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Caveat lector

CHAIT CHAT! Some readers asked what was wrong with Chait’s piece. Incomparably, we offer rich detail:


CHAIT CHAT (EXPANDED): A number of readers have written to ask what-was-so-bad about Jonathan Chait’s recent column. We think the question is worth addressing. Again, we remain big fans of Chait’s policy work, which we expect to praise (and learn from) again.

What was wrong with Chait’s TNR column? First, as we noted (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/30/03), it was a priceless gift to conservative spinners. Much of the column was a critique of Bush policy. But Chait framed the piece as a tongue-in-cheek confession of his visceral “hatred” for Bush. And it isn’t just Bush’s policies, Chait says. “I hate the way he walks,” the scribe writes—“shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy feigning machismo.” Chait also hates the fact that Bush gives nicknames, and says, “I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.”

Does Chait really “hate” the way Bush holds his arms? If so, he ought to be sent to a home. But, although Chait’s piece was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the result was one thousand percent predictable. In yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks discarded Chait’s serious ruminations—and quoted the list of his trivial complaints (text below). Gravely faking for his national audience, Brooks then drew the scripted conclusion: Can’t you see how crazy these liberals are? Can’t you see that irrational “hatred” is driving these complaints about Bush?

But there’s more to criticize in Chait’s piece than its ill-advised “I hate Bush” framework. More absurd is the schoolboy way he credits those very conservative spinners—the very same conservative spinners who will now make his piece a prime tool. Early on, he notes that “[c]onservatives have taken a special interest in the subject” of Bush-hating. He quotes Robert Novak saying that he has never seen anything like the current hatred “in 44 years of campaign watching.” But it isn’t just Novak who is puzzled by all the Bush-hatred: “Even writers like David Brooks and Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standard—the sorts of conservatives who have plenty of liberal friends—seem to regard it from the standpoint of total incomprehension.” Some of their best friends are liberals, Chait says. And even so, they can’t figure it out!

But somebody else can’t figure it out. For some reason, Chait can’t see that these fancy-pants cons are just spinning him blue on this subject. He even puzzles over why Byron York would say such odd things about all the hatred:

CHAIT: Conservatives, in retrospect, now concede that some of the Clinton haters were a little bit nutty. But they usually do so only in the context of declaring that Bush hatred is as bad or worse. “Back then, [there were] disapproving articles—not to mention armchair psychoanalysis—about Clinton-hating,” complains Byron York in a National Review story this month. “Today, there appears to be less concern.” Adds Brooks, “Now it is true that you can find conservatives and Republicans who went berserk during the Clinton years, accusing the Clintons of multiple murders and obsessing how Vince Foster’s body may or may not have been moved…But the Democratic mood is more pervasive, and potentially more self-destructive.”
Chait goes on to say why this is silly, but he insists on pretending that York and Brooks are serious in their analyses. Somehow, Jonathan Chait still doesn’t know that he lives in an age of pervasive propaganda, and that Brooks and Caldwell, and yes, even York, are just spinning readers blue on this topic. Blinded by their lovely manners and by all their liberal friends, Chait believes that these conservative writers are playing it straight in their thoughts on Bush-hatred. So he proceeds to write his “I hate Bush” piece—and they proceed now to make it a tool.

David Brooks played Chait for a chump. But Brooks is charming, and he has lovely friends, so Chait keeps pretending that he works in good faith. Just so you’ll know, this is the same group of TNR lads who sat around and barely said boo during the twenty-month trashing of Gore. These fellows do excellent policy work. In the real world, they seem to need escorts.

DAVID BROOKS, RACKED WITH REGRET: This Bush-hating is simply appalling, Brooks says. Near the end of his phony Times piece, he presents an anguished mea culpa:

BROOKS: And for those who are going to make the obvious point: Yes, I did say some of these things during the Clinton years, when it was conservatives bashing a Democrat, but not loudly enough, which I regret, because the weeds that were once on the edge of public life now threaten to choke off the whole thing.
As the weeds choke off our public life, so Brooks remorsefully chokes back his tears, deeply troubled by his past silence. But plainly, Brooks is just faking. Does Bush-hatred “threaten to choke off the whole thing”—our whole public life? Please. This statement recalls Bill O’Reilly’s recent musings about a Doonesbury outrage (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/25/03). “I’ll tell you, gentlemen,” the disturbed host told two guests. “This is poisoning everything we have here in America as far as civil debate is concerned.” Brooks presents the same foolish hyperbole. Can’t you hear what he’s saying? Hey, rube!

