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Daily Howler: Why are Republicans on the attack? Josh refuses to answer
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OUR SIDE STILL DOESN’T GET IT! Why are Republicans on the attack? Josh refuses to answer: // link // print // previous // next //

OUR SIDE STILL DOESN’T GET IT: This morning, at the bagel joint, we stated our fear to the film critic’s muck-raking hubby; we said we fear that the GOP will retain the White House next year. (Get ready for President Rudy.) If that happens, why will it happen? In part, because our side still just doesn’t get it. We’d submit this post at TPM as an example of that fatal flaw.

In the post, Josh Marshall reprints an excellent question from a reader, without attempting to comment. Here’s what the puzzled reader is asking. We think the answer is fairly clear. But our side still doesn’t get it:
TPM READER: Why are the Republican presidential candidates the only ones going after their opposite numbers in the other party?

Rudy and the gang have gleefully used Clinton, and to a lesser extent Obama and Edwards as foils and rhetorical ploys in their daily campaigning. But the Democrats running for president never name any of the Republican candidates. Obama could gain serious points by going after Rudy and his wacky team of neocon advisors. Why not do it? What does he have to lose? It would at least put Clinton on the defensive about Iran, and force her to comment on the latest Podhoretz nonsense.

It leads to a larger question: at this late date, after all that has happened in Iraq, why are the neocons not on the defensive within the context of this presidential season? Given current public opinion polling, the neocons should be hiding under a rock, and the Democratic candidates for president should be the ones who put them there.
That is the reader’s entire post. Josh offers no reply to its questions. We’d only offer this sad thought: Like so much of the liberal world, that reader still just doesn’t get it.

Why aren’t Clinton and Obama taking shots at Giuliani? We can’t answer that specific question. But why aren’t neo-cons on the defensive? Duh! In part, it’s because of the true nature of the electorate. (Deep attitudes can only be “polled” so far.) But in large part, it’s because the other side controls the framework of public discussion. And this is the fact that liberal “leaders” like Josh have simply refused to discuss for all these long years.

Why aren’t neo-cons and Republicans on the defensive? In large part, it’s because they get puffed—and Democrats get jeered—within the sprawling public discussion constructed by the “mainstream” press. Josh is always eager to throw you bones from the world of Fox, and Rush, and Republican scandal. But he has refused to discuss this larger story, going all the way back to the mainstream War Against Gore. And yet, this larger story helps explain the matter that has his reader justifiably puzzled. It helps explain why there’s a good chance that a Republican will get elected next year.

Why are Republicans on the offensive? Duh! Within the boundaries of our “mainstream” discourse, Democrats are quite easy to ridicule—and Republicans are very hard. You can’t explain that if you’ve spent the part decade—as Josh has done—refusing to discuss what happened to Gore. (And to Bill Clinton before him. And to those who followed, including Dean, Edwards, Hillary Clinton.) But let’s say it again: Within the boundaries of our public discussion, Democrats are constant figures of ridicule—and Republicans simply are not. This framework is being extended today, even as liberals like Josh refuse to discuss it. In large part, that’s why it’s easy for scum-bags like Giuliani to go around mocking Big Dems. And that is why it’s much, much harder for Dems to return the favor.

For those who live in the world known to Josh, it’s almost impossible to explain this matter. But let’s consider a bit of what’s happening, right now, in our gong-show “mainstream” discourse.

Hillary Clinton is the current Democratic front-runner. And virtually every night on cable, she is held up to ridicule by “mainstream” figures like Hardball’s Chris Matthews. (Tim Russert, king of the insider “press corps,” isn’t far behind. He’ll be back on the prowl tonight, at the Dem debate.) There is nothing so stupid that these tools won’t say it—as Matthews has been proving anew in the past few weeks—and this builds an atmosphere of ridicule around this latest Dem front-runner. Clinton claps her hands too much! And: Clinton is an obvious “fraud” when she says she grew up rooting for the Yankees! And: Her voice is just like chalk on the chalkboard! Fine, brilliant boys like the fine, brilliant Marshall don’t dirty their fine, brilliant hands with such nonsense. In a different world, we could support their reluctance. But they also didn’t dirty their hands when we were being told these things: Al Gore doesn’t know who he is! And: Al Gore hired a woman to teach him how to be a man! And: Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Josh kept his big trap shut back then, and he’s keeping his big, worthless trap shut now. Result? His reader still doesn’t understand why the other side is on the offensive. But then, his reader will never know that—if he keeps learning from Josh.

People like Josh refuse to discuss this long-term pattern of ridicule; they’ve been refusing to discuss it for at least a dozen years. Their sad surrender permeates a great deal of our daily discourse. For one small example, consider the good-natured column typed this morning, in the Post, by good-natured E. J. Dionne.

