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Daily Howler: Collins and Broder and all the Raccoons played a sick, stupid old ball game
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DAMNED FOR THE YANKEES! Collins and Broder and all the Raccoons played a sick, stupid old ball game: // link // print // previous // next //

RICH’S ODD BUT CONSTANT LAMENT: Three cheers to those around the web who landed hard on Rich and Dowd for their weekend columns! At The Prospect, for instance, Scott Lemieux pulled no punches in his stinging assessment of Rich. Our view? Liberals and Dems must learn to reject the oddball conduct of these pundits. Their disingenuous clowning has gone on for ten years. Rich and Dowd have caused great harm in the process. They seem willing to do so again.

Other readers are simply puzzled, especially by Rich’s conduct. What is up with this puzzling man, several readers have asked. We’ll offer our thoughts again tomorrow. But first, as a bit of prologue, a quick review of that silly claim he just keeps aiming at Gore.

Clearly, Rich could recite it in his sleep—his claim about Gore, and Kansas, and evolution. Here’s how he expressed it in Sunday’s column, as he said that Hillary Clinton was making Gore’s same vile mistakes:
RICH (9/30/07): The Clinton machine runs as smoothly and efficiently as a Rolls. And like a fine car, it is just as likely to lull its driver into complacent coasting and its passengers to sleep. What I saw on television last Sunday was the incipient second coming of the can't-miss 2000 campaign of Al Gore.

That Mr. Gore, some may recall, was not the firebrand who emerged from defeat, speaking up early against the Iraq war and leading the international charge on global warming. It was instead the cautious Gore whose public persona changed from debate to debate and whose answers were often long-winded and equivocal (even about the Kansas Board of Education's decision to ban the teaching of evolution). Incredibly, he minimized both his environmental passions and his own administration's achievements throughout the campaign.
According to Rich, Candidate Gore’s statements “were often long-winded and equivocal (even about the Kansas Board of Education's decision to ban the teaching of evolution).” It’s hard to know just what this means—so let’s see how he voiced this same complaint back in May 2006. At the time, Rich was trashing Gore’s lousy new film, the “high school” film about warming:
RICH (5/28/06): The less flattering aspect of Mr. Gore has not gone away: the cautious and contrived presidential candidate who, like Mrs. Clinton now, was so in thrall to consultants that he ran away from his own administration's record and muted his views, even about pet subjects like science. (He waffled on the teaching of creationism in August 1999, after the Kansas Board of Education struck down the teaching of evolution.) That Gore is actually accentuated, not obscured, by ''An Inconvenient Truth.'' The more hard-hitting his onscreen slide show about global warming, the more he reminds you of how much less he focused on the issue in 2000. Gore the uninhibited private citizen is not the same as Gore the timid candidate.
Last year, Rich said that Gore “waffled on the teaching of creationism in August 1999, after the Kansas Board of Education struck down the teaching of evolution.”

What actually happened in August 1999? To tell you the truth, very little. In fact, we can find no evidence that Gore himself ever said a word on this subject. Were Gore’s statements “long-winded and equivocal?” In the case of this specific matter, we have never found any sign that Gore made a statement at all.

Indeed, the minor matter to which Rich alludes occurred when the Gores were on summer vacation. Very few newspapers ever mentioned it—but here’s the hard-hitting AP report which appeared at the start of this “story.” And yes, the disturbing headline said this: “Gore favors teaching of evolution:”
THE AP (8/26/99):

Gore favors teaching of evolution in schools

Weighing in on a Kansas controversy, Vice President Al Gore's office said Thursday he favors the teaching of evolution in public schools but would not oppose instruction in creationism if taught as part of a religious course.

"They may teach creationism in the context of a religious course; that is clearly up to the local districts to decide," said Alejandro Cabrera, speaking for Gore. He said Gore bases his opinion on court rulings that allow the teaching of creationism as part of a religious course but not as a science.

The Kansas state school board this month adopted new testing standards that play down the scientific importance of evolution. Local school districts will decide what subjects are taught but critics and advocates of the new standards say the decision could bring more religion into the classroom.

The U.S. Supreme Court has forbidden the teaching of creationism, the belief that a higher power created the universe, because of the religious foundation of that idea.

"The vice president favors the teaching of evolution in public schools," Cabrera said.
That is the highly pointless matter Rich can’t stop talking about, eight years later. As noted, Gore was on vacation As best we can tell (the story got very little coverage), Cabrera had originally been responding to a question about this matter from Reuters. The service was asking the various campaigns what their candidates thought about the Kansas decision.

