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THE ROAD TO PURDUM! His colleagues were “Heathers,” one major scribe said. Today, the Heathers are us: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2009

The politics—and journalism—of tribal hatred: This morning’s newspapers describe a sad story, involving the death of census worker Bill Sparkman.

Kentucky state police have concluded that Sparkman’s death was, in fact, a suicide. (This finding was foreshadowed several weeks ago.) The Washington Post’s report includes some facts the New York Times was too decorous to mention, although the Times lays out some basic facts about the investigation too. “Witnesses told investigators that Sparkman had discussed ending his life,” the Post reports. And this: “Before his death, Sparkman also secured two life insurance policies, totaling $600,000, that would not pay out for suicide.”

Assuming the state police are right, Sparkman’s death is a very sad story. Even sadder? The use our tribe hoped to make of his death—they way we shrieked and wailed with joy at the way his death first appeared.

According to the state police, Sparkman had written the word “FED” on his own chest, hoping to fool some rubes into thinking he’d been murdered by some anti-government local. If the state police are right, the rubes he fooled are us.

As you may recall, the “liberal” world leaped into action at the first report of Sparkman’s death. Rachel Maddow showcased her lack of experience—and her relentless upper-class tribal hatred—throwing away the start of her program to report the thrilling non-news. (She promised that she’d break in again if anything else developed that night.) As we all surely know, people like Maddow prayed to their God that Sparkman had been murdered by some anti-government nut-case. They wanted this so they could then slime all members of the opposite tribe (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/25/09).

We liberals shrieked with delight, dreaming of the future slimings we could pursue—for the good of the nation, of course. We had no idea what had happened. But we gave vent to our dreams.

Because yes: For decades, a large amount of “liberal” politics had really been tribal hatred. This helps explain why there’s nothing resembling a progressive politics in this benighted, laughing-stock nation. In all honesty, pseudo-liberals are in this game so we can vent at the unwashed masses—at the tea-baggers, the redneck racists, the people whose limbic brains don’t work right.

The people who make us tell dick jokes about them. Even though we’re embarrassed, of course.

In the past year, Maddow and Olbermann have schooled young liberals in this brainless brand of hatred. But in all honesty, this consummate dumbness has always been part of our “liberal” politics. Going back to Nixon and Wallace, politicians of the right have gotten fat on our hatred. Palin feeds on it today.

In large part, our hatred explains why we have no progressive politics in this country. You see, if you despise the great unwashed, it’s a bit hard to advocate on their behalf. Are The Interests ripping them off—when it comes to their over-priced health care, let’s say? It’s hard for us to work up a fury when we hold such people in more contempt that even The Interests do.

And of course, those people can see how much we hate them! As Palin prospers on our hatred, the only people who can’t seem to see our obvious hatred are the rubes in this whole story—us!

On our side, we wanted to shriek and yell about the way the tea-baggers murdered Bill Sparkman. But then, we also like to shriek and yell about the way the tea-baggers yelled out “Kill him”—even after the Secret Service decided that hadn’t occurred. And we like to pose as shrinks on TV, diagnosing the tea-baggers’ favorite pol. We send our dumbest players out to do this, and they leap to the task.

By the way, when the Fort Hood shooting first occurred, did you see what we saw on the web? Did you see your favorite blogger leap to say he or she certainly hoped this hadn’t been done by some right-wing anti-government nuts? (This was our way of saying that we prayed this had happened.)

In the first hour, we saw this at our favorite site. Do you see this at yours?

Might we return for a moment to the death of Bill Sparkman, a cancer survivor who apparently decided to take his own life? Let’s consider the logic of early reactions to Sparkman’s tragic death:

Suppose something different had occurred. Suppose Bill Sparkman had been murdered by some local anti-government nut. As intelligent people, do we understand that a single such incident couldn’t define a vast sweeping movement? That this would have been the act of one deranged person, in a nation of 300 million? Not us! We would have shrieked and wailed about the way the tea-baggers had done this vile thing; we would have rushed to extend a vast sliming. And because we’re steeped in tribal hatred, we wouldn’t have realized how dumb and unfair it is to issue such claims—the kinds of claims which drive many people toward the opposite camp.

Let’s get back to Sarah Palin’s Clearwater rally last year. Did someone yell “Kill him” at that rally? For ourselves, we have no idea; the Secret Service later said no. But suppose someone had let out such a yell—what exactly what that have meant? Since there were 3000 people at the rally, here’s one thing it would have meant: It would have meant that 2,999 of those people hadn’t emitted that cry!

But so what? Because our side is full of haters, that logic has never intruded. In the case of Bill Sparkman, we prayed to our God for a type of death. But alas. As Lincoln observed, both sides’ prayers couldn’t be answered—or so it appears today.

Here is the basic question:.

Can a person disagree with your instincts and views without being a tea-bagger, a redneck, a racist—without having a limbic brain problem, a psychiatric disorder? Tribal haters have always said no. And that thinking persists in our world.

This helps explain why a ludicrous health bill is barely limping its ways through the Congress. It helps explain why your corporate-run nation is correctly the joke of the world.

Truth? We hate the tea-baggers more than The Interests. Can you see this basic fact about our benighted world?

Special report: We, Heathers!

