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CREEPING ANDREW SULLIVANISM! Will someone stop Josh Marshall before he defends Bush again? // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2008

THE COLUMNIST’S NEW CLOTHES: The political press corps’ most striking attribute is its remarkably low intellectual caliber. Just consider Richard Cohen’s column in today’s Post—a column which is built around praise for Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama.

Cohen expresses his contempt for the dumbness—and the meanness—of modern Republicanism. (“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Bush and now John McCain have constructed a mean, grumpy, exclusive, narrow-minded and altogether retrograde Republican Party.”) But why should anyone pay attention to anything Richard Cohen says? Having left the Republican Party for dead, this is the way he describes the modern Democratic Party:

COHEN (10/21/08): Ah, I know, the blues are not all virtuous. They are supine before self-serving unions, particularly in education, and they are knee-jerk opponents of offshore drilling, mostly, it seems, because they don't like Big Oil. They cannot face the challenge of the Third World within us—the ghetto with its appalling social and cultural ills—lest realism be called racism. Sometimes, too, they seem to criticize American foreign policy simply because it is American.

Still, a Democrat can remain a Democrat—or at least vote as one—without compromising basic intellectual or cultural values.

Talk about the lesser of two evils! According to Cohen, Democrats refuse to stand up to the teacher unions and indulge in irrational hatred of big corporations. They don’t have the guts to stand up to “the ghetto”—our own “Third World within.” And of course, they sometimes “seem to criticize American foreign policy simply because it is American.” This is an astounding portrait. And yet, despite these astonishing flaws, a person can be a Dem today “without compromising basic intellectual or cultural values!”

Let us add a corollary: A tired old hack can write for the Post without having two thoughts in his head.

Truly, that portrait of modern Democrats is simply astounding. In candor, we really don’t know what Cohen means about refusing to stand up to “the ghetto;” meanwhile, his comment about “seem[ing] to criticize American foreign policy simply because it is American” seems to come straight from the Palin play-book—the play-book his column was written to criticize. Finally, could we offer a thought about Cohen and public education? Cohen knows nothing about vouchers, and nothing about charters. He has no idea what goes on in low-income schools, or why low-income kids fail to prosper. He doesn’t have the slightest idea how we could improve our schools. But so what? He has memorized one famous scripted line, the line his colleagues all know to recite. (Democrats won’t stand up to the unions!) Within his Village, this counts as erudition. If you just keep reciting that line, you can serve as a pundit for life.

Again: The most remarkable thing about Cohen’s class is its low intellectual caliber. These people are stunningly unimpressive people; they comprise our lowest-IQ elite.

Because our brains are hard-wired to defer to authority, it’s very hard for many people to see this remarkable fact.

Of course, Cohen’s class also scores low on measures of simple candor. Today, his front-running tribe front-runs for Obama, praising Powell for his vast brilliance—but in the past, they front-ran different. And they never admit to their twists and turns. Here’s his penultimate paragraph:

COHEN: Those of us who traveled with Bush in the 2000 campaign could tell that when he spoke of education, of the "soft bigotry of low expectations," he meant it. Education, along with racial and ethnic reconciliation, was going to be his legacy. Then came Sept. 11, Afghanistan and finally the misbegotten war in Iraq. After that, nothing else really mattered. But just as Bush could not manage the wars, he could not manage his own party. His legacy is not merely in tatters. It does not even exist.

Note the assumption of Group Thinking. In 1999 and 2000, the Village “could tell” that Candidate Bush was sincere—and that Candidate Gore was not. But then, along came that “misbegotten war in Iraq.” After that, nothing else mattered.

Cohen forgets to say something here. Let us revise and extend his remarks, thereby completing his thought:

COHEN REVISED AND EXTENDED: Those of us who traveled with Bush in the 2000 campaign could tell that when he spoke of education, of the "soft bigotry of low expectations," he meant it. Education, along with racial and ethnic reconciliation, was going to be his legacy. Then came Sept. 11, Afghanistan and finally the misbegotten war in Iraq—the war for which I served as head cheer-leader after Colin Powell gave his remarkably disingenuous speech at the UN.