You’re right—there’s nothing that’s especially newsworthy in that AP report. Gore favored the teaching of evolution; in accord with court decisions, states were free to teach creationism as part of a course on religion. The next day, Gore’s office said Gore thought the Kansas school board’s decision was “a mistake, and he opposes it.” But this was not a major issue. For example, it didn’t come up in any debates; as best we can tell, the New York Times never reported this matter.

Rich, of course, had a major cow, delivered in a nice block of Fifth Avenue. He thundered about this matter in two columns in the next several weeks.

So what exactly was the “waffling” to which Rich referred last year, seven years later—waffling he has now blown up to a case of Gore giving “answers [which] were often long-winded and equivocal?” Five days after the original non-incident, the Los Angeles Times’ Paul Richter offered a short account of what happened. This account was part of a longer story on a different topic:
RICHTER (8/31/99): The dispute began Thursday when Gore's staff members were asked for a reaction to the recent decision by the Kansas state school board to drop virtually all mention of evolution from its statewide science curriculum and standardized tests. Gore is on vacation, but his press office—based on earlier discussions with him—responded that he personally supported the teaching of evolution, but also felt that "localities should be free to decide to teach creationism as well."

Almost immediately, his office clarified that Gore would support the teaching of creationism only in a religious-studies class, not as science—an option the Supreme Court, in any instance, has already barred as an endorsement of religion.

But that statement still angered some scientists, as well as prominent Democratic activists and fund-raisers, who noted that it contained no direct criticism of Kansas' decision to drop evolution from its curriculum.
In short, an eek-a-mouse pseudo-dispute had flared, because Gore’s office briefly failed to clarify an unobjectionable comment. Eight years later, Rich is still fuming, just as he was still fuming last year about this disturbing matter. By the way: According to some of the limited reporting, some of those sensitive scientists and activists were disappointed with Bill Bradley too. “Former Sen. Bill Bradley also declined to oppose explicitly the Kansas decision,” the Washington Post said in an August 30, 1999 editorial. By that date, the Gore office had issued two statements which “explicitly opposed” the decision.

What makes Rich flog such a pointless story—use it as an endless cudgel with which to batter Gore’s troubling character? We can’t tell you that for sure, but we’ll ask you to note the fact that religion is involved. More on this silly topic tomorrow—a topic from which we liberals can learn about the way some big journalists “reason.”

Special report: Russert happens!

BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: When NBC News fronts a White House debate, it’s inevitable: Russert happens! Be sure to read each thrilling installment of our current series:
PART 1: A millionaire couldn’t get over the cost of John Edwards’ troubling haircuts. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/27/07.

PART 2: Russert bungled Social Security, as he has done through the years. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/28/07.

PART 3: Angry lodge members banded together, certain that Russert knew best. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/1/07.
Today, the whole Raccoon Lodge agrees to play stupid, just as they’ve done in the past.

PART 4—DAMNED FOR THE YANKEES: The first person we saw who took it seriously was the New York Times’ hapless Gail Collins. On Saturday morning, Collins was typing very hard about the way vile Hillary Clinton just won’t take any firm stands. We thought the column was weak through and through. But then, dear God! She typed this:
COLLINS (9/29/07): It's one thing to refuse to answer a hypothetical question about whether there is any circumstance under which you might ever use nuclear weapons against Iran. It's another to refuse to commit on who you'd root for if the Yankees played the Cubs in the World Series. No young person is going to fall in love with politics because of a candidate who says: ''I would probably have to alternate sides.”
Good God—Collins actually seemed to be serious! She actually seemed to be criticizing Clinton for the joking remarks she made when Russert asked her, in last week’s debate, who she’d root for if the Cubs played the Yankees in the World Series. But then, Collins perhaps didn’t understand that Clinton was joking about those “alternate sides”—making a play on the way the commander-in-chief used to switch sides at half-time at the Army-Navy football game. (Prexies no longer attend that game.) Maybe Collins just didn’t know that this whole thing had been a damn joke.

But then, good lord! The very next day, a doddering Dean voiced the same complaint—and he too seemed to be playing it straight! Here’s where The Pundit Dean ended up as he bleated about Clinton’s “evasiveness:
BRODER (9/30/07): It went on like that through several more topics, until a final question about baseball fandom. Clinton identified herself as a Yankees fan, saying she knew it would not help her with the Red Sox Nation supporters in New Hampshire. But what if it is the Cubs vs. the Yankees, Russert asked. "I guess I would have to alternate," she said, triangulating once again.

