s quite a departure for KO, who was mocking this entire group as redneck, racist and brain-damaged just one year ago. But if you’re going to seek the votes of some in this group—and by extension, of others among their families and friends—why would you want to go on TV and toss your R-bombs all around, in such indiscriminate fashion?

We’ve always liked Dean around here, but the high-class fellow is simply hopeless when it comes to matters like these. In his statement to Olbermann (see above), Dean indiscriminately equated “this far right-wing” with “the Tea Party,” and he quickly implied that “this far right-wing” is racist. No one from his own high class ever turns out to be racist—but Dean is willing to go on TV and imply that millions of little people are, throwing our most serious charge all about in a most indiscriminate fashion.

Digby offered an approach to Limbaugh’s bad faith which could appeal to centrist voters. By way of contrast, Dean began throwing the R-bomb around, in a way which is almost guaranteed to drive such people away. This country is full of decent people who are taking the next, decent steps about race. It’s also full of players like Dean—pseudo-liberals who love the thrill of throwing that R-bomb around.

We liberals simply love dropping that bomb; it thrills our souls, which drip with bad faith. And darlings! On the planet of the Deans, the R-bomb can’t be applied to the swells! It will quite routinely be dropped on the mob, in a most indiscriminate fashion.

Tomorrow: Some good (implied) questions from Digby