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HACK RAP! Want to know how the other side wins? Consider Matt’s post on the “hack gap:” // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 15, 2007

BAKER KNOWS SNARK: The Washington Post’s Peter Baker knows snark. In today’s paper, the gentleman passively-aggressively ends a Rove rumination like this:
BAKER (8/15/07): So, would a Clinton victory next year be a repudiation of Karl Rove politics or the perpetuation of them?
As the late Merv Griffin would have said, “Ooooohh.” Is Clinton “perpetuating” Karl Rove’s politics? No thought could inflame the net-roots more. Peter Baker, a weak little fellow, really knows how to pour on the snark.

And how to pour on the slick! In what way is Clinton said to be “perpetuating” Rove’s politics? Baker cites two sources. The first is GOP hit-gal Nicolle Wallace, at the start of his report:
BAKER (8/15/07): As he packs his desk just 15 steps from the Oval Office, Karl Rove says he will not join any 2008 presidential campaign. That's just as well because none of the Republican candidates presumably could afford the association even if they wanted his strategic smarts. Besides, none of them is running the campaign quite the way he would. The candidate who seems to be adopting his style and methods the most so far? Hillary Rodham Clinton.

At least that's what Nicolle Wallace thinks. The former Bush White House communications director, who worked closely with Rove, said that Clinton "has almost operationalized the whole idea of turning your weakness into strength, message discipline that is almost pathological—she does not get off message for any reason—and never skipping an opportunity to exploit her opponent's weaknesses.
Thoughtfully using the word “pathological,” the vacantly-smiling GOP talker lists three things Clinton is supposedly doing. Two of them are about as controversial as brushing your teeth when you turn in at night. The third—“never skipping an opportunity to exploit her opponent's weaknesses”—just sits there in Baker’s report, supported by zero examples.

And Baker continues. Good God, what a flyweight! In a sane world, what an embarrassment:
BAKER (continuing directly): Clinton's campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, seems to agree with that assessment, having effectively vowed to run her operation much as Rove did his two successful national campaigns. "She expresses admiration for the way George W. Bush's campaign team controlled its message, and, given her druthers, would run this race no differently," Michelle Cottle writes this month in New York magazine. " 'We are a very disciplined group, and I am very proud of it,' she says with a defiant edge.”
In Baker’s mind, Clinton’s campaign manager “seems to agree with Wallace’s assessment”—because she is quoted agreeing with one of the lady’s three points!

No, you can’t get dumber than that—or faker, or slicker, or more Bakeronian. Peter Baker is a weak little man—and God only knows about his “editor.” But go ahead! Just watch well-meaning people on the web take his well-crafted bait.

Postscript: Meanwhile, Dan Balz ends a generally straightforward interview piece on Obama with this peculiar assertion:
BALZ (8/15/07): During the interview, Obama softened his attacks on Washington lobbyists. He and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) take no money from Washington lobbyists, while Clinton does, and both have sharply criticized the power of lobbyists in shaping policies harmful to average Americans.

"The insurance and drug companies can have a seat at the table in our health-care debate; they just can't buy all the chairs," he said. "My argument is not that they are the source of all evil. My argument is that things are out of balance in Washington and that their influence is disproportionate."
In what way did Obama “soften his attack?” He has made the highlighted statement many times, including at the July 29 YouTube debate (quote below). Poor Balz! He thought Obama was flip-flopping on him! Instead, the hopeful was simply “controlling his message”—expressing his deep admiration for Karl Rove’s style and methods.

Here’s that weeks-old quote:
OBAMA (7/29/07): We've had a [health care] plan before, under a Democratic president in the '90s and a Democratic Congress. We couldn't get it done because the drug, insurance—drug and insurance companies are spending $1 billion over the last decade on lobbying. And that's why we've got to have a president who is willing to fight to make sure that they don't have veto power. They can have a seat at the table, but they can't buy every single chair when it comes to crafting the sort of universal health care that's going to help the folks that you saw in that video.
Baker and Balz are quite a tandem today! And this kind of work is done every day at the top of our upper-end “press corps!”