This dodginess got her through the two hours. Whether it can get her through the next three months is a different question...
There are no words for such phony conduct. It was clear that Clinton was joking throughout this pointless exchange with Russert. But to Broder, when Clinton joked about her two favorite teams, this meant that she was “triangulating again!” It was a mark of her “dodginess,” the tired old Hill-hater said.

And then, it was time for Meet the Press—and the Head Raccoon had summoned some lodge-mates to sit agreeably on his panel. Like Digby (hurrah!), we’ll post a substantial chunk of what happened. It defies the things we think we know—to see that people will gather in a group, on TV, and pretend to be this stupid. The Head Raccoon was shedding real tears as this ludicrous segment began:
RUSSERT (10/1/07): I tried to get these candidates to take positions on Iraq, on Social Security, on the big issues.


RUSSERT: We talked about baseball. And I found this exchange particularly interesting. Let's watch.


RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, what about a World Series, Yankees and Cubs?

CLINTON: Well, you know, I've worried about that because I think, given the Cubs' record, which—of course I, I hope it happens, but it could very well be a sign of the coming apocalypse were that to ever occur. It would be so out of history that you'd have the Cubs vs. the Yankees. Then I'd be really in trouble. But I—

RUSSERT: But who would you be for?

CLINTON: Well, I would probably have to alternate sides. (Laughter)

(End videotape)

RUSSERT: Well, the Cubs are in the playoffs, David.


RUSSERT: Cubs, Yankees. You going to seat—sit behind each dugout?

GREGORY: You can't have it all. In the sports world, you can't have it all.


GREGORY: That reeks of calculation, which is a potential downside for her.

BUCHANAN: The term "Nixonian" comes to mind on that response.
Russert even played the tape, so people could see that Clinton was joking. (The term “laughter” after Clinton’s remark appears in the Nexis transcript.) But Gregory, playing it totally straight, said her answer “reeked of calculation”—and Buchanan went with “Nixonian.” As we watched, we still thought the whole group might be joking. But as this lodge of fools continued, it became clear that they actually weren’t. Even Tavis Smiley played along, earning his spot in The Brotherhood:
RUSSERT (continuing directly): How so?

BUCHANAN: In the good sense of the word.

RUSSERT: How so, Pat?

BUCHANAN: Well, I mean, which—"on the one hand, on the other."
TAVIS SMILEY: That sounds like Romney is what it sounded like.

RUSSERT: But, Dan Balz, it's been tough getting these candidates to, to one, one, talk to the press and take real positions. They want to hide out in the Internet, they want to hide out on their blogs, they want to put out prefab commercials and brochures. But when you say to them, "Where are you on Social Security? How are you going to save that program? Where are you on Iraq? Where are you on immigration?" sometimes you get answers like that.
Good Lord! To his semi-credit, Tavis smiled grimly as he spoke—but he played along with the klan, comparing Clinton to flip-flopping Romney. And Russert made it clear at the end—this was menat to be an example of phony pols who just weren’t willing to play it straight. The Head Raccoon was showing his pain. “It's been tough,” he sobbed to Balz, “getting these candidates to...take real positions.” “Sometimes you get answers like that,” he complained—talking about a joking reply to his stupid-ass question about the Cubs versus the Yankees.

Insane? Deranged? Is our language too strong? Too strong when this stable of millionaires makes such a ludicrous joke of our discourse? David Gregory—he of the millions per year—was playing along with the Head Raccoon, and Smiley—a major self-promoter—was willing to get stupid too. But what are liberals and Dems to do, when this cult of multimillionaires starts down this troubling path once again? We have put up with these people for year after year—we’re in Iraq because of their conduct—and they have played this game the whole time, and seem to be gearing up once again. Now, the crying King of the Nantucket nabobs introduced a very familiar notion. As usual, the Dem front-runner was a big fake—even when she told a joke about the Cubs and the Yankees.

Why did Russert behave this way? Tomorrow, we’ll try to give you the answer. But a great democracy simply can’t function when Raccoons go through its trash cans this way. Russert is a fake and a fraud—and Gregory is a multimillionaire boy toy. They played the game this way against Gore—and this week, they started with Clinton.

TOMORROW: Why this is happening.