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ABDUCTION OVER! Where was E. J. during the 90s? At long last, the truth becomes clear: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2006

WHO’S SCRIPTED NOW: Jennifer Steinhauer’s pitch-perfect ear told her something about Nancy Pelosi. She shared what she heard in a worthless profile in yesterday’s New York Times:
STEINHAUER (10/30/06): She arrived at the luncheon here from the airport (she had been raising money in New York, and would go on to Florida to raise more) in a signature lilac suit and strolled into the racially mixed crowd of Atlanta's Democratic elite.

She made her way through the crowd greeting many people by first name, smiling. ''How was Paris?'' she asked Ann Cox Chambers, a billionaire former ambassador, clutching her hand.

Ms. Pelosi ate nothing and even in casual conversation seemed to be reading from a script. One woman complained to her about Republican advertisements. ''The Republicans are unconcerned about money, truth or decency,'' Ms. Pelosi said, staring into the woman's eyes while delivering one of her standard speech lines.
To Steinhauer’s ear, Pelosi seemed scripted. And you know it must be true! In today’s Times, Mark Leibovich quotes insightful Dennis Hastert—and he’s saying the same doggone thing!
LEIBOVICH (10/31/06): Mr. Hastert is also fueled by what appears to be a genuine dislike of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, who would be speaker if Democrats gained 15 seats next week. To invoke Ms. Pelosi as speaker is a Republican talking point, but when Mr. Hastert does it, it smacks of disdain.

Asked if he has spoken to her recently, Mr. Hastert grimaces and says Ms. Pelosi called him last week ''to read me the riot act about something.'' He adds: ''She's scripted, and you don't really get a word in edgewise. You don't get a lot of dialogue.''
Huh! Dennis Hastert says Pelosi is scripted—and Jennifer Steinhauer said it too! But then, Steinhauer’s profile is simply riddled with Republican talking-points. She can’t stop discussing how rich and elite Pelosi is—just get can’t get off those Armani suits. And when she explains how the two parties view Pelosi, both parts of the “analysis” sound like they may have been scripted by Denny:
STEINHAUER (10/30/06): With the Republican ascendancy in Washington in peril and Ms. Pelosi in line to become the country's first female speaker of the House, she has emerged as a searing symbol of the country's deep partisan divide.

For Republican strategists laboring to maintain control of Congress, she is the personification of liberal lunacy, an Armani-clad elitist who will help push lawmakers toward an agenda of multicultural, tax-raising appeasement.

To many Democrats, Ms. Pelosi embodies their raw antipathy for a Republican Party that has held them largely to the margins for more than a decade, and their hope that a Democratic Congress could make trouble for a president with whom they are at bitter odds.
The notion that Pelosi “has emerged as a searing symbol of the country's deep partisan divide” is, of course, pure RNC claptrap. (As Leibovich says, “To invoke Ms. Pelosi as speaker is a Republican talking point.”) Meanwhile, can you think of a single Democrat for whom “Pelosi embodies their raw antipathy for the Republican Party?” Is such a person alive on Earth? Funny—Steinhauer doesn’t name any such person. And no one is quoted saying such things, not even anonymously.

For our analysts, though, the heads jerked up when we hit a Dowdian passage near the end of this fatuous profile. It’s all about me, good Times writers cry. Try to believe that she typed this:
STEINHAUER: Her voting record is among the most liberal in Congress. She gets an ''A'' from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and an ''F'' from the National Rifle Association. She favors alternative sentencing over prison construction, schools without prayer and death with taxes. She voted against the use of force in Iraq, though after the war started she voted to finance it.
Pelosi favors “schools without prayer and death with taxes?” What an ugly—and scripted—way to say it. Meanwhile, can’t you just hear the secret message? Hey, there! Hey you! Look me over!

Steinhauer’s profile is utterly fatuous—and it’s heavily drenched in script. Pelosi’s an elitist, Steinhauer says. And I’m the world’s most clever writer!