HOW ROVE BECAME A GENIUS: Here’s the sad part—John Judis is one of our brighter scribes. But the standards for the trade are quite low. Indeed, today’s reporter is happy to describe himself getting conned by political types. These strategists are then described as geniuses—for the way they toyed with the scribes.

Case in point: In this anecdote, Judis describes himself getting taken by Rove, who then gets praised for his brilliance. In other professions, you’d keep this stuff quiet. But reporters are happy to let the world know how easily they can be fooled:
JUDIS (8/14/07): Every political reporter has a Karl Rove story, and I have mine. I met Rove in Austin in 1995 when I was writing a profile of presidential aspirant Phil Gramm. Rove had done direct mail for Gramm's campaigns for Senate, and I expected nothing but praise for the senator. Rove did praise him, but he would occasionally interject a surprisingly critical note about Gramm. He said that people in Texas were "sick of being dunned for money" by Gramm. Gramm was, Rove said, "one of the least flexible men I've ever met in public policy." I left the interview very proud of myself for having cleverly extracted these candid admissions from a Gramm supporter. They went directly into my profile of Gramm. Several years later, I realized that Rove had known exactly what he was doing. He was already working for George W. Bush and had his eye on a Bush presidency in 2000 and didn't want to do anything to help a rival Texas politician.

In this incident—and in hundreds of others—Rove showed himself to be a master of political guile. In managing Bush's election in 2000 and reelection in 2004, he also showed himself to be an expert tactician.
Actually, no. In this incident, Rove showed the world how easy it was to deceive a stone-cold naif. Twelve years later, Judis is out there, boasting in public about the way he got tooken.

For the record, Rove had become Bush’s press spokesman by the summer of 1993. (He had long since stopped working for Gramm.) By 1995, he had helped Bush win the Texas state house. Apparently, it didn’t occur to Judis that Rove and Bush might have their eye on a larger prize.

To Judis, this makes Rove a “master.”

In 1999 and 2000, Rove took advantage of these marks once again. He proved that a Texas Republican could win the White House—if mainstream journalists were willing to recite every piece of crap the RNC gave them. For twenty straight months, the press corps sang each RNC song. (Al Gore was raised at the Ritz! Al Gore said he inspired Love Story!) After two years of this absolute nonsense, the lads just knew it! Karl Rove was an “expert tactician,” brightest man in the land.

Earth tones were easy: It isn’t hard to be a “political genius” when the mainstream press corps is willing to buy every piece of bull-sh*t you hand them. How compliant was America’s “press corps” by November 1999? We recommend this post by Matt Yglesias, in which Matt quotes an anecdote from Jonathan Chait’s forthcoming book. Sorry—it isn’t hard to be a genius when the press is performing like this.

How typical was the conduct Chait describes? Let’s put it this way: Our (mostly-written) book on the coverage of Campaign 2000 was planned at roughly 400 pages. (Sixteen chapters, 10,000 words each.) This incident—which is well worth reviewing—didn’t make the cut.

In our view, you’d have to write an 800-page book to do full justice to the press corps’ clowning as it conducted its War Against Gore. The incident described by Chait is pathetic. But it was very much par for the course as Rove became a political genius—thanks to the clowning of marks and rubes who were much more easy than Judis.

HACK RAP: Meanwhile, you have to admire Yglesias’ frankness in this second, deeply significant post. If you’re smart, you’ll also realize that this post explains the ongoing success of those right-wing noise and distraction machines.

