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RAVE PARTY! Pundits raved about Palin, Rich said. Frankly, it was just one more fantasy: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2008

Jackson tells it like it’s been: As we’ve noted, many pundits have told a heart-warming tale in the wake of Obama’s election: They never dreamed they’d ever see a black guy reach the White House! They’ve said this despite their own conduct in 1995, when they stood in line to beg Colin Powell to run against the vile Bill Clinton. In November 1996, exit polls said that Powell would have beaten Clinton, 48-36. But so what? Today, pundits know the shape of the Current Novel. They never dreamed a black guy could get elected, they all seem to know they must say.

In truth, your (white) pundit corps is very unsophisticated (and very unconcerned) about matters of race. They’ve met Clarence Page, and that’s about it; they compensate by adopting the most simple-minded possible approach to any matter that involves race, or that seems to do so. (For the record: Page is a very decent person. Here’s something we like about him: As a pundit, if he’s pushed too far on race, the steel stiffens in his spine.) We’ll discuss this matter later this week, looking at Sunday’s Maureen Dowd column. But before we do, we want to compliment Jesse Jackson and Dr. King’s son, Martin Luther King III.

Each man appeared on last Wednesday’s Larry King Live. Larry was celebrating Obama’s win by pretending that no one could ever have dreamed that such a thing could ever have happened! We had to chuckle when Larry even presented the framework to Jackson himself:

KING (11/5/08): Did you ever believe, honestly, that you would see a black man elected in your lifetime as president?

It struck us as an odd framework to offer to Jackson, who ran for president twice in the 1980s. He finished second in the race for the Dem nomination in 1988, twenty years ago. We chuckled a bit at Jackson’s reply. The analysts all cheered him for it:

JACKSON (continuing directly): You know, Larry, I saw certain possibilities. Our nation is a work in progress.

Duh. Of course Jackson would have understood that this had become a possibility—that your nation‘s progress had reached a point which makes this pundit corps novel a joke. To his credit, he didn’t fall in line with the Group Novel. But then, neither did Dr. King’s son, appearing a few minutes later:

LARRY KING (11/5/08): Do you think, honestly, that your father would have thought this would have happened in his son's lifetime?

MARTIN LUTHER KING III: Oh, yes! I absolutely think—in fact, certainly had he lived, maybe we would have achieved this milestone earlier.

Darn these people, who kept refusing to cough up a novelized “no!”

We don’t mean to single out Larry King; the pundit corps has been playing this silly song generally. (Chris Matthews, running for the Senate, has been pimping especially hard. The man is a total disgrace.) There’s nothing they care about to the point that they’ll tell you the truth about it. They certainly don’t care enough about race to stop their incessant novelizing.

Jackson and King seemed in touch with the truth. As always, your pundit corps trafficked in fiction. They begged Colin Powell to run, long ago. Today, only Jackson recalls.

Special report: Rich and a King!

PART 2—RAVE PARTY: Whatever Frank Rich was smoking this weekend, he’s been puffing it quite a long time. In 1998, the gentleman couldn’t tell the difference between twelve years and maybe ten minutes (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/19/07; search on “duration”). In 1999 and 2000, he couldn’t tell the difference between Bush and Gore. The latter problem persisted for years, helping bring major harm to the nation.

This week, Rich is front-running on the side of us Dems. In the past, his front-running ran in a different direction. Quite Frankly, his previous failures-to-discern seemed to be driven by Hard Pundit Scripting. During that era, it was Hard Pundit Law: All judgments must denigrate Clinton/Gore/Clinton. Rich bowed to this communitarian diktat right through the recent Democratic primaries. By Sunday, though, he was on his own tangent, inventing a string of odd reactions to last Tuesday’s vote.

“Let’s be blunt,” Rich bluntly said. “Almost every assumption about America that was taken as a given by our political culture on Tuesday morning was proved wrong by Tuesday night” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/10/08). Rich listed a string of such assumptions, torturing data as he went. But this was surely the oddest remark he made in this puzzling column:

RICH (11/9/08): The same commentators who dismissed every conceivable American demographic as racist, lazy or both got Sarah Palin wrong too. When she made her debut in St. Paul, the punditocracy was nearly uniform in declaring her selection a brilliant coup. There hadn’t been so much instant over-the-top praise by the press for a cynical political stunt since President Bush “landed” a jet on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in that short-lived triumph “Mission Accomplished.”

The rave reviews for Palin were completely disingenuous. Anyone paying attention (with the possible exception of John McCain) could see she was woefully ill-equipped to serve half-a-heartbeat away from the presidency...

The people, however, were reaching a less charitable conclusion and were well ahead of the Beltway curve in fleeing Palin. Only after polls confirmed that she was costing McCain votes did conventional wisdom in Washington finally change, demoting her from Republican savior to scapegoat overnight.

As we noted yesterday, these claims by Rich are utterly bogus. What does it mean when your national discourse is created by fantasists of this type?

Palin made that debut in St. Paul on Wednesday evening, September 3. Was her selection being hailed as “a brilliant coup” by a “nearly uniform” pundit corps? Did their “rave reviews” only flip when Palin began to dive in the polls? Not if you scan four major newspapers, including Rich’s own paper. In these precincts, reviews of Palin were rather harsh in the wake of her St. Paul debut. Quite Frankly, Rich is making this latest claim up—as he has done so many times, with such bad effects, in the past.