PART 4—THE ROAD TO PURDUM: The analysts’ shoulders slumped when they read David Brooks’ latest column. In particular, they were saddened by what Brooks wrote about the Swiss:

BROOKS (11/24/09): The bills before Congress would almost certainly ease the anxiety of the uninsured, those who watch with terror as their child or spouse grows ill, who face bankruptcy and ruin.

And the bills would probably do it without damaging the care the rest of us receive. In every place where reforms have been tried—from Massachusetts to Switzerland—people come to cherish their new benefits. The new plans become politically untouchable.

But, alas, there would be trade-offs. Instead of reducing costs, the bills in Congress would probably raise them. They would mean that more of the nation's wealth would be siphoned off from productive uses and shifted into a still wasteful health care system.

The authors of these bills have tried to foster efficiencies....

But the general view among independent health care economists is that these changes will not fundamentally bend the cost curve. The system after reform will look as it does today, only bigger and more expensive.

Do people in Massachusetts “cherish their new benefits?” We’re not sure. But if people in European nations cherish their national health plans, one reason would probably be their systems’ vastly lower costs, as compared to ours. Switzerland is one of Europe’s big spenders, though it still spends barely 60 percent what we spend on a per-person basis. But elsewhere—in Great Britain, in France, in Italy, in Japan—citizens get good health systems while spending one-half to one-third what we spend in this country!

Americans would “cherish” a new health plan, too, if it lowered their costs in that manner—if insurance premiums suddenly cost one-half to one-third what they currently do. But alas! Brooks says that simply ain’t going to happen—and David Leonhardt largely seems to agree in today’s valuable column.

Nor has there been any serious effort, from the liberal world, to create a serious discussion of this groaning matter. That’s because we pseudo-liberals, long ago, went down The Road to Purdum.

We stopped being serious people. We became Heathers ourselves.

We’ve been using that gender-tinged term this week for a particular reason. We’ve used it because it’s the term Eric Pooley used in Time in November 1999. Candidates Gore and Bradley had just held their first debate, in the ill-fated campaign which would send George Bush to the White House. Three hundred reporters had watched the debate on closed-screen TVs in a nearby press room. Pooley described the astonishing way his colleagues behaved during that hour-long session. “Heathers,” he said, gazing round:

POOLEY (11/8/99): [T]he 300 media types watching in the press room at Dartmouth were, to use the appropriate technical term, totally grossed out by [Gore’s approach]. Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd.

Later, two other major journalists went on the record, describing that jeering in the press room. (Howard Mortman and Jake Tapper. They also described “hissing,” “laughing” and “howling”—and silent respect for Bill Bradley.) To us, their descriptions came as no surprise; in real time, someone had called us from the scene to marvel about what had happened (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/3/99). But Pooley described his own press corps as a gang of jeering Heathers. And sure enough! They jeered and howled all through that campaign, sending Bush to the White House—and the U.S. army to a war in Iraq.

The “liberal” world was too meek and too mild to complain about that jeering. And today, the jeering Heathers are us! From Pooley, the press corps’ road led on to Todd Purdum—and by last week, Michelle Goldberg was citing Purdum’s work (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/23/09). In the process, she borrowed a framework those jeering Heathers employed all through Campaign 2000.

In those days, the press corps’ Heathers were jeering Gore. Today, our own Heathers are jeering Palin, while employing the same brainless constructs. And this won’t work nearly as well for us. You see, the conservative world keeps pushing back against our jeering. Back then, we liberals all kept our pretty traps shut.

Back then, we just sat there like the store-boughts we were and we took it. Today, having followed The Road to Purdum, we pretty much act like clowns.

It’s dumb when journalists pose as shrinks. It’s evil when their Heatherish conduct substitutes for actual politics. Can we talk? At present, you’re watching a joke acted out in the Congress, in large part because your career liberal world is populated by a gang of Heathers. We like to shriek and play the shrink. We like to teach ourselves how to hate. But we aren’t very smart—and we aren’t very serious. In all candor, we don’t try to build a real politics.

There’s a word for people like us. In 1999, Pooley used it.

A “liberal” world driven by shrinks like Goldberg will never be a serious place. It will never produce a progressive politics. If you doubt that, take another look at the gruesome work being done in the Congress. As our Heathers shriek and wail about hangings and “kill hims” and psychiatric disorders, go ahead and tell us: Which of these people has done a danged thing to enable progressive health reform?

When Purdum played the shrink last year, he was also playing the fool. But then, he’s been at that task for a very long time. His earlier profile of Bill Clinton was one of the dumbest and most dishonest profiles we’ve ever seen. But he was just extending the war his Heathers ran all through the Clinton/Gore years. (Maureen Dowd is still at it this morning. Might we state an obvious point? Dowd will simply never stop pimping these utterly childish narratives.)

We were took weak; too dumb; too uninvolved, too pampered to complain about that war in real time. That war was conducted by Pooley’s “Heathers.” Today, though, we’ve met the Heathers—and the Heathers are us! We’ve adopted that press corps’ frameworks and claims. We’re a foolish, un-serious tribe.

Go ahead—reread Goldberg’s piece. No, Michelle Goldberg isn’t a shrink—but she plays one on TV. It’s a pleasing form of tribal snark. And this too:

That’s entertainment!