FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: One week from today, on a Friday night, Obama and McCain stage their first debate.
Which leads to a simple question: Why? Why in the world is this first debate being held on a Friday night?
What do Americans do on Friday nights? From our incomparable years in show biz, we can report with some accuracy:
On Friday nights, younger people go out and get drunk. Older people tend to fall asleepsometimes right in their seats, out in public. And, of course, in large parts of the country, people attend high school football games. They wont skip those games next Friday night to watch the titans tangle.
Were puzzled by this scheduling choiceand weve seen no journalist explain it. Audience size for presidential debates has fallen dramatically over the years. Its hard to believe that this scheduling choice wont affect the size of next weeks audience.
How much has debate-watching dropped? In The Making of the President, 1960, Teddy White reported the size of those first debate crowds. [W]hen all was over, the audience exceeded the wildest fancies and claims of the television networks, he wrote. Each individual broadcast averaged an audience set at a low of 65,000,000 and a high of 70,000,000. Please note: When those crowds were assembled, the nations population stood at 179 million. Forty years later, when Bush battled Gore, U.S. population topped 281 million. But only 46 million watched the first Bush-Gore debate, with slightly fewer than 40 million tuning in for Debates 2 and 3. By contrast, 105 million people voted. More than half hadnt watched the debates.
Why did voters skip the debates? In part, because they had cable. In 1960, nothing else was on TV; if you didnt watch Kennedy tangle with Nixon, you had to sit there and talk to your spouse. Handed a choice so stark, so extreme, most adults knew how to respond.
But uh-oh! Thanks in part to the power of cable, many voters impressions of the Bush-Gore debates derived from what they heard from the press. This was very bad news for Goreand extremely bad news for the nation.
The Post attempted to build some context around some of Obamas recent claims. Were going to vote for Obama, of coursebut the gentleman does tend to cherry-pick quotes. The Post began by chiding him for the unfortunate practice:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (9/19/08): To listen to Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain is a Johnny-come-lately to the cause of regulating financial markets. "He has consistently opposed the sorts of common-sense regulations that might have lessened the current crisis," Mr. Obama said in New Mexico yesterday. "When I was warning about the danger ahead on Wall Street months ago because of the lack of oversight, Senator McCain was telling the Wall Street Journaland I quote'I'm always for less regulation.' "
But the full quotation from Mr. McCain's March interview with the Journal's editorial board belies Mr. Obamas one-sided rendition. The Republican candidate went on to say, "But I am aware of the view that there is a need for government oversight. I think we found this in the subprime lending crisisthat there are people that game the system and if not outright broke the law, they certainly engaged in unethical conduct which made this problem worse. So I do believe that there is role for oversight.
Oof! But we had to chuckle at the Posts effort, because wed just finished reading Robinsons piece, right on the facing page. Needless to say, Robinson offered the same trimmed-down quote from McCain, just as Obama had cadged it:
ROBINSON (9/19/08): McCain, who told the Wall Street Journal in March that "I'm always for less regulation," now asks voters to believe he will be a champion of tough, unblinking oversight. He's shocked and outraged that Wall Street's preening Masters of the Universe threw a drunken toga party and smashed all the furniturebut he helped buy the beer and told the cops to look the other way.
From Obamas lips to your earsvia Robinson. But then, the same thing happened when we read a second bit of amplification:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (9/19/08): One element of the Obama campaign's brief against Mr. McCain is that he supported repeal of the law separating commercial banks from investment banks. "He's spent decades in Washington supporting financial institutions instead of their customers," Mr. Obama said yesterday. Phil Gramm, one of the architects of the deregulation in Washington that led directly to this mess on Wall Street, is also the architect of John McCains economic plan." Would it be churlish to point out that another author of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley law is former congressman Jim Leach, a founder of Republicans for Obama? Or that Obama advisers Lawerence H. Summers and Robert E. Rubin supported the repealwhich was signed by President Bill Clinton?
Wed say it was a bit churlish to mention Leachnot so much with Summers/Rubin/Clinton. (By the way, the law Clinton signed had passed the Senate by a huge margin, 90-8.) But if you want churlish, Robinson was once again reciting Obamas line:
ROBINSON (9/19/08): In other words, McCain is running against his own record.
To cite one example, McCain backed landmark legislation in 1999 that removed the walls between banks, investment firms and insurance companies. That bill allowed a company like AIG to expand beyond its traditional insurance businesswhich is still profitableinto exotic new products that ultimately brought the company down.
