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MIDDLE-AMERICAN LONG SHOT! As pundits seek new ways to kill time, we hype an all-American long shot: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, AUGUST 19, 2008

ACTUALLY, NO—HE DOESN’T: “Jim Fallows has an excellent piece in this month’s Atlantic,” Joe Klein admiringly writes. But actually, no—he doesn’t. Fallows describes this campaign’s Democratic debates—and he cites a string of famous events from past presidential debates. In our view, Fallows displays one major skill in this piece; he skillfully avoids discussing the press corps’ role in creating these iconic incidents. But then, this is a basic skill of insider journalism. Fallows displays it in spades.

(According to the skillful Fallows, who made a big deal out of Gore’s alleged sighs? Of course! Who else? Saturday Night Live!)

Fallows describes a turning point from this year’s Democratic debate. But would that event—or those earlier events—really have turned these elections around without aggressive press corps pimping? We’ll try to get to this piece this week. But we’re sorry—Joe Klein is just wrong.

Please note: Josh Green’s piece in the same Atlantic also hides the press corps’ role in this year’s nomination fight. Jug-eared strivers of this type seem to know which events they must bury.

LIBERALS MARCH TO WAR: In the Post, Shailagh Murray writes about Obama’s pledge to fight back hard. But honest to God. You just have to shake your heads at the way the liberal world plays this game. Our side is simply astounding:

MURRAY (8/19/08): Writing for the online Democratic Strategist, party communications consultant James Vega outlined a character attack that Obama could pick up. He said McCain has become "a pale, diminished shadow" of his former self, so desperate to win the election that he has sacrificed "his deepest principles and his personal honor" and allowed "men he once despised . . . to manipulate him."

"McCain is actually profoundly vulnerable to a powerful, aggressive and damaging attack on his character," Vega concluded.

It’s just stunning. On our side, we start defining the other guy in mid-August, right before the election.

Here on planet Earth, McCain’s character has been getting defined quite relentlessly over the past nine years. Starting in the fall of 1999, major journalists turned him into a sanctified saint—a moral sun god returned to the earth. The sheer absurdity of their pandering was surely apparent to all. But so what? On our side, we start addressing this matter in 2008, less than three months before an election!

It’s almost impossible to describe how inept the “liberal” world is. On the other side, it’s relatively easy for a kook like Jerome Corsi to redefine Obama’s character; in part, it’s easy because our side has sat around in the past while so many other Dems got redefined. Voters have seen a long string of Major Dems get redefined as liars and fakes—and the liberal world has persistently stared into space as this has happened. For some centrist voters, re-imagining a Big Dem as a fake is almost a matter of muscle memory, they’ve sat through the process so often.

They other side plays this game twelve months, every year. We rouse ourselves in mid-August.
By the way, here’s how well the liberal world functions when it tries to define its own candidate. Julie Bosman, in today’s New York Times, describes a liberal book war:

BOSMAN (8/19/08): Early Sales Of a Book On Obama Angers Stores

Barnes & Noble has substantially reduced its 10,000-copy order of “Obama’s Challenge,'' by Robert Kuttner, after Chelsea Green, the book's publisher, announced it would initially be sold exclusively on Amazon.com.

Mary Ellen Keating, a spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble, said in a statement on Monday evening that the initial order ''was based on the book being available to all booksellers simultaneously—an even playing field—which is common practice in book publishing.''

She declined to say how many copies the retailer ordered.

Katharine Walton, a spokeswoman for Chelsea Green, said Barnes & Noble was angry at being excluded and threatened on Monday afternoon not to stock the book.

You can go ahead and read the whole story—not that a book by Robert Kuttner was likely to affect anyone’s thinking. But please note how this system works. Corsi is a genuine crackpot—but he got his book written on time. It’s currently sitting in all the stores—and it’s being widely promoted. When our side tries to write a book, we don’t seem to get out work done on time—and we end up in a book war. Could we be more incompetent?

Then too, your Nobel Prize winner is maybe too fat. Kuttner said so, just last week. You live at a time where it’s hard to describe how hapless the liberal world is. Our leaders are so out-of-touch they can’t open their mouths without repeating these narratives.

We Irish: Leave it to Murray—and the Post—to present this hopeless paragraph:

MURRAY (8/19/08): Democratic jitters have been rekindled since the release of "The Obama Nation," an anti-Obama book written by the co-author of "Unfit for Command," the 2004 book about Kerry's service. Among other falsehoods, author Jerome Corsi charges that Obama misrepresents his religion, saying that Muslim faith plays a significant role in his ideology, even though he is a practicing Christian.

Guess what, dumb-*ss? If a book is full of “falsehoods,” you don’t write long paragraphs repeating them.