Was the pick getting rave reviews? Let’s consider Rich’s own paper. By Sunday, September 7, Clark Hoyt, the Times ombudsman, was responding to widespread complaints that the Times had been savaging Palin—though he didn’t seem to agree with this view. But in truth, Times pundits were offering very few “rave reviews” of Palin’s selection. In fairness, one such review did appear that weekend, voiced in two paragraphs by William Safire. Here’s the gist of what he said:

SAFIRE (9/7/08): [T]he St. Paul convention was hit by Hurricane Sarah and her admirable family. The cliche is that—faced by part of a party long troubled by McCain's different drumming—the governor of Alaska was able to ''energize the base'' of social conservatives. The more salient fact is that her skillful speech and joyful demeanor was even more impressive than Obama’s introduction to the Democratic Party four years ago. The establishment-shaking candidate was a happy warrior in the glare of major-league scrutiny. Most of the huge, uncommitted audience at home enjoyed this strong woman's national audition; the first test of McCain's gamble paid off.

If a whole lot of pundits had written like that, Rich’s claim would have merit. But most big pundits weren’t writing like that, as a glance at the record makes clear.

Let’s start with the Washington Post, a major America newspaper.

What “rave reviews” were Post pundits penning? Here’s David Ignatius, reviewing the selection of Palin that very same Sunday:

IGNATIUS (9/7/08): Palin is breathtakingly unqualified to be president, and the idea that we would have someone in the White House who wants to overturn science and teach creationism in our public schools is, well, terrifying.

In our book, that’s less than a rave. But then, no one in the Post offered anything like a rave on the weekend which followed Palin’s debut. “The vice president's only constitutional duty of any significance is to become president at a moment's notice,” Charles Krauthammer wrote that Friday. “Palin is not ready.” But that column actually was a rave when compared with E. J. Dionne’s, on the same page, the same day:

DIONNE (9/5/08): [McCain’s] single most cynical act was choosing Palin as his running mate, "cynical" being the word used by former adviser and friend Mike Murphy, the Republican consultant caught by an open microphone.

Gene Robinson wasn’t quite raving either: “I guess I didn't drink enough Kool-Aid before [Palin’s] convention speech, which was received inside the Xcel Energy Center here as if Ronald Reagan had returned from the great beyond.” Nor did Post editors seem to be thrilled. In an editorial criticizing McCain for what he said in his convention speech about climate change, the editors said this: “It was as if his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has questioned whether human activity contributes to global warming, exercised a line-item veto on his speech.”

But then, the editors at the New York Times were even less upbeat RE Palin. “On Wednesday, the nastiest night of the week, Mr. McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, and other speakers offered punch lines, rather than solutions for this country's many problems,” the editors wrote on September 5. Two days later, in a Sunday editorial, they discussed energy issues too. “Mr. McCain's choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate raises even more worrisome questions,” they wrote. “Governor Palin's views are alarmingly out of touch with reality.” Who knows? Perhaps Rich was thinking of Sarah Vowell, who offered this “rave review” in a Sunday Times op-ed piece:

VOWELL (9/7/08): The good news is that Governor Palin has sufficient experience in public life to leave behind enough of a paper trail that we can discern her positions on many of the most important issues of the day. The bad news is that after taking this crash course in where she stands, I know that if she were elected I would be afraid to leave my apartment after sundown.

Trust us—Gail Collins, Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert weren’t raving about the selection either. And quite Frankly, if you think Rich was pimping Palin, you must have been sampling his private stash. “The McCain campaign's claims of a ‘full vetting process’ for Palin were as much a lie as the biographical details they've invented for her,” he bluntly opined on September 7. “Palin is a high-energy distraction from the top of the ticket, even if the provenance of her stardom is in itself a reflection of exactly what's frightening about the top of the ticket.”

Was the punditocracy raving in unison elsewhere? We found no signs of such behavior in the Los Angeles Times or the Chicago Tribune. “I spent much of the last week in a state of apoplexy at the hypocrisy and cynicism of the political process in general and the Republican Party in particular,” Meghan Daum wrote at the start of an LA Times op-ed piece. She had watched Palin’s speech with some religious conservative friends. She described her own reaction:

DAUM (9/6/08): As for Palin's speech, we all agreed it was "incredible," though they meant it as a compliment, whereas I was reminded of Nicole Kidman's role in the movie "To Die For," in which she plays an aspiring TV personality who murders her way to the top.

Actually, no, that isn’t a rave. But in all candor, no one raved at the Tribune either. Jessica Reaves did write this:

REAVES (9/7/08): [T]he Republican case is not helped by Palin's nomination, which fairly reeks of sexism.

At the Tribune, the Palin pick reeked.

Let’s be blunt. The punditocracy wasn’t “nearly uniform in declaring [Palin’s] selection a brilliant coup.” In these major American papers, very few pundits had good things to say about the selection at all. They didn’t offer “rave reviews,” then “demote her to scapegoat overnight” after her polling flipped. These claims by Rich were utterly bogus. But on Sunday, the front-running fantasist devoted three paragraphs to this utterly ludicrous claim.
Today, Rich invents stories which please us libs. In the past, he dreamed up tales which savaged both Clintons—and Gore, who was just like Bush, Rich insisted. The world has paid a large price for his fictions. Does nonsense like Sunday’s make things right?

What does it mean when your nation’s discourse is driven by fantasists of this odd type? Should you be proud of a country like that? Does such a “country” exist?

Tomorrow: Other claims from Rich’s piece—and a column penned by a King.