A better columnist might have used this valuable space to develop a more serious case against McCainagainst the man who backed landmark legislation which 89 other senators backed. But Robinson wasted chunks of space with silly blather about inventing the Blackberry, and about Carly Fiorinas latest pointless pronoucement. In other words, Robinson was performing like a hackas hes done since the hoary old days when he was hacking away against Gore.
You see, Robinson has always tended to kiss the keister of Village consensus. When they hated Gore, he channeled that loathing, in his role as Style section editor. Today, Sally Quinn is in love with Obamaand he channels that ardor too. Theres less consensus at this time than there was in 1999, of course. But Robinson has always hacked against both the Clintons and Gore, just as the Village decreed it.
In the long run, this sort of thing isnt good for progressives, however much we choose to pretend. This press corps will be an upper-class institution for many decades to come. On balance, theyre against McCain and the culture of war during this very brief moment in time. But on balance, they wont support progressive interests in the future, once the time of crisis has passed. (In the Village, Democrats now exist to clean up Republican messes.) Its sad to see the career liberal world embracing the work of pundits like these. Not long ago, they worked to convince you McCain was a saintand that Gore was the worlds biggest liar. In short, people like Robinson invented the world from which we now try to emerge.
Once again, Robinsons lips are tightly loc ked around the keister of Village consensus. Years ago, his writers struggled to leave Gore for deadGore, the vanilla pudding of the species (Kevin Merida) who giggled like a girl (Ceci Connolly). Today, he hands us sweet nothings about Carlys blackberries. Wed do better seeking voices which are smarter, toughermore honest.
Special report: By dint of their narratives!
READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: If John McCain reaches the White House, it will be by dint of his partys narratives. Read each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Republicans say the darnedest thingsby dint of their powerful narratives. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/13/08.
PART 2: Joe Klein is mad at Saint McCainnow. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/15/08.
PART 2A: Michael Kinsley is defending Gore and Kerrynow. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/16/08.
INTERLUDE: Candidate McCain is very much Dr. Cohenkleins monster. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/17/08.
Today, in a thrilling Part 3 or 4, we discuss the Greatest Narrative Ever:
PART 4GREATEST NARRATIVE EVER: A string of pundits continue to jump off the good ship Saint John McCain. But lets recall what these people did during Campaign 2000:
Regarding McCain: They invented a figure named Saint John McCain, a straight-talking man who was said to be the repository of all human virtue. Today, these pundits are standing in line to tell the world what a liar he is.
Regarding Gore: At the same time, they invented a demon named Candidate Gore, inventing endless fake stories about him. Today, he holds the Nobel Peace Prizeand pundits take turns announcing that Gore never said he invented the Internet!
It has begun to seem less likely that McCain will end up in the White House. But plainly, these pundits kept Gore from reaching that place by dint of their astounding misconductand McCain may get there still. If he does, he will have done so by dint of the narratives they helped inventespecially the silly tale in which McCain was the worlds greatest man.
They invented a saintand a demon. But even today, liberal intellectuals and liberal writers cant quite bring themselves to admit it. Yesterday, Alan Wolfe discussed the movement away from McCain in this report at Salon. But good God! The fiery liberal began his report with a truly ridiculous statement:
WOLFE (9/17/08): Eight years after the travesty of the 2000 election, in which the media were prone to emphasize Al Gore's exaggerations while letting George W. Bush off the hook, Republican politicians finally are being called out on their dishonesty.
Good Godthats simply stunning. The media were prone to emphasize Al Gore's exaggerations? There are no words for how clueless that is. Galveston recently had some rain would be a rough analogy.
Except Galveston actually did have some rain. Did Gore really voice exaggerations?
More than nine years later, Wolfes statement is simply astounding. But it seems to represent the best the career liberal world can manage. This explains the persistence of one more Republican narrativethe greatest one Saint McCain owns. We refer to the narrative Saint McCain used in the wake of his nomination of Palin. When Palin was criticized in various ways, McCain knew how to explain it:
There they go again, he said. There the mainstream press corps goes, displaying its liberal bias!
The press corps is driven by liberal bias! Its the most potent propaganda tool in our politicsthe greatest of all current narratives. It persists today in its potent form because liberal writerspeople like Wolferefuse to be truthful with voters. Truly, we live inside a madhouse when that tale can survive the past sixteen years. In the past sixteen years, after all, weve seen the following happen. Well focus on the treatment of personalities, not on the treatment of issues:
But more than anything else in this time, we saw them struggle and strainand lie and deceivepretending that Gore was the worlds biggest liar. But so what? After sixteen years of this gruesome misconduct, the potent old narrative persists. The press corps is driven by liberal bias! The press corps just loves all those Dems!