For the record, the remorseful Brooks has plenty to regret. During the era of Clinton/Gore-trashing, he managed to tolerate many thick, noxious weeds. Incomparably, our thoughts drift back to a rancid piece by Christopher Caldwell in Brooks’ own Weekly Standard. (Yes, that very same Christopher Caldwell, the one with the lovely liberal friends!) The piece appeared on November 15, 1999, and it concerned Gore adviser Naomi Wolf. On this fine autumnal day, the lovely man with the liberal friends had bottom-feeding thoughts to offer. “Wolf says it wasn’t she who recommended the Gore wardrobe, and maybe it wasn’t,” Caldwell conceded. “But we also know the conscious or subconscious calculation by which the campaign arrived at its sartorial strategy.” Really! Just what was the “subconscious calculation” by which Gore had been led to wear a brown suit? Easy! “[W]e all know that the look he’s attained is that of the aging gigolo prowling the cafes of the Vieux Port for young talent,” this smutty man said. Then the smutty fellow mused a bit more about Gore’s deeply troubled inner life. Why was Gore taking advice from Wolf, a 37-year old married mother who had been praised for her advice to the ’96 Clinton campaign? The smutty Caldwell felt he knew. “Gore shows a keen need to be taken as a very cool guy by younger women,” he wrote. But let’s show the full rumination:

CALDWELL: Clinton biographer David Maraniss of the Washington Post speculates that Wolf “presented a younger, hipper, probably sort of new-age type of advice.” In that light, it is hard to remember seeing Gore quite so aglow as when his nomination was seconded at the 1996 convention by 28-year-old Michela Alioto, a wheelchair-bound beauty who went from a job in the veep’s office to running for Congress against Frank Riggs in California's first district. “She described Gore not only as ‘my boss, my friend, and the very best vice president we have ever had,’ but, more important, as a ‘very cool guy with his own e-mail address.’”

Gore shows a keen need to be taken as a very cool guy by younger women.

Repulsive, isn’t it? And could you possibly be more fake and phony? But that’s the kind of smutty work Brooks swallowed down for so very long. Incredibly, meanwhile, Caldwell is the kind of “conservative” whose basic good faith Chait can’t stop affirming. He has those lovely liberal friends, so Chait can’t perceive his real character.

By the way, Brooks tolerated one more revelation in the fall of ’99. He tolerated Caldwell’s insinuation that Gore must be having an affair with Wolf. Why had the Gore campaign said that Wolf was working in New York (where she lived) on the GoreNet project, with Gore’s daughter? Easy! “Wolf’s friendship with Gore’s daughter Karenna is invoked to ward off speculation about any possible wandering eye,” Caldwell said, trying to feed that same speculation. “Gore is being dragged through embarrassing personal speculation, as President Clinton has been for seven years.” Was it true? Was Gore being dragged through embarrassing personal speculation? Yes, as a matter of fact, he was. And if you doubted it, you could just read Caldwell’s smutty piece! But David Brooks just read it and winked, for which he sheds big tears today. In yesterday’s Times, he confesses his sins, admitting he should have said more in the past. But just that fast, he starts pretending—pretending that the “hatred” of Bush goes beyond the trashing of Clinton and Gore. It’s the current, fake, phony RNC spin—so Brooks, a fake, phony man, ran to type it. And oh yes. He took Jonathan Chait—a nice liberal friend—and made him the latest con chump.

PLAYING CHAIT FOR A CHUMP: Here’s the way the remorseful Brooks “edits” Chait’s piece about Bush:

BROOKS: “I hate President George W. Bush,” Jonathan Chait writes in a candid piece in The New Republic. “He reminds me of a certain type I knew in high school—the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks…I hate the way he talks…I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.”
Chait made many comments about policy matters. Brooks, though remorseful, knew to omit them. We live in an age of rank propaganda. Chait’s “candid piece” is now part of it.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Remember: The ugly era of Clinton-hating included murder lists on national TV. Have you seen this sort of thing aimed at Bush? Luckily, no—you have not. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/03.

TOMORROW: Back to Russert