E. J. types a good-natured column about Rudy and the Red Sox. None of this is worth wasting time on, but E. J. is showing off his good nature, chuckling about what Rudy said last week, when he said he’d support the Sox. But what does E.J. fail to discuss? Last week, Hillary Clinton offered a passing, joking jibe about the way Rudy came out for the Sox—and she was savaged for it, repetitiously, on last Friday’s Hardball. First, David Shuster agreed to pretend that something is wrong, oh so wrong, with Clinton’s claim that she was a fan of the Yankees. (The accuracy of Clinton’s unimportant claim became clear years ago. We think we got probably there first, helped by a reader’s e-mail.) Then, Matthews—talking with loathsome socialite assassin Sally Bedell Smith—unloaded the big guns on Clinton. Will someone wake Josh and tell him? This is the way our electoral politics have been framed for the past fifteen years:
MATTHEWS (10/26/07): Thank you, David Shuster. Sally Bedell Smith is the author of “For Love of Politics: Bill and Hillary Clinton, the White House Years.” Sally, old buddy, this one of my favorite topics because I have no idea what the answer is to a lot of these questions. And I do believe, having read much of your book, that there’s so much you know about these people. How many years have you spent trying to figure out the Clintons?

BEDELL SMITH: It was a three-year project—

MATTHEWS: Full-time.

BEDELL SMITH: Full-time.

MATTHEWS: Trying to get to who they are.

BEDELL SMITH: Seven days a week, yes.

MATTHEWS: OK, let’s talk about a couple things. First—well, let’s talk about the news tonight. All this BS about the Yankees and rooting for the Red Sox, if you’re Rudy Giuliani—everybody in America doesn’t have a team in the World Series. You end up losing sometimes in the division races. You don`t get through the play-offs, so you end up rooting for one of the two teams. How could—what does she mean when she makes fun of Rudy for rooting for the Sox? What is that about? Is it all just a joke?

BEDELL SMITH: Well, she’s taking advantage of an opportunity. And she`s extremely good. She’s very—you know, she has an excellent political team working for her and—

MATTHEWS: But did she think up this malarkey about, I’m going stick with the—doesn’t she step back for three seconds and say she grew up in Chicago. You’re always loyal to the team you grew up with as a kid. She went to the Yankees so that she could run for senator from New York. It’s so obvious. Well, why is she—doesn’t she know she looks like a fraud?


BEDELL SMITH: Well, she—I mean, my sense, going all the back to when she first ran for the Senate, is that her political pollsters test almost everything that she puts out there.
Amid the (LAUGHTER), you see the shape of our electoral politics over the past fifteen years. Let us summarize this constant discussion:
CONSTANT DISCUSSION: [Insert name of Democrat] is a big fraud. His or her pollsters test everything.
Let’s start with an obvious fact. You can’t get stupider than Matthews is—and you can’t be a more perfect, purring pornographer than the loathsome Bedell Smith, whose ugly new book is a rank cess pool of misstatement and recitation about the size of Bill Clinton’s vile penis. “Nearly five and a half inches” when erect, the purring, pearl-wearing pornographer types. (Nearly that length—she’s not sure. Even we have been shocked, in the past few days, at the porn level of Smith’s new book.) By way of contrast, no one should be surprised by Matthews’ dysfunction, as played out again in last Friday’s half-hour with his purring, pearl-wearing “old buddy.” What was the first thing he wanted to do here? Defend Darling Rudy against one little joke! And: Act as if it’s utterly strange to talk about such silly topics. (Later, he called Clinton’s statement “stupid.” Why woul d she talk about that?)

Of course, Matthews’ own gang has been trashing Clinton on inane Yankees-Cubs topics ever since the garbage-fed Russert pimped the matter at that last Dem debate. On the larger scale, they have been trashing Clinton about Cubs-and-Yanks ever since June 1999, when they put the topic on the map in an endless display of inanity and groaning factual error. (This began on the weekend before Gore’s announcement speech. Even as they mocked Gore’s speech, they were calling Clinton a big fat liar about the Cubs and the Yanks.) But readers, there you see the rules of the game, the rules that have driven our electoral politics: As a mainstream pundit, you will trash Big Dems as much as you want, preferably using bungled facts about the world’s stupidest topics. But if someone dares to laugh at Rudy, you will instantly leap to defend him! These rules have driven our electoral discourse over the course of the past fifteen years. They were used against Candidate Gore back then—and they’re used against Clinton and Edwards today. But Josh’s reader still doesn’t know this—because he’s been reading Josh.

Do we still not know how this brainless game works? Eleven years after Fools for Scandal? Eight years after the War Against Gore? Do we still not know why it’s easy to mock Big Dems—but quite hard to turn the tables? At TPM, we still don’t know—just as we didn’t know in 2002, when Josh (let’s be honest) seemed to dissemble so baldly about the press corps’ War Against Gore. Something keeps these fiery leaders from describing the world we live in. As a result, their readers write in with excellent questions. And get no reply.

Why is the other side on the offensive? Josh’s reader asked a good question. Unfortunately, we live in a world where our fiery leaders seem to have no plan to answer.

WE SEE THE SAME SYNDROME HERE: As readers will know, we’re big fans of Kevin Drum, who is such a superlative analyst. But as he analyzes our politics, Kevin often finds it hard to factor in the obvious role played by our plutocrat press corps.

