Home of the soaps: Careful, Brownstein! Ron Brownstein isnt one of the screaming mimis who virtually define your pundit elite. Result? On last nights Hardball, a touch of condescension may have seeped from his voice, aimed at a cable screamer. You see, Brownsteins host, screaming-mimi Chris Matthews, was ranting again about a troubling matterthe deeply vile, unconscionable way Hillary Clintons possible nomination was being vetted right out in public. In this exchange, an upper-end, screaming-mimi journalist turned to someone who isnt:
MATTHEWS (11/20/08): Why are we having this public dispute?...Theres a game afoot. Why is it being done in public?
BROWNSTEIN: First of all, Im wonderinghas anybody ever called you "No-Drama Matthews?
BROWNSTEIN: That would not be appropriate.
Careful, Brownstein! The rules on this program are rather clear. On even-numbered nights, pundits are supposed to rant about the way No-Drama Obama has been rolled/humiliated/made to look stupid by the deeply vile Clintons. (On even-numbered nights, Matthews recommends Clinton for State, saying how wondrous she is.) Pundits troop onto the show to decry the soap opera were forced to endure. But theyre not supposed to note the actual source of the drama.
How deeply stupid can it get as Matthews rants about the Clintons? First, lets examine the trouble he has sticking to one point of view. Then, lets review the laughable way this big hack prepares for his programs:
Death of consistency: Matthews and his upper-end pals tend to have a very hard time creating consistent presentations. (Its like that when youre making sh*t up.) Just consider the oddness of the way last nights program ended. Worrying very deeply and hard, Matthews posed a question to poor Perry Bacon: Who will really drive foreign policy if a certain witch gets appointed to State? Bacon knew how to frame it:
MATTHEWS (11/21/08): Where will the policy germinate from? Where will the ideas, the suggested initiatives, the clever new overtures to other countries, the interesting triangulation, all the stuff that goes on in foreign policy, where will it come from? Obamas brain or the people around Hillarys brain?
BACON: I think, Chris, the answer will be the people around Obama.. If you pick someone as secretary of state you dont trust all that much in the first place, I cant imagine you are going to be delegating large amounts of things to a person you dont have the utmost confidence in. I suspect it will still be his staff that will ultimately be deciding a lot of those issues.
Good boy! Young Bacon knew the rules of the road; youre required to denigrate Hillary Clintonalthough this means that youre denigrating Obama in the process. An obvious question lurked here, after all: If Obama doesnt trust Clinton all that much in the first place, then why on earth would he appoint her Secretary of State in the first place?
Why would Obama appoint a person in whom he didnt have confidence? The scripted answer is well-known, of course: Its better to have her inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside the tent pissing in! On the train wreck known as MSNBC, every pundit knows this point. But in this instance, Matthews free-lanced. Please note his own view of this matter:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): OK, that is what Tom Friedman of the New York Times said, too: Foreign leaders will know Hillary Clinton doesnt have the full backing of Barack Obama, that he put her there so she wouldnt be in the Senate. I mean, thats the writing. I dont believe that is true. But the writing has all been around that, that somehow shell be less of a problem for him. I never thought of her as a problem in the Senate. I think she is going to be completely loyal to the Democratic agenda, until maybe way down the road when she decides to run again. Then shell have to be independent.
In fact, that isnt what Freidman said. In his column, he said he didnt know if Secretary Clinton would have Obamas full backingand he expressed no view about what foreign leaders would come to think of this matter. (He only said its the sort of thing such leaders will surely sniff out.) But lets note the way consistency fractures when clowns like Matthews keep driving soap operas. Matthews said he doesnt believe that Obama is picking Clinton so she wouldnt be in the Senate (where she could act as a rival). And he said this: I never thought of her as a problem in the Senate. I think she is going to be completely loyal to the Democratic agenda, until maybe way down the road. But now, he turned to Jeanne Cummings for insight. And uh-oh! When Cummings began to wax too positive, her clownish host quickly reversed:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): What do you make of this, Jeanne, that she has been given a job at State because she will be less of a problem than shell be in the Senate? I just dont buy that, but its been written everywhere.
CUMMINGS: I agree with you. I dont think that is the calculation here, because I dont think that is what would motivate Barack Obama to fill such an important cabinet position. I think there are strengths to Hillary Clinton at State. I think he is looking at those strengths. To your question about where would policy originate: Right now, Susan Rice is expected to go inside, to be his National Security Adviser. The two of them are very close. They developed his policy. I think that is where it would come from, and it would be up to State to implement. And Hillary would clearly have a voice, but when you look at
MATTHEWS: Are you laughing like Im laughing? Senator Hillary Clinton has gotten as far as she has gotten in her careershe was almost the Democratic nominee for president. Shes in New York as the United States senator from New Yorkshe won that on her own. Shes done it all. Now she is going to take orders, instructions? Here is your mission statement today?
Weird, aint it? Matthews had just finished saying that Clinton would be completely loyal to Obama, until some possible point, maybe way down the road. But so what? When Cummings got a bit too sanguine, he was suddenly laughing at this very notion! It was absurd to think that a person like Clinton was going to take orders, instructions, he said. And sure enough! Reading these cues as Good Pundit Guests do, Cummings semi-reversed herself (though in fairness, she hadnt stated a clear view about Clinton):
CUMMINGS (continuing directly): Therein lies the problem and the danger and the risk to what hes doing. Theres an old expression, Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. They arent enemiestheyre adversaries. But maybe we have a lot more of that going on here, rather than
MATTHEWS: You dont give your enemies the gun. Anyway, thank you Perry Bacon. Thank you Jeanne Cummings. Right now, its time for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with David Gregory.
