ONE PUNDITS VAST MORAL GRANDEUR: In the past, weve rarely been bored when we chase (our old friend) Marc Steiners media ventures around. Last night, our three hours at Morgan States WEAA-FM provided no change in that pattern. Our view? You rarely hear discussions of race as frank and varied as last nights discussions. The equipment in Denver wasnt working real well. But we thought the discussions were lively.
Were back tonight at 8 PM, in case your TV set isnt working. To listen in live, just click here.
Last night, heres what we heard from that Denver hall:
Ted Kennedy pledged that he would live to see Obama become president. He told the hall that Obama represents the next generation of Americansjust as his own brother had. Michelle Obama, riding this wave, said her family was just like yoursand then, she said her husbands family was just like hers. (What struck me when I first met Barack was that, even though he had this funny name, and even though he had grown up all the way across the continent in Hawaii, his family was so much like mine.) His storyhis familymight seem somewhat different. But my husbands world is much like yours.
By the way: We love it when Dems know enough to mention people who work on the day shift and the night shiftand military families, who say grace each night with n empty seat at the table. (On Saturday, Biden specifically cited the cops and the firefighters.) We love it when Dems know enough to say: We know what real people really do.
But lets get back to those families. Forget Obamas Kenyan father; even on his mothers side, his personal story is very unusual in the American presidential context. No one has ever run for president talking about a decent, lovely, sweet-natured mother who spent years doing doctoral work in anthropology in Indonesian villages. Many American voters have never known anyone remotely like that; this makes it harder for them to connect with the person who tells them this story. In part, thats why Ted Kennedy said what he said: You remember my brotherand Obama is like him. Its why Michelle Obama said what she said: You can picture my hard-working parents. My husband is like them too.
How many voters will this draw to Obama? We have no idea. But we thought we might drop a word about Jacob Weisbergs recent musings on race, offered in this unfortunate post at Slate.
How many votes might Obama lose because of racial voting? Theres no way to answer that question with anything like precision. We plan to finish our ongoing series on the Charles Blow column, though we wont do so this week (for parts 1-4, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/18/08). But in our view, Weisbergs attempt to ponder this question is a classic example of High Pseudo-Liberalism, in which a self-impressed pundit goes out of his way to express his own vast moral greatness.
In our view, Weisberg bungles a bunch of data in the course of his high-minded musings. But just imagine the other-worldliness of someone who would say this:
WEISBERG (8/23/08): Many have discoursed on what an Obama victory could mean for America. We would finally be able to see our legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism in the rearview mirror. Our kids would grow up thinking of prejudice as a nonfactor in their lives. The rest of the world would embrace a less fearful and more open post-post-9/11 America. But does it not follow that an Obama defeat would signify the opposite? If Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth. His defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to. In this event, the world's judgment will be severe and inescapable: The United States had its day but, in the end, couldn't put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race.
Who on earth could believe such thingsthat we will finally be able to see our legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism in the rearview mirror if Obama wins in November? Were not sure, but wed suggest that this persons views about race were forged on the heights of a pseudo-Olympus, not out of real-world experience. Not out of real-world concerns.
For the most part, Jake Weisbergs musings help us see the moral greatness of Jake Weisberg. How many votes might Obama lose due to racial voting this fall? That is a very important question. What a shame that high-minded fellows want to pretend to explore it.
Bai reacts: In this New York Times op-ed, Matt Bai goes out of his way to understate the possibility that Obama could lose due to racial voting. In Weisbergs headline, this campaign is all about race; in Bais headline, it isnt about race at all. Overstatement begets overstatement inside the world of our press.
Georgians and Russians together/next year in Tbilisi: Around the world, decent people try to find their way beyond group thinkingand beyond deeply punishing history. Can Russians and Georgians just get along? We thought this piece in todays Washington Post was fascinatingprofoundly worth reading.
In cosmopolitan Tbilisi, residents are proud of the city's multiethnic composition, Tara Bahrampour reports. At one point, she quotes an eloquent, 68-year-old ethnic Russian:
BAHRAMPOUR (8/25/08): "In this mutual fighting and these mutual victims, we feel like we are losing something, and of course we feel sad about that. In Tbilisi, we were always saying, 'I have no nationalityI feel I am a resident of Tbilisi.
Elsewhere in Georgia, people do feel they have a nationality; theyre prepared to act on it, sometimes quite badly. Reading Bahrampours piece, we thought this: The efforts last night in that Denver hall are played out all over the world.
Special report: Taking the Kinsley challenge!
READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: Michael Kinsley typed an old saw: Republicans simply play the game better. In part 1 of our current report, we expressed a sardonic reaction to this extremely tired old trope (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/25/08). Today, in part 2, we review Kinsleys tired old take on the press:
PART 2PUNDITS LAMENT: Michael Kinsley penned a familiar old saw: Republicans play the game better. (For Kinsleys column, click here.) These tired old tales pretty much type themselves. But heres the way Kinsley put it:
KINSLEY (8/23/08): With so much going their way in this election, the biggest challenge the Democrats face is simple: The Republicans just play the game of presidential politics so much better. They play it with genius, courage, creativity and utter ruthlessness.