That’s right. Along with everyone else in the Village, Cohen cheered for the war in Iraq because Colin Powell advised it. Seven years later, he’s still quoting Powell—and forgetting to let us know how that worked out in the past.

Here at THE HOWLER, we tend to agree with Cohen’s assessment of the McCain campaign. But as bad as the contemporary GOP may be, the modern Village is that much worse. This is a profoundly disingenuous, low-IQ elite—a lazy gaggle of lazy front-runners. Again, we see their basic culture: They wait to see what Powell says. Then, they rush to his side.

CREEPING ANDREW SULLIVANISM: Then we have the astounding Josh Marshall. And the downward spiral of the next generation of mainstream progressive intelligence.

For starters, we largely agree with the start of this post—a post in which Josh continues to display a bad case of Creeping Andrew Sullivanism. We largely agree with what Josh says at the start, concerning McCain’s campaign:

MARSHALL (10/20/08): Either because of age or recent immersion in politics, a lot of readers have asked, is it really usually this bad? Do they all get this sleazy? As sleazy as McCain?

The simple answer, I think, is, No. They don't. I don't think there's any question that McCain's is the dirtiest and most dishonest campaign, certainly in the last 35 years and possibly going much further back into the early 20th century.

Thirty-five years takes us back to 1973. That’s one year after the presidential campaign which (literally) involved criminal break-ins—and subsequent criminal cover-ups involving the CIA and the FBI. Noting that significant fact, we’ll semi-agree with what Josh says here. We can’t think of a general election campaign in which the principals offered claims as baldly disingenuous as those of McCain and Palin. Good God! Obama “pals around with terrorists?” (Plural!) And how about this: “When convenient, he worked with terrorist Bill Ayers. When discovered, he lied.” Truly, those are astounding representations. It has been a long time since a campaign’s principal figures behaved this way, right out in the open.

(Now, of course, we’re on the claim in which a 33 percent tax rate is “Country first”—but 36 percent is “socialism.”)

But reviewing the rest of Josh’s post, it’s all downhill from there. Here’s the rest of Josh’s original post—a post which helps define the broken soul of emerging “progressive” culture:

MARSHALL (continuing directly): You may say, wait, Willie Horton? The Swift-boat smears? What about those?

But here's the key point, one that is getting too little attention. President Bush's father didn't run the Willie Horton ad. And this President Bush, however much they may have been funded by his supporters and run with Karl Rove's tacit approval, didn't run the Swift Boat ads. These were run by independent groups. Just how “independent” we think they really are is a decent question. But even the sleaziest campaigns usually draw the line at the kind of sleaze they are wiling to run themselves under their own name.

In this case, though, the kind of toxic sludge usually run by one-off independent groups in very limited ad buys makes up virtually all of McCain's presence on TV.

Even setting aside this distinction, McCain's campaign has charted new territory in deliberate lying and appeals to racism and xenophobia. But this distinction itself is too little recognized.

That concluded Josh’s original post. It’s why this guy has to go.

First, it’s astounding to see the way Josh keeps defending the campaign of George Bush the elder. We know, we know—within the framework of the Village, this sort of thing makes you a Serious Person. But is there no end to the insults we must endure from these transparent strivers?