Poor Matt! He notes “the contrast between the attention paid” to misstatements by liberals and conservatives. Please note: He doesn’t quite identify the guilty parties—the people who are directing this disproportionate attention to misstatements by liberals. But he understands the crucial way this “hack gap” affects our politics. Indeed, it’s “very important,” he says. He says it decides our elections:
YGLESIAS: This is what I've referred to as the "hack gap" and it seems to me that it's very important. The nature of two-party democracy is that elections are decided by the small minority of the public too confused or too ill-informed to realize that there are persistent, substantial differences between the two federal political parties. As a result, the issues (or, more likely, pseudo-issues) that are most important in deciding elections tend to be the issues that are least important in substantive terms.
Due to this unexplained “hack gap,” pseudo-issues tend to decide our elections. We’ve been discussing such issues forever. But guess what? As we continue, we learn that Matt doesn’t want to waste his time on these decisive pseudo-issues. Darlings, the lovely shall be choosers! Matt would rather spend his time working on things that he finds “interesting.” The gentleman wants an “appealing” way to spend his valuable time:
YGLESIAS (continuing directly): As a writer, though, I'd rather spend my time writing about things that I think are important or at least interesting. Harping away on haircuts, Bykofsky's appalling column, the way George W. Bush lied to the American public about what kind of cheese he likes on his cheesesteak (really!), etc. doesn't seem like an appealing way to spend my time. But the fact that the right has an army of people willing to pretend that this sort of thing is the most important thing in the world is a massive, massive impediment to having sensible policies about national security, taxes, health care, global warming, etc.
Darlings! Haircuts and earth tones decide our elections—and, thereby, the fate of the world. Their pre-eminence is also “a massive, massive impediment to having sensible policies about national security, taxes, health care, global warming.” But so what? Matt would rather spend his time writing about the things that are interesting! Writing about things that decide our elections “doesn't seem like an appealing way” for Matt “to spend [his] time.”

As we’ve said, you have to admire the frankness. But we’ll ask you to note a key point again: Note the way Matt fails to define the “army of people willing to pretend” that earth tones and cheesesteaks and haircuts do matter. In fact, this army includes the bulk of the mainstream press corps—including the pay-masters who will make Matt rich. At present, for example, Matt writes for the semi-right-leaning Atlantic, which has become famous for its high salaries ever since moderate conservative David Bradley took charge of the venerable mag. Matt will be paid quite well, by various orgs, as he avoids the things which decide our elections and writes instead about the things that he finds appealing and interesting. And the people who pay him that money are the very people who have endlessly pushed the pseudo-issues that decide our elections. They’re the people he fails to identify in this otherwise honest report.

According to Matt, “the right has an army of people willing to pretend that this sort of thing is the most important thing in the world.” But as these people always seem to do, he absent-mindedly forgets to say that this “army” includes the bulk of the mainstream press—including his future pay-masters.

But darlings, the lovely shall be choosers! They’ll stroll out of college and seek the good jobs—and they’ll walk away from your interests. Our analyst laughed last night (till they cried) as they read about Matt’s desire to write about the things he finds interesting. Good God! In the past nine years, we have bored ourselves to tears writing about this absolute horse-sh*t—this horse-sh*t which has changed all our lives! But boys like Matt just keep walking away. They want to dig into the deep stuff.

If you want to know how the other side wins, we suggest you read this post very carefully. This post explains why the Very Serious Young People stayed politely silent during Campaign 2000, even as we did their work for them concerning those earth tones and all those fake quotes. (Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!) As the darlings kept their distance, that right-wing distraction machine changed votes—and it sent George Bush to the White House. Indeed, in the post we’ve linked to today, Matt himself accepts this analysis: “The issues (or, more likely, pseudo-issues) that are most important in deciding elections tend to be the issues that are least important in substantive terms.”

Huh! But if you want to know why we’re in Iraq, consider Matt’s longing for things he finds interesting. And consider the very appealing pay-days awaiting the world’s bright young hacks.

THINGS WE’D RATHER BE SPENDING OUR TIME ON: Huh! “The Lovely Shall be Choosers” isn’t on-line. For the best we can do, just click here.