SCRIPT FOR A SCRIPT: Reading that ugly passage about “death with taxes,” could anyone fail to hear the rhythm of Maureen Dowd’s most famous lead? It started her front-page “news report” when Clinton revisited Oxford:
DOWD (6/9/94): President Clinton returned today for a sentimental journey to the university where he didn't inhale, didn't get drafted and didn't get a degree.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Once, Maureen Dowd was more clever than all. Yesterday, Steinhauer topped her.

By the way, Teddy Roosevelt favored his “death with taxes” too. If he’d tried that sh*t today, he would have been scripted: Elitist!

ABDUCTION OVER: We’ve long admired E. J. Dionne for his decency and his intelligence. But we’ve sometimes challenged his frustrating lack of fight. Today, the conundrum comes clear.

Clearly, Dionne has been off the planet—a victim of alien abduction. We say that because of what he writes near the start of today’s fightin’-mad column:
DIONNE (10/31/06): Whatever else it will be remembered for, this year's campaign will mark the moment when Republican leaders who govern in the name of conservatism turned definitively away from hope and waged one of the most trivial and ugly campaigns in our country's history.
Say what? We agree that the country is now awash in a wave of GOP-authored idiocy. But what could possibly make Dionne think that this campaign “marks the moment” when Republican leaders took this turn? What’s happening today is nothing compared to the wave of ugly trivia unloosed on the country during Campaign 2000, for example. And they weren’t much better during Campaign 04. Before that, it was Bill Clinton’s murders.

No one who has actually been on this planet could think that the current campaign “marks a moment.” But Dionne keeps expressing this odd belief at various points in his piece:
DIONNE:A conservative who attacks his opponent for wanting to raise taxes and a liberal who accuses an adversary of favoring cuts in Medicare or environmental programs are both being "negative," but legitimately so, presuming that the criticisms are rooted in fact. If candidates can't air their disagreements, what's the point of free elections?

But this year Republican campaigners and their advocates in the conservative media have crossed line after line in sheer meanness, triviality and tastelessness. Conservative optimism and its promise of morning in America have curdled into the gloom of a Halloween midnight horror show.
This year? Where in the cosmos has the columnist been? Just a bit later, Dionne complains about a famous public disgrace:
DIONNE: Conservatives should be embarrassed by Allen's last-minute sliming of Webb's books...

And how many compassionate conservatives will come forward to condemn Rush Limbaugh's cruelty in mocking Michael J. Fox's painful body movements induced by Parkinson's disease? Limbaugh felt free to parody Fox's agony because the actor had the nerve to make advertisements for Democratic candidates who support embryonic stem cell research. If you help Democrats, anything goes.
But in 1994—fourteen years ago—Limbaugh was loudly suggesting, for all to hear, that Hillary Clinton had played a role in murdering her long-time friend, Vince Foster. Apparently, Dionne had already been abducted; a Nexis check finds no comment about this repellent misconduct by Limbaugh. Was Rush’s recent mocking of Fox more serious than his behavior that day? Fourteen years later, Dionne now says that Rush has stepped over the line!

But then, many decent, intelligent scribes were off the planet during the Clinton-Gore era. In their deeply flawed but important new book, John Harris and Mark Halperin describe the “Freak Show” which took over our politics during that astonishing era. Let’s be sane: Republican conduct during “this year’s campaign” is absolutely nothing compared to the ludicrous wars of that period. Because of the “trivial and ugly campaigns” of that era, George W. Bush is now in the White House—and the U.S. Army is mired in Iraq.

Yes, we do admire Dionne. But clearly, E. J. must have been off the planet during those previous “ugly campaigns.” Next week, we’ll start to discuss Harris and Halperin’s important take on the “Freak Show” of that remarkable era. Liberals and centrists should embrace the analysis offered in their flawed but important new book. But part of that embrace will involve some truth sessions—sessions in which decent folk like Dionne explain where they were in that era.