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Daily Howler: We marveled when Balz drew sweeping conclusions from ten--count em, ten!--Hawkeye voters
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IMPERFECT TEN! We marveled when Balz drew sweeping conclusions from ten—count em, ten!—Hawkeye voters: // link // print // previous // next //

WITH THEIR PERMISSION: Digby (and so many others) are right: It’s amazing to see Rush Limbaugh (and so many others) beating up on a 12-year-old child who has committed only one sin. This 12-year-old child has health insurance—health insurance gained under SCHIP.

“This is so loathsome I am literally sick to my stomach,” Digby wrote in this recent post. “These kids were hurt in a car accident. Their parents could not afford health insurance—and sure as hell couldn't get it now with a severely handicapped daughter. And these shrieking wingnut jackasses are harassing their family for publicly supporting the program that allowed the kids to get health care.” For today’s New York Times sanitized account of this matter, you know what to do—just click here.

Indeed, the pathology on display this week has been striking. But it might be worth taking a minute to recall how we got to this place. This might be especially helpful for those who entered our crackpot discourse around the time of the war with Iraq. Some of us may not fully recall the 1990s, when so much of this gruesome conduct began to gain such a toe-hold.

This lunacy began to root in the soil as soon as Bill Clinton won his way to the White House. Indeed, the response to this event was astounding. Within two years, Clinton had been assigned a right-wing minder who would hound him for the rest of his tenure (Kenneth Starr). And, along with his wife, the first lady, he would be widely accused, through his White House years, of committing a long string of murders.

In 1994, this same Limbaugh went on the air to suggest that Hillary Clinton helped murder Vince Foster, her long-time friend and associate. (Foster, of course, committed suicide.) But then, Jerry Falwell was already peddling a tape which accused Bill Clinton of many murders. By August 1999, things had deteriorated to the point where a stone-cold crackpot like Gennifer Flowers spent a half-hour on the cable show Hardball accusing both Clintons of multiple murders. And because her performance had been so ludicrous, Flowers was then invited to spend a full hour doing her act on Hannity & Colmes. Of course, it was during this time that Al Gore, who may win the Nobel Peace Prize this week, was trying to start his run for the White House—and the national press corps was busy inventing a long string of fake claims about him.

Yep! Our lunatic discourse had sent down deep roots by that remarkable Summer of 99. And what was most remarkable here? The stone-cold silence of the liberal elites—of liberal journals and major liberal columnists, of E. J. Dionne, Mark Shields, Al Hunt, and the whole long string of bright wall-flowers. Incredible! When Flowers staged those lunatic sessions accusing Hillary Clinton of murder, not a single media reporter or liberal pundit voiced a word of comment or complaint. Nor did these people bother to speak about the lies being spread about Gore—although almost all of them knew that the demonology was absolute pure Grade A bull-sh*t. Let’s keep it simple: By the summer of 1999, you could say any god-damned thing you pleased—as long as you said it about the Clintons or Gore. Crackpots like Limbaugh became so brazen because their conduct was so thoroughly tolerated.

In a highly relevant Tuesday web post, Paul Krugman remembers this very same era. Because Krugman’s post is so short—and so relevant—we’ll post it in full:
KRUGMAN (10/9/07): So, I was teaching one of my classes (WWS593), and somehow the subject veered off into monetary policy and the lessons of Japanese experience—so I decided to drop the prepared lesson plan and talk about Japan in the 90s.

And one of my students said, “You look so happy!

It’s true: the 90s, when I was writing about Japan’s liquidity trap and other overseas problems, were good years. My own country was governed by responsible people; we were actually having policy discussions based on intelligent, if differing, viewpoints. The truth is that I don’t like having to do what I do in the Times, pointing out lies and corruption all the time. I wish we were having a civilized discussion. But we aren’t.
Importantly, Krugman remembers the 1990s: “My own country was governed by responsible people.” What he says is perfectly accurate; again, one of those responsible people may win the Nobel Prize this week (or not). But what was happening to those responsible people as they persisted in governing responsibly? Of course! They were being accused of multiple murders—and lies were invented and put in their mouths! And the Dionnes, the Hunts, the Riches, the Cohens, the Shieldses and the Margaret Carlsons—not to mention the Milbanks, the Beinarts, the Chaits, the Judises—sat and politely stared into air. (Some of them pimped the bull-sh*t themselves.) Cracked pottery came to define our discourse because it was widely allowed.