For example, read this important post about Rudy’s latest howler. What we would have added to this: Rudy can utter as many of these as he likes! Within the boundaries of our “mainstream” discussion, his endless dissembling has long been OK. Most likely, it always will be.

But for a more important example, check out this post about Social Security. Kevin links to an important op-ed by Robert Ball, former SS commissioner. After noting that the program’s revenue problems are “trivial,” Kevin goes on to say this:
DRUM: I know, I know, it's a boring subject. But the number of people who either don't understand (or pretend not to understand) just how insignificant Social Security's problems are and how easily they can be repaired is really staggering. A decade ago I used to be one of them, but all it took was a very modest amount of reading on the subject to convince me that I was off base. Considering how simple the math is, I really don't understand why so many otherwise bright people continue to be fooled by all this.
Kevin still doesn’t understand why bright people are “fooled” by this topic. (To his credit, he does suggest that some of these people are just “pretending.”) And wouldn’t you know it? As luck would have it, a certain multimillionaire plutocrat tool was sounding off, completely stupidly, on this very topic last night! Needless to say, he was trashing Hillary Clinton as he so stupidly did so. He had just played the tape of Obama’s new ad on this dumb topic:
MATTHEWS (10/29/07): Let me go to Perry Bacon. [Obama] said he wants an honest discussion about Social Security. But he—then he makes the point of not saying anything that might bother anybody.

BACON: That’s true. But I think it`s interesting to watch that ad and listen to what he said over the weekend as well. We moved to different parts of the argument for Obama. He’s spent a lot of time in this campaign talking about how he opposed the war before Hillary Clinton did. That seems not to have worked.
What he’s saying now is something distinctly different, which he’s basically calling Hillary Clinton calculating, and someone who has a poll before she does anything. I’d be curious to see how that works, if that starts registering. That`s a new argument he’s making right now.

MATTHEWS: Has this been poll tested, this theory that you can get Hillary for not being tough on Social Security, when most Democrats want a candidate to simply promise to give them all they have ever gotten from Social Security without raising taxes?

BACON: I expect the actual policy distinction between Hillary and Obama is small. When President Bush tried to reform Social Security a couple years ago, we found that Democrats could win by saying they will protect your check. So yes, I think you’re right about that.

MATTHEWS: I think I saw what happened to Paul Tsongas when Bill Clinton went after him. He was being honest. That was Tsongas. Bill Clinton was BS-ing the issue, and BS-ing the Social Security issue always seems to work. Jill [Zuckman], I have yet to see a candidate win by saying they`re going to get serious about reforming and saving Social Security when it gets to particulars.

ZUCKMAN: Exactly. Once you put something specific on the table that you want to do, then everybody attacks you for it.
We don’t know what planet Zuckman and Bacon have been on. But when Candidate Bush proposed private accounts in May 2000, the mainstream press corps staged a stampede to see who could praise him most heartily for it—and they savaged Candidate Gore for daring to oppose his idea. But today, Zuckman and Bacon are eager to parrot Matthews’ decades-old scripts about Social Security—the very scripts Kevin finds puzzling. In these time-honored recitations, those who say there’s a crisis are “honest;” those who say different are “BS-ing.” This brings us back to Kevin’s general failure to understand how this level of ignorance persists.

We can’t speak to the knowledge of individuals. If we had to guess, we’d guess that Matthews couldn’t explain elementary facts about Social Security. But people like Matthews don’t deal in facts; they deal in narrative, script, story-line. In reciting that tired old story last night, Matthews was reciting a line that originated in right-wing think tanks decades ago—and lines like this have been pimped and pushed all around the world during those decades. (See Naomi Klein’s chapter 12.) Why do bright people persist in such statements, even though what they’re saying is stupid? Sorry, but this is the upper-class, plutocrat script, and people like Matthews are hired to push it. The chances are Matthews doesn’t know the facts behind this fandango. (Similarly, he probably doesn’t know the facts about Clinton and the Yankees.) But you can be perfectly sure of one thing—he’ll never try to figure them out (as Kevin once did), and Kevin will never quite come to terms with the reason why Matthews won’t do that. And oh yes, Christopher knows who his targets are in reciting this time-honored script: His targets are the Big Dem pols who are always “BS-ing” this topic.

Omigod! As with Sox, Cubs and Yanks, Matthews’ target is Hillary Clinton! What a surprise! Just like Target Gore before her, she’s a big BS-ing fraud.

Why are Republicans on the attack? Why is it easy to ridicule Clinton and Obama? All across the cable dial—all around our big newspapers—plutocratic scripts are peddled, as they’ve been peddled for the past many years. They were endlessly pimped about Candidate Gore; now, they’re pimped about Candidate Clinton. Why, they even drag the loathsome Bedell Smith out to recite these stories in pearls! But our side refuses to understand this. To this day, we won’t even discuss what happened to Gore, let alone what’s happenin’ to Clinton. Result? Long live “honest” President Rudy! Handed us by silent Josh!