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Daily Howler: Rick Perlstein would make an excellent wing-nut, several crazed analysts said
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THE LIBERAL STAIN! Rick Perlstein would make an excellent wing-nut, several crazed analysts said: // link // print // previous // next //

Paul Krugman and the half-hour weekend: In the 1980s, we owned and operated Charm City Comedy Club with our comedy colleague, Dan Rosen. The gang developed a custom, known as “the half-hour weekend.” On Saturday nights, the midnight show would end at 1:30. From there, we’d stampede up Charles Street to Gampy’s, beating the 1:40 last call and ordering two Long Island (or Long Beach) Iced Teas. By law, liquor came off tables at 2 o’clock. The half-hour weekend was over.

(Bill Scheft always said there was nothing like Gampy’s in all of Manhattan. For years, he served as Dave’s top writer.)

We thought of the “half-hour weekend” when we read Paul Krugman’s column this morning. In his first 700 words (pre-correction), you see the health care discussion which has never appeared in the mainstream press: You might call his piece “the 700-word decade.” (Give or take five years.) In today’s column, you see all the topics the liberal world has failed—no, refused—to discuss in the fifteen years since the Clinton plan failed. Be sure to search on “40 percent” for the most remarkable undiscussed fact.

(Note: Krugman himself discussed these topics in a series of columns in 2006. The liberal world hid in the woods.)

Why is larger reform doomed to fail? In large part, because our liberal journals and “intellectual leaders” have avoided developing frameworks of understanding about the world’s health care systems. Today, you can see the whole non-existent discussion outlined in 700 words.

This failure was no mistake, of course. Your “leaders” were actually sitting around hoping for future jobs at the Post. For that reason, they had to show they were Very Serious People. Inside the world of Insider Washington Journalism, Serious People don’t discuss the facts found in Krugman’s column.

Minor irony: We liberals keep accepting these gross betrayals—as we call the other side “stupid!” Tomorrow, we’ll start a series of reports about the facts our “liberal leaders” know they mustn’t discuss.

Least outraged person in the world: Last Friday, Krugman suggested a need for “outrage” from President Obama. He was looking for ways to stop the downward spiral afflicting health care reform:

KRUGMAN (8/14/09): What then should Mr. Obama do? It would certainly help if he gave clearer and more concise explanations of his health care plan. To be fair, he's gotten much better at that over the past couple of weeks.

What's still missing, however, is a sense of passion and outrage—passion for the goal of ensuring that every American gets the health care he or she needs, outrage at the lies and fear-mongering that are being used to block that goal.

Where’s the outrage, Krugman asked. Outrage at “the lies and fear-mongering” being used to defeat reform.

If it’s “outrage” Krugman seeks, he’d best stay away from Fred Hiatt.

Hiatt is the Washington Post’s editorial page editor. When it comes to Krugman’s “lies and fear-mongering,” Hiatt may well be the least outraged person in the world. Consider last Friday’s editorial about this very topic.

On the merits of end-of-life planning, the editorial was high-minded, even erudite. It even referred to the recent claims about end-of-life planning as “demagoguery.” But the Post conjured amazingly little outrage against the people involved in this “demagoguery.” In paragraph one, the Post did manage to name Sarah Palin. But where was the outrage? It whipped her with a very wet noodle:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (8/14/09): The debate over health reform has veered into a peripheral and misleading discussion of whether it includes a scheme to pressure senior citizens into pulling the plug. The most extreme misrepresentation has "death panels," as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin colorfully put it, deciding who is too old or too disabled to merit treatment. This is a distorted interpretation, to say the least. The debate threatens sensible policy on end-of-life discussions and in the separate realm of reforming the health-care system.

Palin had offered “a distorted misrepresentation, to say the least,” the Post said. We wondered why the board would choose to say the least, rather than the most accurate. Yes, Palin stands accused of a “misrepresentation” here. But this editorial’s urbane constructions offered little sense of outrage. Tut-tut, old boy! Palin had been speaking “colorfully” as she gave a “distorted interpretation.”

