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SOLVING THE PROBLEM! Harris couldn’t tell Charlie the truth. So he gave him a pile of pure bull-roar: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2006

AND MORTON MAKES TWO: How much does the playing field tilt against Democrats in congressional races? On last evening’s Special Report, Mort Kondracke discussed this important topic:
KONDRACKE (10/10/06): Right now the generic poll shows, as you showed, that the Democrats are ahead by 15 percent....

We're still four weeks away. But at this point, what the Democratic experts that I talked to, factoring in gerrymandering and all that, say—that if they get seven percent more than the Republicans, they pick up 15 seats, which is what they need.
Let’s cut through the clutter. According to this analysis, if Democrats outpoll Republicans by seven percent, they’ll break even in the House. That’s very close to the analysis offered by Krugman last April:
KRUGMAN (4/21/06): [A] combination of accident and design has left likely Democratic voters bunched together—I'm tempted to say ghettoized—in a minority of Congressional districts, while likely Republican voters are more widely spread out. As a result, Democrats would need a landslide in the popular vote—something like an advantage of 8 to 10 percentage points over Republicans—to take control of the House of Representatives. That's a real possibility, given the current polls, but by no means a certainty.
We Democrats never discuss this matter. That’s because we’re breath-takingly stupid.

Special report: The way to spin


PART 2—SOLVING THE PROBLEM: Harris and Halperin were facing a problem when they sat with Charlie Rose last Thursday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/10/06). They planned to explain how Clinton and Bush managed to win our last four White House elections. (They appeared with Rose to discuss their new book, which is called The Way to Win.) But uh-oh! In at least one way, as we have noted, their premise didn’t quite make sense. According to Halperin, the gentleman wanted to answer this question: “What do these two families [Bush and Clinton] know that sets them apart from the losers in presidential politics?” But of course, the “loser” in Campaign 2000 (Al Gore) got more votes than the “winner” (George Bush). Almost surely, he would have won the electoral vote too except for that butterfly ballot. Given that circumstance, it doesn’t quite make perfect sense to ask, “What did Bush know that the loser, Gore, didn’t?” But the gentlemen plowed ahead all the same. They were well-known press corps penseurs, equipped with a large tome to sell.

But uh-oh! Given a troubling piece of our recent history, the pair faced an even larger problem when they sat with Rose. Sorry, but no mainstream pundit can safely discuss the actual role his mainstream press corps played in Campaign 2000. Result? Fairly quickly, Harris was feeding Charlie a line that just flat-out isn’t so.

Harris fled from recent reality when he discussed some famous old advice from Dick Nixon. “Tricky” always used to say that you ran to the right in a GOP primary, then “moved to the center” for the general election. Things have come a long, long way since then, the Post pundit opined:
HARRIS (10/5/06): One conclusion we made as we look at who has been effective politically is the old Nixon advice—do you remember that? You are supposed to swing to the extremes during the primary and then swing to the center during the general election. That does not work in this era. You have to get a coherent and consistent message in both the primaries and the general election. Reason? In this day, everybody has got video, everybody has got Nexis; everybody has got Google. And the worst thing you can be as a political leader in this country is weak or opportunistic. And so the old Nixon strategy would be almost a guarantee of not the way to win; it is the way to lose, by making yourself seem totally insincere, totally opportunistic.
You can’t get away with that now, Harris said. Why, the press corps would catch you in a Texas lege minute! If you “swung to the center” after the primaries, you’d look insincere—“opportunistic.” Why, the Washington press corps would land on your bones in just about ten seconds flat!

To his credit, Charlie sat there and took it like a man. But Harris was completely ignoring his cohort’s remarkable conduct in Campaign 2000. Basically, he was dumping sh*t right in Charlie’s chapeau. And telling him, “Please, sir—put it on.”

What actually happened in Campaign 2000—the second most recent of the four races our two bright lads pretend to explain? Here’s what happened: After Bush won the Republican nomination in March, he quickly began to move to the center, as a long string of reporters and pundits quite explicitly noted. He began to say how much he liked gays. He granted a stay of execution to a guy on death row. (His first ever.) He directed his state of Texas to give out $1 million worth of free trigger locks. Having savaged McCain in South Carolina, he began to talk about changing the tone in Washington. He stopped discussing his big tax cuts. And the press corps freely described his strategy. For example, here was Andrew Cain in the Bush-friendly Washington Times:
CAIN (4/17/00): George W. Bush charged toward the political middle last week, emphasizing education, promoting health insurance for the working poor and meeting with a select group of homosexual Republicans.

As he moves toward the center, the Texas governor has proposed some costly programs intended to spur support from diverse groups.
But then, Jay Carney was saying the same thing in Time:
CARNEY (4/17/00): But the future holds its own tough questions for the G.O.P. nominee as he tries hard to move to the political center.
But then, everyone was saying it. Here are a few more examples out of many, many:
Ralph Hallow, Washington Times, 4/21/00: Having won the delegates he needs for the Republican presidential nomination by campaigning in the primaries as a conservative, the Texas governor seems to be moving rapidly toward the middle of the road.

Jack Germond/Jules Witcover, 4/22/00: Bush is following a time-honored strategy by moving briskly toward the political center, as both Republicans and Democrats usually do once the nomination has been settled.

Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, 5/11/00: Coming on top of $62 billion worth of additional new proposals on education, health and housing, the new plan is the latest in a series of moderate steps intended to move Bush to the political center.

Judy Keen, USA Today, 5/19/00: [Bush] finally secured Arizona Sen. John McCain's endorsement, he's leading Vice President Gore in national polls and he's moving back to the political center with a series of proposals that sometimes put Gore on the defensive.

Roger Simon, US News, 5/22/00: So far, however, Bush has been playing a winning game, according to the polls, by moving toward the center and emphasizing large policy issues.

Trust us—we could do this all day. The notion that Bush was “moving to the center” was widely discussed, for several months. But guess what? Far from criticizing Bush for this move, the press corps warmly applauded him for the skill with which he was accomplishing it! At the time, the press corps was relentlessly savaging Gore for supposedly “reinventing” himself; indeed, they were torturing logic and fact and to invent deeply troubling “examples.” And that is where the humor comes in; even as they savaged Gore’s “reinventions,” they applauded Bush for the marvelous way he was “moving to the center.” For example, here are two statements by David Gergen from the same program—the June 2 Hardball:
GERGEN (6/2/00): Al Gore—he does have wonderful advisers. Bob Shrum—he's one of the best out there. There's no question about that. But we're into, what, the seventh reinvention, the eighth reinvention of Al Gore?

GERGEN (6/2/00): I think [Bush has] done extremely well in moving back to the center. You know, South Carolina has almost disappeared from people's minds now. He's used all sorts of issues like the environment and education to move back to the center. And I think he is actually taking some risks on some issues and the vice president isn't.
Gore was “reinventing himself”—which was bad. Bush was “moving to the center”—which was good. Harris’ consummate nonsense to the side, this is the actual way the press corps reacted to Bush’s performance. Across the pond, the Economist did slam Candidate Bush for having “reinvented himself”—for conducting a “makeover.” But we don’t know of a single American pundit who criticized Bush’s widely-trumpeted move to the center. Sadly, embarrassingly, here was E. J. Dionne, that same day, appearing on CNN’s Inside Politics:
DIONNE (6/2/00): What's interesting about the current make-over [by Gore] is that it really hearkens back to what he did in the primaries.

I remember being in New Hampshire in a number of small towns where he did the same autobiographical thing that we just saw right now, and it's as if Gore lost the thread once the primaries were over.

Bush knew he had to move to the center. He knew he had to do some things. He got them done. Gore has been floundering, and [Gore’s] attacks on Bush I think while effective in the long haul perhaps—say, on Social Security—did harm his image and people weren't hearing what Gore stands for.
There was no criticism for Bush’s “move to the center.” But according to this fiery liberal, Gore was involved in a “make-over.” By the way, what was that alleged “make-over” byGore? Here’s Howard Fineman, in the Newsweek report to which Dionne was referring:
FINEMAN (5/29/00): Al Gore's Next Makeover

It's of course way early in the race, and the economy still is on his side. Gore's handlers are plotting yet another rollout of their candidate, this one a massive ad campaign based on the notion that he's not so much an alpha male as a thinking man with a heart: a former journalist who used his time in Congress to educate himself, and the nation, on over-the-horizon issues; a man of profound, restless intellectual curiosity—unlike a certain governor of Texas. In the meantime, even Democrats think Bush won the spring, and they worry about signs of drift in the Gore campaign. Bush, as methodical as ever, moon-walked away from the religious right, engineered photo ops with the likes of Colin Powell and unveiled surprisingly well-received proposals on Social Security and nuclear-arms control. Gore, stuck in the attack mode he used to shred Bill Bradley, counterpunched acidly, and dismissively—but not very effectively.
What was Gore’s “next make-over?” He was starting to run an (accurate) biographical ad! And by the way, the ad wasn’t even new; it had aired in New Hampshire during the primaries. But so what? Simply in running this accurate ad, Gore was somehow involved in a “makeover.” Bush, by contrast, had “moon-walked away from the religious right.”

Let’s make this simple. Store-bought boys—boys like Harris and Halperin—can’t discuss what their cohort did during the atrocity known as Campaign 2000. On Thursday, Harris found a way to solve this problem; he handed Charlie a big pile of sh*t. And oh yes—he laughed in the face of Charlie’s misused viewers.

TOMORROW: A trio on tip-toes.

FROM THE “DUH” FILES: On June 11, Steven Weisman asked a question about this matters in a New York Times “Editorial Observer:”
WEISMAN (6/11/00): At the risk of self-parody, Al Gore is trying once again this month to break out of a slump by reintroducing himself to voters. He isn't changing his clothes this time, but he is avoiding personal attacks and unveiling big policy ideas connected in some way to life stories. Yet Mr. Gore still seems unable to exploit his obvious advantages as a partner in an administration with policies that most Americans support.

Why, the candidate must wonder, can Gov. George W. Bush reposition himself as a moderate with such ease while his own reinventions draw ridicule?
Why was Bush able to “reposition himself with such ease?” The answer was perfectly obvious then, and it’s perfectly obvious now. But Harris and Halperin still can’t discuss it. So they handed Charlie a big pile of bull. You might call it, The Way to Spin.

By the way, note Weisman’s clowning. To Weisman, when Gore introduced some policy ideas, that was one more “reinvention.” This nonsense went on for twenty straight months. For reason which must be perfectly obvious, Harris and Halperin can’t discuss it.