There has always been a crackpot strain in American life. Richard Hofstadter described this strain in our politics long ago, in his famous essay. This strain became dominant in the 1950s in the person of Joseph McCarthy; finally, various people rose and forced this big stupid crackpot to stop—asked, in public, if he had no shame. In recent years, liberals have begun forming platforms with which we are trying to stop crackpots like Limbaugh, who is beating on a 12-year-old child this week. But a very long period came and went in which this conduct was widely permitted.

Three cheers for Krugman! When he saw the start of the “lies and corruption” in the 1990s, he found a way to start pushing back, even before Bush got into office. (Uh-oh! Howell Raines told him he couldn’t say “lie”—and Bush ended up in the White House.) But as we see this gang of crackpots beating on a 12-year-old child, we might want to stop and remember the way their lunacy got such a toehold. It gathered its strength in the stone-cold silence of our most famous “liberal” sentinels—men and women who have never explained why they cowered and hid. And stayed still.

LET’S NOT FORGET: Three cheers for Krugman! But in that vein, let’s not forget the way Gene Lyons pushed back, in Fools for Scandal (1996, based on an earlier magazine piece). Let’s not forget Lyons and Joe Conason, The Hunting of the President (2000) And let’s not forget the total, stone silence of liberal journals and columnists during this utterly shameful period. We were being governed by responsible people—and two of them were accused of murders, and a third was accused of a long string of lies. Lyons, Krugman and Conason spoke; an extremely long list of others stayed silent. When you see Rush beating up on that child, he does so with years of permission.

Special report: The Post announces!

BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING EPISODE: On Sunday, the Post almost seemed to “come out,” announcing itself as a kooky-con paper. Be sure to read each installment:
PART 1: The Washington Post staged its formal debut all through Sunday’s paper. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/8/07.

PART 2: The Dean pretended he hadn’t heard when Cole predicted a Dem White House rout. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/9/07.
Today, in Part 3, we marvel at Balz as he speaks with ten—count em, ten!—voters:

PART 3—IMPERFECT TEN: This past Sunday morning, we were really struggling, fighting our way through the Washington Post—which almost seemed to be “coming out” as an openly kooky-con newspaper. Page one of Outlook was taken up by Bjorn Lomborg, the international global warming “concern troll,” and by a conservative chap from Britain, named Wheatworth; he was engaged in standard attacks on the always vile Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, on the op-ed page, David Broder was seeing no evil: He had been told, by a leading Republican congressman, that next year’s GOP White House candidate would get at least 43 percent of the vote—and rather than note this amazingly gloomy prediction, Broder pretended that this was great news for the GOP in its House races. But it wasn’t until we hit the news section that we realized the Post was announcing—making its formal debut on this day. Let’s return to that astounding headline which covered the top of A7—that giant headline which told the world the thing the Post wants them to hear:
In Early States, No Clear Leaders
“In Early States, No Clear Leaders?” Polling numbers can change, of course. But in the early state formerly known as New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton is currently far ahead, as everyone at the Post of course knows. But so what? The Post didn’t seem to want you to know that—and so that blatantly bogus headline ran all across the top of that page. For the record, the page included a news report saying there was no clear Dem leader in Iowa. (A second report said there is no clear Republican leader in New Hampshire. Romney has an 11-point lead in hard-to-call Iowa.) In its headline, the Post simply wished New Hampshire away. It didn’t fit with the paper’s “clear” preference—and so it was disappeared.

Were we wrong to suspect that this was deliberate—that the Post was just playing its readers for fools? You might think such a thought was silly—unless you read Dan Balz’s report on page A7, A6's facing page.

Balz, of course, is the last thing from dumb, so when he types bull-roar, he does it on purpose. And omigod! What perfect propaganda the Post had Balz typing up this fine day! The headline here also struck us as odd, even before we shook our heads over Balz’s odd report:
Negative Perceptions Dogging Clinton Among Voters in Iowa
It was yet another Clinton-basher, and the timing seemed a bit odd; that very morning, the Des Moines Register had released its new poll, which had Clinton ahead now in Iowa. Yes, it’s true: In some sense or other, you can be leading in a state, and still be “dogged by negative perceptions.” But let’s get real: The Post had gone into full jihad this day, trashing the evil dynastic front-runner, and Balz would pen the most phony piece yet—although, at that point, we still hadn’t read the nonsense of one Chris Cillizza.