MIDDLE-AMERICAN LONG SHOT: Our national nightmare is almost over. Soon, “journalists” will have to stop wasting your time guessing about the VP nominations. Gwen Ifill kicked off the season in May—so long ago that the late Tim Russert was still hosting Meet the Press. Let’s recall the sheer inanity of Russert’s panel that day:

RUSSERT (5/25/08): McCain is in Arizona. Here's some tape—a meeting with Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts; Bob Jindal, the governor of Louisiana; Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, all—there he is, coming down the stairs...But now we're in full throttle of the VP selection, Gwen.

IFILL: You know, it's such Kabuki theater. I mean, we know—and we do this every four years, where we have—you know, by the end, it's kind of the ritual. We start to think, "Okay, now, what's next? Oh, the vice presidential nomination!" And almost—who knows how much it matters at the end? But we can't help it. It's how we spend our summers every four years.

RUTH MARCUS: What else would we do?

IFILL: What else would we do?

“What else would we do?” these idiots asked, as they embarked on three months of time-killing (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/2/08).

How wasteful has this focus been? At present, few voters have the first f*cking idea about a wide range of serious issues. For example: How would off-shore drilling affect oil prices—or our dependence on foreign oil? Few voters have any real idea. But then, these pundits also know very little about real matters of consequence. And so, last Sunday, George Stephanopoulos concluded his latest long VP-guessing session with a quip about its sheer pointlessness. The pundit panel had largely agreed—Obama was likely to pick Joe Biden. And then, the pundits all shared a good laugh. Since pundits rarely get these things right, that means he won’t get it, George said:

STEPHANOPOULOS (8/17/08): Now that we have about 80 percent agreement on Biden, he's almost certain not to get it. So let's talk about the issue underlying the controversy this week, George Will—and it was a question that Robert Gates wouldn't bite on. Do we now have to say that Russia is more adversary than ally?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Having spent three months pretending to ponder, the pundit panel shared a good laugh about how pointless the whole effort was. And omigod! They moved ahead to a serious topic! An endless summer had dwindled away. Really, what else could they do?

Readers, gaze on the fatuous crew described as your nation’s “elite media!” This week, as their season neared its end, our very dumbest national pundits longed for one last summer flings. At the New Republic, one fellow took a final dip in the ocean called It Just Could Be Al Gore:

CROWLEY (8/18/08): Gore for Veep?

Maybe it's time to bring the rampant speculation back to one of its earliest incarnations, dating back to last fall. Gore offers massive buzz and excitement, has vast national-security experience, and he opposed the war.

Some say he prefers his new life of floating "above" politics. But if Obama asks, can he really say no? And does he really believe he can do more about global warming from the outside than he could from the West Wing?

You really can’t get dumber than Crowley. It always could be Gore, of course; in the world of possibilities, everything’s always possible. But Gore brings a massive raft of mocking narratives along with that alleged buzz and excitement—a fact of life your “liberal” pundits will always agree not to mention. Of course, since Crowley is one of the fresh-faced boy who (let’s be honest) lied about Gore back in Campaign 2000, it’s hardly surprising that he doesn’t want to think about what his work wrought.

That’s right: If Gore were picked for VP this week, a boatload of mockery would still follow. After all, the Washington Post didn’t stop its open mockery even during the very week when Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize! But fellows like Crowley know the guild’s law—they must never notice such problems. And of course, there was Kuttner, not-noticing too—and mildly joking that Gore was so fat!

Could it be Gore? Well of course, it could. But we’ve pondered a second surprise pick this week—and we think the virtues of that long-shot help us unpack a current, important pseudo-controversy.

That long-shot pick would be Bill Bradley, a long-shot pick who would bring Obama many things Gore could not. For most of his political career, Bradley was a massive press corps favorite; that extended through most of his run for the Democratic nomination in Campaign 2000. (Though the press corps was starting to bail on him by mid-January 2000. “Too aloof,” they said.) And Bradley would help connect Obama to “middle American” imagery—to the very imagery the vile Mark Penn told Hillary Clinton to stress. In 1999, Bradley ran the very campaign Penn described in that now-famous memo—a campaign in which he stressed the fact that he came from the middle of middle America. When he formally announced his race for the White House, Bradley returned to his small home town on the banks of the Mississippi—to the very middle of the middle. Journalists walked with him through Crystal City, Missouri. At Time, Eric Pooley described his “mythopoeic tour:”

POOLEY (9/20/99): Welcome to the official walking tour of Bradley's old hometown, where this morning he announced (again) what everyone already knew: that he is trying to snatch the Democratic nomination from Al Gore. Bradley should have called this the speed-walking tour. The lapsed Senator is really working those long, NBA-tested legs, partly because he feels good—his kickoff speech went well, close to 100 media types are covering him, and the latest polls put him just a few points behind Gore in New Hampshire—and partly because he has only half an hour before sunset, and he wants to lead us to the banks of the Mississippi before then. "I want you all to see the riv-er the way I see the riv-er," he says, letting the word roll out slowly, a promise of ineffable revelations to come. Events such as this, designed to show off a candidate's small-town heart, tend to feel like Hollywood location shoots—superimposed on a place. Bradley wants to prove he has a real connection to this one.