In paragraph 6, the Post managed to say that John Boehner had also engaged in “demagoguery.” But the Post seemed to muffle its outrage in that instance even more:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: But here's the more important finding: Patients who hadn't discussed treatment options did not live longer, but they had a "worse quality of life" in the final week, more likely to be in intensive care or on a ventilator. Yet a recent AARP survey of people 50 and over in Massachusetts found that, though 89 percent of seniors believed it very important to get honest answers from their doctors about end-of-life issues, only 17 percent had discussed such issues with their doctors. Indulging in demagoguery on this issue—suggesting, for example, that encouraging physicians to discuss advance directives with their patients is starting "down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia," as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) asserted—could have the effect of consigning more patients to unnecessarily uncomfortable deaths.

Technically, the Post accuses Boehner of demagoguery there—but you have to read carefully to see it. Does the Washington Post really care if people mislead and frighten the public? If they engage in “demagoguery?” We don’t know when we’ve seen so little outrage about such a serious charge.

Of course, Hiatt had already published three different op-ed columns which struggled and strained to make it seem like there might be merit to the “death panel” claims. Two of these pieces had been solicited or accepted from people who aren’t regular columnists—Charles Lane and the hapless Danielle Allen If Hiatt regards these claims as “demagoguery,” he certainly has an odd way of showing it. But then too, there was Anne Kornblut’s gruesome “news report” in that same day’s Post.

Gag. Kornblut has been away for several months, apparently “writing a book.” Her “news report” shows that she has lost very little in her months of inactive service. Note the way she handles the problem of the “death panel” claims in her lengthy paragraphs 5-8. On this same day, the New York Times was reporting that these claims were “false”—and it was naming the actual names of the actual people who had made them. At the Post, Kornblut was working very hard to make it sound like Senator Grassley might have some very good points.

Kornblut has always been gruesome. This goes back to the day (in June 1999) when her obedience was so great that she even reported, for the Boston Globe, that Candidate Gore grew up at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The RNC had begged the press to make this flatly inaccurate claim. Only the most servile did.

The New York Times switched sides last Friday. At the Post, Insider Power seemed to be hanging on.

THE LIBERAL STAIN: Yesterday morning, we were forced to banish several analysts to their spartan living quarters. They had read Rick Perlstein’s long piece in the Post; it headlined the paper’s Outlook section.

Rick Perlstein would make an excellent wing-nut, several of the analysts said.

We knew that couldn’t be possible. After all, Perlstein is a leading liberal intellectual, author of Before the Storm and last year’s best-seller, Nixonland. But even when the analysts were allowed to emerge from their dorms hours later, they continued to grumble loudly about the Perlstein piece. They complained about the author’s nut-picking—and they complained about his name-calling. They complained about his conspiratorial tone. Complaining about the way he encouraged liberals to drown in group self-pity, one of the analysts even called him this: “The New Nixon!”

We even thought we might have heard a muttered quip about “Tricky Rick.” The inexcusable grumbling and complaining continued into the night.

We knew the analysts had to be wrong. By rule of law, offenses like these can only exist on the other side. But before we examine Perlstein’s piece, let’s consider the way the pseudo-liberal world enjoys an old dual system: “Kissing up—and kicking down.”

Consider the work of a high liberal lord as he guest-hosted Hardball last week.

In his three nights on the show, Lord Lawrence O’Donnell name-called those who are, by far, less brilliant than he. For example, here’s the way our grandest lord opened Thursday’s program:

O’DONNELL (8/13/09): Leading off tonight: Taking a toll. For all the talk about how the rowdy health care town halls are stocked with ringers, so-called astroturf rent-a-moms, there’s now evidence they’re having their intended effect. A new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that by a margin of better than 2 to 1, independents say the town hall rantings of these stunningly ignorant protesters have made them more sympathetic to the protesters.

Truly, it was wonderful stuff! Unfortunately, this is the way the same high lord had ended Wednesday night’s program:

O’DONNELL (8/12/09): All right. Thank you, Joan Walsh and Tony Blankley. Tony Blankley, one of the most honorable Republicans I know, but still can’t admit what the truth is in this debate. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more Hardball.