Our question: If Clinton was actually leading in Iowa, how did Balz manage to find that she was being “dogged by negative perceptions” among the voters of the state? Well, it’s all in the focus group you assemble! Comically, Balz had assembled a ten-member panel—and, as anyone would know, you simply can’t gather reliable info from a group so laughably small. But with this group, the nonsense was worse. We were forced to emit dark, mordant chuckles when Balz described his gathering. Omigod. Too much:
BALZ (10/7/07): The members of this small group are in no way representative of likely caucus participants, and so their views should not be mistaken as a sign of who may win or lose the caucuses in January. The degree to which they are not representative of current polling in the state is apparent in that candidates such as Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) and Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) enjoy more support among them than does Clinton or former senator John Edwards (N.C.).
Let’s face it: Only on a day when the Post was “coming out” could such prime nonsense go in the paper.

Let’s make sure we understand the strange thing Balz has said.

It isn’t just that Brother Balz has assembled a comically small focus group—a group so small that you could draw no serious conclusions from it. No, the situation is sillier than that; Balz specifically knows that this “small group” is (his words) “in no way representative of likely caucus participants!” Indeed, more of this group favor Biden and Dodd (two Iowa laggers) than Clinton or Edwards (two Iowa leaders). But so what? Balz proceeds to interview a set of voters who don’t favor Clinton—and proceeds to learn that they don’t favor Clinton! A headline seems to extend their “negative perceptions” to voters all over the state!

By the way, these voters’ perceptions didn’t seem especially negative, once we read what Balz had written. Indeed, a question quickly popped into our heads when Balz reported their troubling views—views he found to be “harsh:”
BALZ: Clinton has spent months systematically trying to improve her standing in the state, and her advisers believe she has made progress. But among these activists, judgments about her were often harsh.

"She's too polarizing," said Bev Hedgecoth, who said she is still undecided. "She's not going to draw any independents or Republicans" in the general election.

Hedgecoth's husband, Dale, who has been going door to door for Obama, was even more impassioned about the risk of losing the general election if Clinton is the nominee. "We have to win this one, guys, we have to win this one," he said, as if giving a pep talk to the others. "We can't get this wrong, or the Democratic Party will be in shambles for 30 years."

"She cannot bring the country together," said Kay Hale, who supports Dodd.
Frankly, those judgments didn’t strike us as especially “harsh;” they struck us as the same old bullsh*t which has come straight from the press corps all year. Bev Hedgecoth says Clinton is “too polarizing;” she says Clinton isn’t “going to draw any independents or Republicans" in the general election. Our question: Does Hedgecoth know that Clinton has led Giuliani by seven or eight points in three different major polls this past month? In fairness, there’s every chance that she doesn’t know this; big media fixers (we think of Tim Russert) have been working so hard to keep that fact quiet that Tucker Carlson and Bill Press were simply “amazed” when the third such poll came out last week. If Press and Carlson hadn’t heard these facts, do you think that Hedgecoth and her husband have? To state the obvious, Clinton is already “attracting independents and Republicans,” or she wouldn’t be leading in those polls by those margins. But media fixers (we think of Tim Russert) have worked very hard to keep such facts quiet—and they’ve yelled “too polarizing” over and over. And of course, Balz himself is too fucking lazy to type things that even make sense:
BALZ: Dona Howe said she is genuinely uncommitted, still trying to choose among Clinton, Edwards and Obama. She recalled saying in January that Clinton was "strong but not it" for her, and on Friday she still felt that way.

"If she is it, I won't have a problem. I'm not going to sigh and...have a problem," she said. "I think she's very capable. However, I cannot imagine that would be the person I would caucus for."
Huh? First, Balz has Howe saying she’s considering Clinton. In the next paragraph, he seems to have her saying she isn’t. Balz only had to speak to ten people. And these are the jewels he types.

But then, it’s all about those headlines—the headlines that swept the top of A6 and A7 in Sunday’s Post. One of the headlines was blatantly false. The other was built from thin air:
WASHINGTON POST HEADLINE, PAGE A6: In Early States, No Clear Leaders

WASHINGTON POST HEADLINE, PAGE A7: Negative Perceptions Dogging Clinton Among Voters in Iowa
Hey, you dumb fucking rubes! said those headlines. And we hadn’t even read the morning’s dumbest offering. Yet.

TOMORROW: Good God almighty! Cillizza.

FRIDAY: Jon Meacham, in Book World. And of course, our answer for Wheathurst.