[...]

The buses cruise past a field of beans—Bradley's farm—and pull into a lot beside the Mississippi. With the sun setting, the sky is etched with a calligraphy of pink clouds, their reflection a soft wash on the river surface. "Well, here it is," Bradley says with satisfaction. He describes boyhood rituals, times when he would "be still and listen to the wind in the cottonwood trees and watch the current carry what it had scoured from half a continent." He calls the river "a metaphor for democracy" and talks about the peace he finds here. We do our best to look meditative. "If you're quiet," he says, "even with this crowd, you can get a sense of the solitude." For Bradley, a reluctant celebrity since the age of 16, the river can be about connection one minute, blessed aloneness the next.

As the weeks went by, Pooley would pander hard about Bradley’s “poetic cast”—and about his vast moral greatness. But on this day, it was all about that middle-American imagery—the river, the small bank, the Little League field. This is the imagery Penn told Clinton to stress—because Obama’s personal history doesn’t allow him to match it. (As Penn noted in the memo, Obama’s history did give him some advantages over Clinton.)

There are a lot of down-sides to Bradley; although he has some ties to Obama, it’s quite possible he was never considered for VP at all, not even on the fringes. But his personal history would help connect Obama to the middle-American imagery Bradley pushed throughout his own White House campaign. In yesterday’s New York Times, Jeff Zeleny described the world of images being assembled for next week’s Democratic Convention. “For Convention. Obama’s Image is All-American,” the headline said. “All-American!” Huh! Now who else could convey that?

For these reasons, we’ve thought of Bradley in the past few weeks, recommending a one percent bet on his chances. But let’s use Bradley’s middle-American imagery as a way to understand our latest Dem-trashing press corps narrative—the latest narrative in which we’re encourage to trash famous Major Dems.

So you’ll know: There’s one big difference between Bradley’s middle-American image campaign and the middle-American image campaign Penn recommended to Clinton. Press corps lying to the side, Penn specifically told Clinton not to go negative about Obama’s background. (Duh. She was way ahead in the polls at the time. Front-runners don’t go negative.) By way of contrast, Bradley went negative right from the start when it came to his middle-American roots. (Duh. He was way behind in the polls. When pols are behind, they attack.) In early 1999, Bradley paraded around the state of Iowa, invidiously contrasting his small-town background to that of Gore, who was more a creature of Washington. Gore, of course, had grown up in Washington because his father was serving in Congress; similarly, Bradley’s daughter had grown up in Washington because her father served there. As such, this invidious campaign made especially little sense coming from Senator Bradley. But so what? The press corps was massively on Bradley’s side, and they completely forgot to notice. When Gore noted that he had spent considerable time growing up on his family’s farm, the press corps—which had long reported those very same facts—reinvented him as a big liar.

The rest is history. Surely you’re happy with the way it turned pout.

At any rate, these are the ways campaigns are run—after which, journos start lying about them. And sure enough! In this past week, Democrats have been invited to demonize Big Major Dems once again. And as always, the press corps has simply lied in our faces, this time at the direction of jug-eared Josh Green. In his famous memo, Penn told Clinton not to go negative. But the story works better the other way. And so the facts had to change.

In our world, they always do.

At any rate, Bradley played the middle-American card, the same card Penn would recommend eight years later. But the press corps was swooning for Candidate Bradley—and they hated both Clintons and Gore. This shaped the lying about Candidate Gore—and it has shaped the lying about Penn’s memo. This lying hurts Dems, and is hurting Obama, right to this very day.

We’ll still take a one percent bet on Bill Bradley. “For Convention. Obama’s Image is All-American?” Within this party, where have we heard that well-known term before?

Howler history—a sick editorial: How did George Bush ever get to the White House? The morning after that mythopoeic tour, the Washington Post penned an editorial which mentioned Bradley’s superlative background. Since April, the Post had been waging full-scale war against Gore. And the Post understood the sick play that was available:

THE WASHINGTON POST (9/10/99): Crystal City, Mo., is Mr. Bradley's hometown, and his launch there hinted at the tone of his campaign. He will emphasize small-town values learned on the banks of the Mississippi; this will imply a contrast with Mr. Gore, who grew up in a posh hotel in Washington. He will present his rise from modest roots as a triumph of American social mobility, and so plant a second subliminal dagger between the vice presidential shoulder blades.

Cute. The dead of Iraq stare up from the ground—at such sick editorials. (Colbert King wasn’t yet on the board, so at least he didn’t write it.) No, the Fairfax Apartment Hotel wasn’t “posh” in the day, as the Post had routinely reported—before it went to war against Gore. And Gore had lived there as a child because his father was serving in Washington.

To the Post, Gore lacked a middle-American narrative too! Or at least, there were ways to pretend.