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SON OF CONDIT! Like pigs in mud, the pundit corps rediscovers the Joy of Sex: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2006

SONS OF ROVE: We hate to play the eternal scold, but we never cease to be amazed by the way we liberals play this game. We love tristero just as much as you do. But readers! Why do we liberals seem to insist on doing things like this?
Random Thoughts

by tristero

Don't blame Clinton. This is all Al Gore's fault. Had he not invented the Internets, there would have been no Mark Foley scandal.
And no, it wasn’t just tristero. Josh Marshall’s massive contributions are plain for all to see. But somehow, the news about Foley inspired Josh to tell a funny joke about Gore too. Yesterday, he made a Top Ten List of “Silver Linings for the GOP” from the Foley story. Here was Silver Lining number 4:
4. Foley May Share Some Credit with Gore for Inventing Internet.
You’re right. As a joke, it isn’t remotely funny; in fact, it doesn’t really make any sense. But what’s the one thing it surely does do? It continues to spread a powerful meme which has been used, for the past seven years, to make a big joke out of Gore.

Let’s explain this very slowly—although it has become clear that, for us liberals, explanation simply doesn’t work. Clearly, some missing gene in the liberal make-up systematically keeps us from grasping how mass image-making now works.

Starting in March 1999, why did the RNC and the mainstream press corps keep claiming that Al Gore said he invented the Internet? Duh! They did it to make a joke out of Gore—to help spread such punishing claims as “Al Gore is a liar, just like Bill Clinton,” “Al Gore has a problem with the truth,” “Al Gore will do and say anything” and “Al Gore is delusional.” As you may recall (if you’re over 11), Invented-the-Internet was ceaselessly repeated, for the next twenty months, as a way to ridicule Gore. This theme—this powerful, relentless propaganda campaign—put George Bush inside the White House. He then sent the US Army to Iraq.

Now, here comes the part which is apparently too complex for large numbers of us liberals to grasp. When we ourselves insist on repeating these themes, we continue to spread the unhelpful idea that Al Gore is a big fucking joke. This helps degrade Gore’s public image—and it helps degrade the public image of Major Dem Leaders as a whole. Beyond that, it helps explain why Gore, not being completely crazy, almost surely won’t run for the White House again. After all, if this is the way his supporters portray him, how could he expect to be portrayed by the RNC and the mainstream press corps? The sheer absurdity of this matter simply boggles the mind.

Trust us: The bulk of Hullabaloo and TPM readers do not understand the history of the punishing invented-the-Internet episode. Yes, some readers do understand that this was a theme the press invented to drive its twenty-month War Against Gore. But many liberals and Democrats still believe that this is one of the many kooky things Candidate Gore inexplicably said during the course of Campaign 2000. It’s astounding to see two major liberals insist on spreading this notion around (especially so they can showcase these “jokes,” which are almost defiantly free of wit or humor). If you didn’t see it, you couldn’t invent it. Clearly, we liberals are impervious to understanding the way public image-making works.

You’re right. Those jokes are massively lacking in wit—and they do harm to liberal/Dem interests. But we can think of one guy who probably laughed. You’ve heard his name often—Karl Rove.

SON OF CONDIT: The American public got a bad deal with the timing of the Mark Foley story. Absent this story, the press/pundit corps would now be discussing the contents of the new Woodward book. Instead, American pundits are like pigs in mud, happier than they’ve been since 2001. They have a sex story to talk about, endlessly! Mark Foley has become Son of Condit.

What happens when the press corps is handed a sex tale to dote on? The corps pretends that it means a great deal—although, almost always, it doesn’t.

After all, Dennis Hastert has refused to provide oversight of the ongoing war in Iraq. Beyond that, he has presided over the machinations known as the K Street Project, openly enriching himself in the process. But what “misconduct” may cost him his job? The fact that he may have failed to provide oversight in a much less serious matter, in a way that is much less clear cut. The Foley matter is much less serious than the war in Iraq or the “culture of corruption.” But there is a major difference, of course—the Foley matter involves seamy sex. So the pundit corps has snapped to attention—and Democrats have already run ads saying that “children” have somehow been “molested.”