Is Tony Blankley honorable? Has he ever done anything to justify being hailed, by one of our highest lords, as “one of the most honorable Republicans I know?” We’ve met Blankley a time or two; he’s very bright and very personable. That said, compulsive honesty has never been his most obvious trait, in the years when he ran the Washington Times editorial page, for example (2002-2007). But so what? Blankley was treated to jocular joshing—and high praise— from one of our very noblest lords. The very next night, this lord began by trashing the “stunningly ignorant” everyday people at those town hall meetings.

Over the years, average people like those “stunning ignorant protestors” have been endlessly misled and disinformed by “honorable” people like Blankley. But a certain type of pseudo-liberal has always enjoyed “kicking down.” They trash the average, everyday people who get misled by the cynical power brokers. At the same time, they kiss the keisters of their Insider Colleagues.

A certain kind of pseudo-liberal has always loved name-calling their lessers. It’s in the DNA of the movement; it has always been a way liberals lose political fights. Sunday morning, we banished the analysts to their quarters when they said Perlstein was playing this game. Perhaps we’ve been making them work too hard, we somewhat indulgently mused.

Then, we began to examine the evidence. Who is Rick Perlstein, we mused.

Who is Rick Perlstein: By the standards of the culture, Rick Perlstein is very smart and very well-educated. Craig Anthony Miller, 59, pretty much isn’t.

You might call Perlstein a Villager. He grew up in the Village of Fox Point, an affluent Milwaukee suburb. “Fox Point is a stable community of quiet tree-lined lanes and wooded areas, beautiful ravines, and stunning Lake Michigan vistas,” the elders say on the Village web site. “Residents enjoy top-notch schools, high quality Village services, a wide range of housing options, a variety of local businesses to serve their needs, and a convenient location to downtown Milwaukee.”

Perlstein’s parents operated a successful family business, which had been founded in 1955 by Harry Perlstein, Rick Perlstein’s highly admirable immigrant grandfather. They seem to have done a superlative job raising their four “creative children” (click here). One example: Perlstein’s sister, Linda Perlstein, is a former Washington Post reporter. She’s also the author of Tested, an interesting book from 2007 about the current role of testing in public schools. As is often the case in our upscale suburbs, the Perlstein parents seem to have encouraged their childrens’ educations. In this profile, Linda Perlstein recalls the time her parents “had to go to court because they wanted me to skip a grade.”

We grew up on a block like that too, in Winchester, Mass., a largely upscale Boston suburb. Three doors down, Mrs. Davis started an in-house library, just for us seven kids on the block; ten years later, her son became the editor of Harvard’s literary magazine. We remember the day in the mid-1950s when Mrs. Davis told us—we were maybe seven—about this wonderful new TV station, from which we children would all be learning so many wonderful things. (PBS.) Flushed with the prospect of future learning, we rushed home to tell our mother.

“Tggcchh! You won’t like that,” she sneered, not without a degree of accuracy. (East Coast Irish Catholic!)

Back to Perlstein. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1992, then spent two years in a PhD program at the University of Michigan. After moving to New York, he spent two years as an editor at Lingua Franca [“Frank Language”]: The Review of Academic Life. In 2001, the first of his highly-regarded books appeared, the one about the Goldwater movement.

By the standards of the culture, Rick Perlstein is very smart and very well-educated. He also grew up with every advantage. Craig Anthony Miller, 59? Probably not so much.

Perlstein started mocking Miller in yesterday’s opening paragraph. But who is Craig Anthony Miller?

According to the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News, Miller is “a blue-collar worker now living on disability.” He “has been on disability for four years because of heart problems and fibromyalgia,” the daily paper reported. “Before that, he worked many jobs, most recently at Murry's Steaks.”

