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A REAL EDSEL! Dems pursued a laudable goal—and Tom Edsall begs them to stop: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2006

A REAL EDSEL: “Is American liberalism dead?” In Saturday’s Times, Thomas Edsall asked the question, then answered it: “Yes.” In the process, he unintentionally explained a problem Dems have faced with the puzzling standards and practices of big mainstream news orgs.

For the record, we agree with Edsall on one major point; for liberals and Democrats, the recent congressional elections were less than a howling success. Under the circumstances—a disastrous war; the Mark Foley debacle; a string of Republicans frog-marched to prison—the size of the Democratic win was somewhat underwhelming. Just consider the Senate race in Virginia. Jim Webb (D) had been right on Iraq, in massive detail, all the way back in 2002; meanwhile, George Allen (R) kept shooting himself in the foot, and the Washington Post pounded him endlessly. But Dems only won the race by a whisker. For us, November’s election didn’t suggest a coming Democratic realignment. (Unless Bush decides to use these two years to start several more kooky wars.)

It’s true! America’s voters just aren’t all that liberal—and then, there’s the mainstream press corps. We chuckled when Edsall explained what occurred the last time the Democrats held the Congress. Dems “refused to face reality” in 1994, Edsall says:

EDSALL (11/25/06): An example of the reality that Democrats refused to face the last time they had a shot at consolidating power materialized during the fight to pass Clinton's 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill, legislation that sought to burnish the party's justice credentials by increasing the number of felonies subject to the death penalty. Instead, amendments added to win support from the left—most visibly, $40 million for midnight basketball leagues— caught fire on conservative talk radio, spread to the establishment media, and soon became a liability.

When Democrats bend to the will of liberal interest groups, even in pursuit of laudable goals, the damage to the party's credibility can be devastating. President Clinton succumbed to such pressure, and Democrats in the House and Senate paid the price.

What a telling bit of history! According to Edsall, that modest funding for “midnight basketball leagues” represented “pursuit of a laudable goal.” But so what! The proposal became a “liability” for Dems; it ended up damaging the party’s credibility, in a “devastating” manner! How did so odd a reversal occur? Simple! According to Edsall, midnight basketball “caught fire on conservative talk radio.” Then, it “spread to the establishment media”—and it “soon” began damaging Dems.

Please note: Edsall leaves a bit of mystery in his description of this process. He doesn’t explain what was said about midnight basketball on those conservative radio outlets—and he doesn’t explain what was said when this chatter spread to the establishment media. As such, he doesn’t explain the essential mystery here—how modest funding for a laudable goal could have become such a punishing liability. How exactly did that occur? Edsall declines to refresh us.

What did Edsall’s colleagues in the “establishment media” say about this “laudable goal?” Edsall chooses not to recall. He simply goes on to warn his readers that this sort of thing could happen to Dems again if they don’t rein in their “liberal” impulses. “Democrats now have a chance to regain public trust,” he writes, “but even a minor miscalculation can push the party off the tightrope.” And we agree—that’s certainly possible. But one of the things which makes this possible is the work of the Edsalls themselves.

Indeed, what happened in 1994 has happened quite often in the past fifteen years. Let’s flesh out Edsall’s history a bit. In 1994, skillful pseudo-conservative think-tanks generated talking-points which made “midnight basketball” sound like a troubling sop to the blacks. Then, scripted serfs on pseudo-con radio pimped these points to the skies. And here’s where the key transaction occurred—members of Edsall’s “establishment media” soon began to pimp these points too! At the time, they didn’t say that Dems had proposed modest funding in pursuit of a “laudable goal.” Instead, they rolled over, put their feet in the air—and recited words from Rush Limbaugh’s mouth. “Soon,” midnight basketball “became a liability.” Twelve years later, Edsall recalls how “laudable” the idea really was.

What’s interesting here is Edsall’s reaction to this familiar process. Does he suggest that we stop the “establishment media” from reciting talk radio’s points? No! His solution is vastly different! He suggests that Democrats should drop their pursuit of such laudable goals! That way, Rush won’t have to come up with his points—and Edsall’s colleagues won’t have to repeat them! Things will be simpler all around if they’ll just give up their proposals!

With great accuracy, Edsall describes the way our politics have worked over the course of the past fifteen years. Sadly, he seems to want that process to continue. He doesn’t ask his weak-minded colleagues to stop reciting talk-radio lines. His solution is cleaner and simpler: Democrats should stop—right now!—pursuing laudable outcomes. Dems should please stop putting his colleagues in the middle. Democrats, please! the pundit cries. Don’t make us prove that we’re Edsels.

JUST AS IT EVER WAS: From Rush’s brain to the mouths of Edsall’s colleagues! We saw this same process last week, when the Post ran that perfect scripted bull-roar about the Social Security program (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/20/06 and 11/22/06). Social Security will run out of money in the year 2040! The claim is blatantly false, but it focus-groups well—and the hapless tools at the Washington Post recite the false claim to this very day! Indeed, Sebastian Mallaby recites more silly spin on the subject in this morning’s Post.

It’s just as Edsall describes! After being generated (long ago) in pseudo-con spin shops, this bogus claim “caught fire on conservative talk radio,” then “spread to the establishment media.” It may yet become “a liability” for Dems. But Edsall doesn’t scold his establishment colleagues for saying things which are blatantly false. Instead, he scolds those troubling Dems! Dems! Stop putting us in the middle, this scribe—a true Edsel—implores.