A word about the eternal failure of us Democrats and liberals to frame the terms of our public debates:

The Foley story could have been a way to illustrate a powerful problem. That problem? The defiant refusal of the GOP Congress to enact its oversight responsibilities. But Dems have failed to lay the groundwork for that narrative, in two major ways.

By the time of Campaign 04, Democrats should have been urging a basic thought on the public: George Bush has extremely bad judgment (extremely low competence). Every judgment he has made is faulty; every prediction about Iraq has blown up in his face. For the record, this story-line would have tied into a narrative that went back to Campaign 2000. There was always a sense that Candidate Bush may not quite be up to this job. This story-line had always been there (though it played second fiddle to the War Against Gore); most American voters had heard it. By 2004, this fear had been realized. If Democrats had pushed this line, it would not have come out of thin air.

But we libs and Dems preferred to focus on the claim that Bush was a liar. There was, and is, a place for that narrative—but it’s the hardest possible claim to get the average voter to accept. (This was especially true in 2004, when Bush was better-liked than he is at present.) After all, the existing line about Bush was precisely the opposite—the prevailing narrative was, he’s a plain talker. (“If he says it, at least you know that he means it.”) It would have been much easier to get voters to see that Bush’s judgment was exceptionally bad. But Democrats never really assembled that narrative—not then, and not really today.

George Bush has extremely bad judgment! If we had built that narrative in 2004, we could have built a winning narrative for Campaign 06: George Bush needs adult supervision (“oversight”), and the Republican Congress has refused to provide it. If we had already argued this claim in the current election, the Foley matter could have been a “Katrina moment”—a moment when a relatively simple story illustrates a larger, more complex situation. Katrina seemed to help some voters see this administration’s incompetence; it helped average voters conceive of the otherwise difficult notion that the Admin has been feckless in Iraq too. So too, the Foley matter could have shown voters that the GOP won’t provide oversight of any kind. If we had already argued this primary claim about this Congress, the Foley matter could have been the simple story which proved the larger point.

But alas! The modern Dem party just doesn’t do message—and the pundit corps loves to talk about sex. In the next few weeks, we’re going to wallow in the kind of detailed reporting and “analysis” which the pundit/press corps wouldn’t provide about oversight of the war in Iraq. As we learned in the late 1990s, blow jobs matter more than everything else—and now, randy e-mails matter more too. The pundit corps hasn’t beamed like this since they had Gary Condit to kick around.

Of course, as the pundit corps pleasured itself that summer, Osama bin Laden kept planning his project. The good times ended on September 11. This week, though, after five boring years, the Joy of Sex is back in force. We’re all pretending that this is the story which helps us see the troubling way Dennis Hastert conducts his business. That claim, of course, is Grade A bull. But the pigs, in their mud, do enjoy it.

UPDATE UPDATED: Just in case you missed yesterday’s UPDATE, Mark Levin joined Sean Hannity in voicing the most ludicrous lie of the past decade—the claim that Monica Lewinsky was actually a nineteen-year-old intern when she had her affair with Bill Clinton (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/4/06). Last night, Sean dialed it back a tad. He implied that Monica had been a mere teen, but didn’t actually say so.

For the sake of clarity: This isn’t remarkable because Sean is lying. Here’s what’s amazing: The fact that Sean is telling a lie that his viewers will know is pure bull-roar. After all, “the 21-year-old-intern” has long been a treasured kooky-con spin-point; surely, the vast majority of Sean’s viewers have the treasured phrase, itself a misstatement, locked deeply inside their heads. When Sean tells a lie that his own viewers will know to be bogus, we see that he himself is coming undone, along with the GOP leadership.

But don’t worry. No one in the mainstream press corps will ever say a word about it. Ever since the rise of Limbaugh, “good guy” scribe have played hands off. The rules of the game are perfectly clear; kooky-cons can lie to the rubes just as much as they want. Mainstream scribes never mention the problem. It would make their day less pleasant.