We’ll guess that Miller didn’t grow up in the Village of Fox Point—or even in Winchester, Mass. We’ll guess he didn’t go to the University of Chicago or to Harvard; we’ll guess he never spent two years in anyone’s doctoral program. In fact, Miller seems to be extremely unsophisticated when it comes to public affairs. After he got famous last week for yelling at Arlen Specter in a town hall meeting, Monica Von Dobeneck described some of his political thinking in the Patriot-News:

VON DOBENECK (8/13/09): Miller said he went to the town hall to speak to Specter not only about his skepticism over health care reform, but about his feelings on the cap-and-trade plan, global warming, and what he called "the president's czars." He said Obama has named 31 czars, while the U.S. Constitution doesn't allow anyone to be named a king, czar, or other terms that denote royalty.

When told that advisers to presidents as far back as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan have been informally referred to as "czars”—shorthand terms such as "energy czar" and "drug czar" were first coined by the media—Miller asserted "wrong is wrong."

"How can we trust him with a health care bill if he won't keep his oath of office?" Miller asked. "He's supposed to obey the Constitution. Thirty-one times he broke that.”

If you read the full piece, you will see other examples of Miller’s thinking. And it gets worse: When Miller appeared on Hannity last Wednesday, he was quite inarticulate; Hannity kept switching away to a more voluble guest. We were surprised to learn in yesterday’s Post that Miller is only 59. We would have guessed 72.

But that’s the Miller we saw on that show. Below, you see the way he’s described in the opening paragraph of Perlstein’s piece, which appeared under a name-calling headline: “In America, Crazy is a pre-existing condition.” The derision of people like Miller as “crazy” was the central conceit of the piece, in which a young, extremely ill-mannered “liberal” did a whole lot of kicking down at a bunch of people who almost surely didn’t grow up with his brains, his highly capable parents or his many other advantages:

PERLSTEIN (8/16/09): In Pennsylvania last week, a citizen, burly, crew-cut and trembling with rage, went nose to nose with his baffled senator: "One day God's going to stand before you, and he's going to judge you and the rest of your damned cronies up on the Hill. And then you will get your just deserts." He was accusing Arlen Specter of being too kind to President Obama’s proposals to make it easier for people to get health insurance.

Yes, that “burly” fellow is Miller, who is identified by name and age in one of the article’s photos. “Burly?” The analysts suppressed mordant laughter. How differently Perlstein’s piece would have played had it started like this, they complained:

PERLSTEIN WITH BETTER POLITICS: In Pennsylvania last week, a blue-collar worker living on disability because of heart problems and fibromyalgia went nose to nose with his baffled senator: "One day God's going to stand before you, and he's going to judge you and the rest of your damned cronies up on the Hill. And then you will get your just deserts." He was accusing Arlen Specter of being too kind to President Obama’s proposals to make it easier for people to get health insurance.

By the way, that last sentence is an utter embarrassment. Let’s paraphrase Perlstein: Hey rubes!

In our view, Miller is very unsophisticated about politics and public affairs. But then, America is full of people like this—people whose parents didn’t raise (didn’t know how to raise) a bunch of “creative children.” These people are routinely misused by cynical political power-brokers—including some in the mainstream press, and others in the career liberal world. But then, who cares if people like Miller get misled by people like Blankley? We liberals have always loved name-calling people like Miller, as Perlstein does throughout yesterday’s piece. And by the way: If you don’t think “liberals” have always done this, just consider a profile of Perlstein—a profile Perlstein recommends at his own web site. At one point, Politico’s Patrick Coolican describes Perlstein’s understanding of the Nixon era:

COOLICAN (5/15/08): Though it had been tried before, Perlstein writes, Nixon was the first to successfully exploit a devastating new narrative: the Democratic Party as enemy of the working man.

Perlstein says Nixon understood the anger and frustration of working-class people, the humiliation of being looked down upon by elitist, liberal betters. Why did Nixon understand this “deeply sedimented cultural narrative,” as Perlstein calls it? Because he’d faced it all his life.

This perspective is widely expressed in Nixonland. Sneering elitist liberals greatly helped Richard Nixon back then—much as Perlstein seems determined to help Sean Hannity now.