Just like that, we were back to talk about keeping your enemies closer. And omigod: You dont give your enemies the gun, Matthews saidhaving said, just moments before, that a Secretary Clinton would be completely loyal.
But thats the kinds of clownish talk that almost defines this Potemkin worlda world in which multimillionaire shills pretend to conduct a discourse. Matthews, of course, is sick and inaneand hes the laziest man in show business. To see the way he prepares for his show, lets return to Wednesdays program.
Absence of prep: Matthews is paid $5 million per year. For that money, does he ever prepare for his program? As late as December 2007, he still clearly believed that Obamas mother and maternal grandmother were the Muslims in his life (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/21/07). We know, we knowthat sounds impossible. But Matthews cluelessness has been stunning down through the years. He prepares by memorizing scripts. Facts he may stumble on later.
On Wednesday night, the hapless gentleman actually tried to cite the New York Times in support of his latest soap opera. You see, Matthews was deeply worried again about the source of all those leaks. But uh-oh! His guest, Joan Walsh, didnt seem real sure he was citing the New York Times right:
MATTHEWS (11/19/08): Whos leaking all this information? Im looking at the New York Times today, Joan. You may have seen it. Heres
WALSH: I did.
MATTHEWS: Philippe Reines, whos Senator Clintons press secretary, saying that one of the concerns they have from their end is they want to pay off $7.6 million in campaign debts. They also want to pay the money back that Hillary Clinton leant her campaign as a pre-condition to getting this job. Thats being done in public. Bill Clinton`s in the Wall Street Journal, front page
WALSH: Im not sure Philippe actually said that.
Uh-oh! His honor having been challenged on cable, the host began reading the Times reportperhaps for the very first time:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Yes, here Well, let me just read it
WALSH: Did Philippe himself say that?
MATTHEWS: again. Let me just read this again here. Just a minute. Let me read this again. Mrs. Clinton has $7.6 million in outstanding bills from the campaign, Mr. Reines said, not including personal loans she made to her campaign. I dont know. Im getting it from him in the paper today, and that informations coming out from them.
Sad. The big hack stopped reading at the point where the Times report said precisely the opposite of what hed just said. (If you want to explore, just click here.) Matthews is paid $5 million per yearand he wont even prepare for his show by reading the daily newspaper. (Walsh apparently had.)
On Hardball, Matthews complains about the drama and the soap operathe soap opera of his own confection. Thats why we feared for Brownsteins career when he snarked at a mimi last night.
Special report: Back-to-school week!
PART 1EASY TO BE EASY: In a recent column, Nicholas Kristof insightfully prayed that our War on Brains might be nearing an end. Well have an intelligent president, he said. Perhaps this fact will point the way to the end of this long, foolish war.
In his next column, Kristof turned to the problems of public schoolsand he lightly scolded Obama:
KRISTOF (11/12/08): President-elect Barack Obama and his aides are sending signals that education may be on the back burner at the beginning of the new administration. He ranked it fifth among his priorities, and if it is being downplayed, thats a mistake.
Easy to be hard! For ourselves, wed say that fifth is fairly high on a list of priorities, given the problems Obama will faceand given the fact that very few pols know squat about public schooling. Nonetheless, Kristof continued his scolding, saying high-minded thingsthings everyone knowsabout the great value of learning. Indeed, the scribe made a series of high-minded points which most folk can say in their sleep:
KRISTOF (continuing directly): We cant meaningfully address poverty or grow the economy as long as urban schools are failing. Mr. Obama talks boldly about starting new high-tech green industries, but where will the workers come from unless students reliably learn science and math?
The United States is the only country in the industrialized world where children are less likely to graduate from high school than their parents were, according to a new study by the Education Trust, an advocacy group based in Washington.
The most effective anti-poverty program we could devise for the long run would have less to do with income redistribution than with ensuring that poor kids get a first-rate education, from preschool on. One recent study found that if American students did as well as those in several Asian countries in math and science, our economy would grow 20 percent faster.
All right, all right! Well eat our greens! But as you might be able to guess, our curiosity only rose as Kristofs light scolding extended through these high-minded opening grafs. Kristof wants Obama to pay more attention to urban schools. But what exactly does he think the new president should do or propose? What does he think Obama could do to improve these struggling schools?
Alas! We had to read to the end of the piece before our question was answered. Like a student killing time when asked a question he couldnt answer, Kristof began a long discussionan interesting discussionabout the history of our public schools. There was stuff in there wed never heard, relayed from a hot new book by two of them perfesser fellers. (As late as 1957, only 9 percent of British 17-year-olds were enrolled in school.) But what was Obama supposed to do? What should he do for our urban schools? Kristof was nearing the end of his pieceand he still hadnt breathed a word.
If scholars want to read ahead, they can see what Kristof proposed. But we were struck by a tired old thought as we perused this familiar piece. Easy to be easy, we sagely mused, when it comes to offering high-minded thoughts about the ills of urban schools. Does Kristof know whereof he speaks? Should Obama act on the gentlemans say? With an election safely concluded, well ask such questions in upcoming posts in this, our Back-to-school week.
MondayPart 2: What Kristof saidand Fred Hiatt.