No, Bush’s campaign didn’t run the more objectionable Willie Horton ad; an “independent group” did. But Bush’s campaign ran other Horton ads—and it busted its keister making Horton the poster-child of the furlough issue. (Horton, a black man, had raped a white woman. Other furloughed prisoners had committed murders—but Horton became the focus.) It was Bush himself, out on the stump, who changed Horton’s name from “William Horton” to “Willie Horton,” thereby accentuating his race; meanwhile, Bush kept misstating the facts of the case and driving the framework hard. (Bush’s capo, Lee Atwater, boasted during the campaign that he would make the public think Horton was Dukakis’ running-mate. As he neared death, he apologized in a Life magazine piece—correctly saying that his conduct had made him look like a racist.) Meanwhile, Bush the elder talked about Dukakis and the pledge of allegiance, pushing the sorts of ludicrous issues McCain is pushing now. (The campaign even spread around claims that Dukakis had psychiatric problems. This reached all the way to Ronald Reagan, speaking in the White House.) Josh may be too young to remember these things; he may be too dumb to have read about them. But with his repeated defenses of Bush the elder, he is misinforming a whole generation of younger readers. We know! We know! Within the Village, this sort of thing makes you a Serious Person. But it’s time for this bullsh*t to stop.

Ditto for Josh’s silly defense of Bush the younger in 2004.

But the most striking part of Josh’s post is the campaign he leaves out. Like so many of his caste, Josh cites 1988 and 2004—but he avoids Campaign 2000 altogether. In that way, he keeps avoiding the central problem of our recent political past.

Campaign 2000 was quite different from the current campaign, in one major way: Its astounding, twenty-month War Against Gore was run by the mainstream press corps itself, not by the Bush campaign. The Bush campaign wasn’t required to invent endless sleaze about Gore—the press corps was doing this dirty-work for them! But Josh has run and hid from this episode over the course of the past nine years. As he does, he refuses to stop misinforming younger readers.

Is the current campaign “the most dishonest” of the past 35 years? For a liberal or a Democrat, it’s insane to address that question without discussing the twenty-month War Against Gore—and yes, Josh understands that fact (link below). But Josh is making himself a career—and he’s willing to disinform you to do it. Within the Village, you become a Very Serious Person by disappearing what the Villagers did for twenty straight months during Campaign 2000. Josh understand that history well—and he knows enough not to discuss it.

The biggest mistake we’ve made in ten years was letting Josh slide in 2002, when he began to lie in your faces about the shape of that campaign. (For one small bit of exposition, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/19/02. We were far too polite back then, when this could have been “nipped in the bud.”) But make no mistake—Josh has played for you for many years on this score. In the process, he is emerging as the Sully of the pseudo-left. It’s long past time for this weird, creepy man to pack his satchel and go.

At any rate, will someone please stop poor Josh Marshall before he boo-hoos, blubbers and cries defending Bush the elder again? Josh! George Bush 41 ran a scuzzball campaign! It was the start of modern GOP campaign culture. Our advice: Go away and grow some stones. Come back when you’re ready to say it.

We’re all Drudge now: How big a Sully-clone is Marshall? In his first update, he responds to a reader who pointed to the obvious case of the Nixon campaigns. That’s why I said the past 35 years, Josh replied. But Josh’s second update shows why he has to go. Incredibly, Josh posts this tired old tripe from a reader. Simply put, we’re all Matt Drudge now:

E-MAIL TO TPM: I don't want to diminish the extent to which the McCain campaign has mired itself in the muck, but I think you are losing the forest for the trees. It should be noted that for whatever reason, McCain has so far refused to go places that Hillary went in the primary (Wright, explicit comments about "hard-working, white" Americans supporting her, distributing emails with pictures of Obama in Muslim garb, etc.).

Good God! To this day, Josh continues to air that highlighted claim, which originally came from Drudge—a claim whose absurdity became clear within about ten minutes. (As an adept of The Cult of the Offhand Comment, Josh is also eager to throw in the "hard-working, white" quote.)

Hasn’t the public suffered enough from the actual Andrew Sullivan? Defending Bush, avoiding Campaign 2000, Josh makes himself a Serious Person. But you can’t build a progressive politics by respecting the need of people like this to shape-shift the recent past.

Josh wants to be a Serious Person. It’s time for Josh to go.