We banished the analysts to their quarters—but they were still fuming by the time night fell. Yes, their utterly ludicrous claims break every known rule of liberal decorum. But we thought we’d note their claims anyway:

The analysts were filled with disgust at Perlstein’s sneering analysis. He name-called a lot of those “working-class people,” engaging in the very conduct he had described to Coolican. But he certainly didn’t spend much time naming the “elites” who drive this cynical culture. And Perlstein knows about those elites. Early on, he sketched the basic outlook which would drive his piece:

PERLSTEIN: So the birthers, the anti-tax tea-partiers, the town hall hecklers—these are "either" the genuine grass roots or evil conspirators staging scenes for YouTube? The quiver on the lips of the man pushing the wheelchair, the crazed risk of carrying a pistol around a president—too heartfelt to be an act. The lockstep strangeness of the mad lies on the protesters' signs—too uniform to be spontaneous. They are both. If you don't understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both, you can't understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests.

According Perlstein, people like Miller represent the “crazy tree”—but “elites exploit” these “crazy” people “for their own narrow interests.” One such elite is the Washington Post, whose editorial page seemed to work rather hard last week to downplay the gross misconduct involved in pimping those “death panel” claims to people like Miller. But Perlstein didn’t name-call the Post—the paper for which his sister once worked, the paper he’d asked to publish his piece. In fact, he named very few elites in this piece. Would “kicking up” be bad for business?

The Washington Post tends to kick down too, just as Perlstein did in this piece. By the way: To marvel at the power of this liberal stain, be sure to search out the part of the piece where Perlstein decries “the orchestration of incivility”—even as he keeps name-calling people like Miller!

Why did some of the analysts deride Perlstein as “The New Nixon?” Read through his piece and see the ways he invites us liberals to boo-hoo-hoo about our long-standing misuse—just as Nixon so skillfully did with his own base. Perlstein doesn’t spend much time musing about our own political or intellectual failures—about our own bad morals and manners. He’s too busy displaying the sneering attitudes he recently decried.

As we’ve noted, Perlstein is much smarter—and much better-informed—than most people. That said, the analysts wanted to invite him to Baltimore to extend his critique of the “crazy” people who aren’t quite as brilliant as he. Here’s their thinking:

In the heart of the piece, Perlstein notes that American politics has pretty much always been like this. Democratic presidents have always been assailed in “crazy” ways, going back to the 1920s. This makes us think of an erroneous view we hear many liberal voters express. These are people we’d very much like to see Perlstein name-call a bit.

Last week, we did an hour on the Morgan State NPR station. Understandably, many callers seemed to feel that Obama is being treated uniquely, because he is black. We said we tended to disagree with that view. Reaching back to President Clinton, we said we thought the similarities in the way the two Dems have been trashed tended to outweigh the differences.

It’s abundantly clear from Perlstein’s piece that he knows a great deal more than those largely African-American callers. As Al Franken might have said: He’s smarter than them; he’s better than them; and by God, people admire him! We thereby invite him to come to Baltimore and tell those citizens how “crazy” they are! How stupid, how foolish—how plain it is that their silly views have fallen from that “crazy tree.”

Of course, Perlstein won’t be making that claim, a claim which would be utterly foolish. Yes, some of those callers know less than he does, just like Miller. But people like Perlstein have always self-pleasured by mocking white working-class people. Luckily, even Perlstein knows he shouldn’t “kick down” toward other groups.

We banished the analysts to their dorms—but saw the point in their squawking. Perlstein grew up with every advantage; people like Miller almost surely did not. Today, Miller is on disability—and he’s being played by powerful forces. But so what? Perlstein name-called Miller all day—and largely failed to name those elites! No, he didn’t call Blankley “honorable.” But who knows? He may get there yet!

Long ago, Richard Nixon understood the anger and frustration of working-class people, the humiliation of being looked down upon by elitist, liberal betters. At least, that’s what Perlstein told Coolican, in a profile he himself recommends! But dear God! The pleasure that comes from this liberal stain! Mocking those who are sick and unlettered! It has always felt so good!