If John McCain gets elected this fall, it will be in large part by dint of that narrative. And who has allowed that tale to persist? People like Alan Wolfetelling the world, in sonorous tones: Last week, it rained some in Galveston.
How hapless have liberals been when it comes to confronting this powerful narrative? For an answer, just watch a segment from C-Spans Washington Journal involving Marvin Kalb and Faiz Shakir. (To watch this segment, just click here. Then click once again.)
Shakir is editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress, web site of the Center for American Progress. Kalb is a ponderous, tired old hacka lion of the insider Washington class. (The class to which Shakir will belong.) The two fellows appeared on September 6, just as the storm was brewing about the press corps mistreatment of poor abused Sarah Palin.
Opposing the pair was Cliff Kincaid, crackpot voice of the far-right Accuracy in Media. Predictably, Kincaid kicked the keisters of Shakir and Kalb all over C-Spans lot.
You can perhaps guess how this session proceeded. Kincaid began by complaining about the way the liberal media adopted the Daily Kos claim about Palins last pregnancy. With that imagined outrage as his frame, he kept repeating familiar old tales about the press corps liberal bias. But in the course of the 35 minutes, it never occurred to Shakir or Kalb to make the worlds most obvious points. Viewers never heard a word about the press corps assaults on the Clintons and Gore. Incredibly, Shakir and Kalb never even mentioned the press corps long love affair with McCain! If you didnt think you knew better, youd assume this was some form of pro wrestling, with Shakir and Kalb agreeing to be pinned. (Our own assessment: Kalb was astoundingly awful this day, Shakir was merely hapless.)
In fact, this is the typical, long-term conduct of hapless liberal elites.
Perhaps you know why they play it this way; here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea. But truly, Wolfes statement says all you need to know about why McCain may yet reach the White House. If McCain does reach the White House next year, it will be by dint of his partys narrativespotent narratives he and his party have worked long and hard to create. Because theyve worked so hard to establish these tales, voters have endlessly heard them:
By dint of these narratives:
John McCain is the worlds greatest man.
Democrats have problems with the truth; Republicans are plain-spoken truth-tellers.
The press corps is driven by liberal bias.
Liberal elites look down on real people.
Theres a lot to commend that final narrative; the other three are hopeless bunk. But Faiz Shakir, for whatever reason, didnt tell that to C-Spans viewers. And Alan Wolfe did the same darn thing with that ludicrous opening statement.
It rained some in Galveston, Alan Wolfe said. When will people like Wolfe tell the truth about the mainstream press corps?
Earth to Wolfe: As we noted the other day, Campaign 2000 took its most fateful turn on December 1, 1999. On that day, Ceci Connolly and Katherine Kit Seelye accidentally misquoted Candidate Gore in the Post and the Times (about his hearings on Love Canal.) Their error revived a dying narrative: Al Gore is a delusional liar. From that point on, this narrative simply never quit. It drove vast amounts of the campaign coverage. It sent George Bush to the White House.
Earth to Wolfe: When a journalist misquotes a politicians accurate statement, she isnt emphasizing an exaggeration, or showing that she is prone to do same. More correctly, shes making sh*t up. Connolly and Seelye did that for two years. But your class still refuses to say this.
For the record, Wolfe is on the faculty at Boston College, where he serves as director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life. Dont you think that life must be good inside that pleasant office?
How this class looks out for its own: By the summer of 2000, Connolly and Seelye had misbehaved so dramatically that people had noticed across the pond. The pair were hostile to the campaign, the Financial Times wrote, doing little to hide their contempt for the candidate. But over on this side of the pond, you werent allowed to notice such things. (Published writers like Wolfe never did.)
Result? In Brills Content, Seth Mnookin discussed the criticisms that had been aimed at Seelye and Connollyand Jane Mayer said that these complaints had been caused by sexism! If Bob Woodward and Jeff Gerth wore high heels, they'd be called bitches, too," she said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/1/00). And noyou cant get dumber than that. Thats as dumb as human life ever gets.
No, you cant get dumber than that; nor can you be a better team player. But within this world, the children know they mustnt tattle. Al Gore said he invented the Internet? Its a weird urban legend, they say.
Men like Wolfe remain polite too. This explains why McCain may still win. He may win by dint of his powerful narrativesnarratives these men wont explore.