Kinsley forgot to include an obvious fact: Its remarkably easy to play the game well when the press corps is willing to play on your teamfor example, when major pundits like Jonathan Alter were willing to type invented the Internet and act like such genius claims made sense (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/25/08). Today, Alter tells us that Gore never said it. But uh-oh! Back when it actually mattered, he said something quite different.
Its amazingly easy to play the game wellwhen mainstream journalists help you that way. Kinsley, in his upper-class aerie, is of course unaware of this part of the game. Although, in fact, he does blame the press. Or at least, he pretends to do so.
Why do Republicans play the game better? For his first example, Kinsley cites their work in Campaign 04, in which those courageous, creative players went after John Kerrys biggest strength. Kinsley couldnt have imagined such a thing, he now sadly confesses:
KINSLEY: Most amazing among the principles of the Republican Way of War is: Don't waste much time and energy probing the enemy's weaknesses. Go directly to his biggest strength. Four years ago, it was easy to imagine any number of ways the GOP might go after John Kerry. You would not have guessedor at least I would not have guessedthat they could successfully attack his service in Vietnam. Especially when the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, not only had avoided Vietnam by joining the National Guard but had avoided much of the National Guard by skipping the meetings and then had grown up to start an unpopular war that even four years ago seemed to have been going on forever.
Kinsleys tale is entertainingbut his facts have been massaged. In Campaign 2000, the mainstream press had largely avoided discussing the way Bush avoided that service; four years later, that made it easier to attack Kerrys record. (It also explains why Dan Rather was still bungling this topic so badly in September 2004.) Beyond that, Kinsley overstates the degree to which the war in Iraq had become unpopularand he forgets to note the way the press corps had lionized their commander in chief in the wake of 9/11 and Iraq. He fails to say that the Swift boat attacks played into established themes of Democratic fecklessnessthemes that hardened further during Campaign 2000, as major players like Alter typed liar, lies and lying about that years Dem nominee. (Gore was a big liar, Alter explained, because his mother had been a big liar too. Garbage like that just makes it easier to paint the next Dem the same way.) And Kinsley forgets that there had always been political problems with Kerrys Vietnam recordproblems involving his anti-war protests, problems which had floated around all through Kerrys career. Michael Kinsley couldnt have guessed that Kerrys war record could be successfully attacked? When liberal scribes are so proudly clueless, is it surprising that Republican strategists have great success at the game?
But Kinsley is a big enough man to place some of the blame on his cohort. To be sure, Republicans play the game with genius and couragebut then too, the media help! In the following murky paragraphs, Kinsley sketches his view of this problem. Here too, he offers a hackneyed viewa very familiar confession:
KINSLEY (continuing directly): A lesser party might have said, "You know what? Let's just leave the whole military-record thing alone." But not the Republicans. They conjured up the Swift boat campaign and managed to turn Kerry's military service into a negative. As is usually the case, the media helped.
They didn't intend to. But journalistic convention makes it hard for reporters to deal with a big, complicated lie. They can't call it a lie, so they end up giving the impression to all but the most obsessive followers of politics that, well, it's complicated, and the Republicans are probably exaggerating, but there must be something there.
According to Kinsley, the media helped in the Swift boat attacksalthough they didnt intend to. They only helped because their journalistic conventions ma[de] it hard for reporters to deal with a big, complicated lie. This is lazy, sloppy workthe kind of work that gets tossed to the rubes from a window high up in Versailles. Its also a very familiar claima lazy claim these slumbering lords could pretty much type in their sleep.
For starters, lets state the obvious: Clearly, some in the media did intend to help the attacks against Kerry. (Theres nothing obviously wrong with that.) For example, some in the media shared the views of those attacking his anti-war conduct; others simply wanted Bush to win, and rolled over for Swift boat claims, even where such claims were most improbable. No one in the American media intended to help the attacks against Kerry? Inside Versailles, Kinsley lets you eat cake when he makes such a silly statement.
But at last, we get to the tired old portrait Kinsleys class tends to present. Poor scribes! Their very complex journalistic conventions made it hard for them to proceed in 2004made it hard for them to deal with the complicated lie aimed at Candidate Kerry. In truth, this is a silly old talebut Antoinettes never tire of telling it. Tomorrow, well recall whats wrong with this claimand well see what Kinsley specifically did in the face of that lie he deplores.
Four years earlier, Alter knew how to name-call a liar. Why, he even felt free to tell the world that the candidates mother was a big liar too! But isnt it weird! Something kept Kinsley from doing the same when the big lie was now aimed at Kerry! Readers, well pose our question again: Are you surprised that Republicans play the game well when nobles of this particular type are charged with defending your interests?
TOMORROWPART 3: Fops wont fight
THURSDAYPART 4: When Kinsley attacked