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THE PUNDIT’S NEW HAIRLINES! We still refuse to see what’s true. Our tribe still refuses to say it: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2007

REVIEWING THE REDNECKS: It has now become the place where hip Washingtonians start their day. If you want to be in the know in that town, you tear open your Washington Post and learn how “The Front-Runners” are dressing. Here’s the start of this morning’s post about how Fred Thompson looks:

GIVHAN (12/12/07): If one simply heard Fred Thompson speak and did not have the benefit of seeing him, it would be forgivable to assume that he, with his slow-as-molasses, just-us-regular-folks drawl, might be wearing overalls and a pair of muddied work boots after moseying in from the field.

Finally! This morning, on Day Four of this stunning series, we aren’t confined to wardrobe inanities. We also get the cultural condescension that is rarely far behind when our simpering upper classes offer their deathless critiques of the field hands. Meanwhile, in his “How He Talks” piece, Milbank helps us with phonetic spellings of Thompson’s “slow-drawl.”

Back to Givhan. “Thompson has a fondness for pale-blue shirts,” she deathlessly writes. “He doesn't mind a polo shirt as long as it's emphatically unstylish.”

And what about Thompson’s Social Security plan? Sorry. In his “How He’s Running” profile, Michael Shear teases the fact that there actually is such a critter—and that it’s “not just campaign rhetoric. It's a set of specific proposals that go beyond what any of his rivals have set forth.” But in today’s four profiles of Candidate Thompson, no one explains what this critter might look like. They’re too busy letting us know how dumb those damn candidates are.
But so it has gone, for years and years, behind the high walls of Versailles.

THE PUNDIT’S NEW HAIRLINES: Chris Matthews was especially bizarre on today’s Morning Joe. (“America is based on generalities.”) Hoping that someone else will transcribe his remarks, we direct your attention to the remarkable conversation conducted by the red-faced ranter last night. He spoke with Times satrap Frank Rich.

Even by Hardball’s oddball standards, last night’s conversation helps define the crackpot journalistic culture surrounding our national politics.

Matthews began with a serious pander. No, it doesn’t exactly matter. But it does help define the man’s tone:

MATTHEWS (12/11/07): Welcome back to Hardball...

Frank Rich. Well, everybody buys the New York Times on Sunday just to read Frank Rich. Everybody in my family goes directly to the Rich column. And, when you’re not in the paper, we should send the paper back, Mr. Rich!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: But luckily, you’re in there with a gigantic spread—1500 words, right?
RICH: It is, yes.

MATTHEWS: Every week! You must write all week, especially Friday!

RICH: Yes.

The pandering was especially nonsensical, given the fact that Rich was already running away from the absurd column he’d posted on Sunday—the one which went on and on about Mike Huckabee’s “humane vision” concerning immigration. Wouldn’t you know it? Even as Rich was writing this Friday (assuring us that Cornel West said), Huckabee was releasing his plan to send them all straight back to Mexico! Whatever one might think of this plan, it had nothing to do with the valentine doilies Rich was assembling. Excerpts from Rich’s ludicrous column will be provided below.

Yep! Rich had penned a valentine to Governor Huck. And just like that, it had fallen apart. Comically, Matthews ended up saying this to Rich in last night’s conversation:

MATTHEWS: I’m concerned a bit about liberal journalists being very nice to Huckabee, almost treating him like a mascot. A lot of people are writing good stuff about him and they haven’t really looked at his position papers. Here’s a man who says we need to have guns in this country, not for sporting and not for self-protection, which a lot of people believe—and most people certainly believe in both those. But he believes we need to have guns to protect ourselves against the denial of our rights by our government. That’s pretty strong stuff.

Wow! That almost sounded like an indictment of Rich. But by now, Rich had left Sunday’s column behind. By last night, he seemed worried about those dumb-ass journalists too, the ones who were fawning to Huckabee:

RICH (continuing directly): He raised his hand that he didn’t believe in evolution. We’re in the 21st century, where how we compete with China and other places in this new technology—technological world is of paramount importance to America. So I think this will pass. I think people were getting a little bored in the press. And here’s a new flavor. It will probably fade soon.

Frankly, it had certainly “faded soon” for Rich! But then again, has anyone treated Huckabee like a mascot any more than Matthews has? Here he is, finishing a Hardball session just a month ago:

MATTHEWS (11/8/07): But it's an honor to have you on the show. Everybody likes you, Governor Huckabee. We're waiting for those poll numbers to reflect it. Everybody around here seems to like you, and we'll see what that's worth. Anyway, good luck in Iowa. That's where everybody expects you to pull the big upset and come in a strong second to, or maybe first, to Romney. Anyway, thank you, Governor Huckabee, for coming on, former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee.

Good lord! But exactly one month and three days later, Matthews found himself deeply worried about the way liberal journalists treat Huck like a mascot. Rich, who had french-kissed the Arkansan two days before ,was troubled by such losers too.

Question: Can any politician ever be as fake as these two cosmic mega-frauds are? (Answer: Yes—if he’s a press favorite.) But the real absurdity in last night’s discussion came more from Matthews than from Rich—and it came at the start of their session. The red-faced ranter had teased the segment; he was going to share his theory about the way the election is going, he promised. “I have a theory—I am going to, will share with you,” he had said at the end of the previous segment. “I think I’m right about what’s going on in this election. We are going to talk about it with some experts. Why are the voters rejecting these seemingly perfect candidates like Hillary and Romney?”

Wow! Our analysts leaned forward in their seats, expectant, eager to lap up the learning. And when Rich showed up as Matthews’ next guest, the red-faced ranter started sharing his theory. In his first presentation, we saw something that has long been clear about this deeply odd, disturbed man. Like three-year-old children all over the world, Matthews believes that, if he feels something, everyone else must be feeling it too. This Nantucket nabob still can’t distinguish his feelings from—let’s just say—yours:

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. Well, let me give you my theory.

RICH: Go ahead.

MATTHEWS: I think—I think that, for, rightly or wrongly, when people think about Hillary Clinton and their emotions are exposed, they feel that she thinks she’s better than us, morally as well as intellectually.

I think, when people think and feel about Obama, they feel that he makes us better than us. He makes us feel better than we thought we were. He makes us feel generous, tolerant, upbeat, fearless, future-oriented. Just to be for Obama makes you feel better. Being for Hillary makes you feel subservient to her, because she’s perfect. She has had to deal, as she put it, with “evil men.” She’s had to deal with people who are inferior to her, morally, all her life.

That’s my hunch. You like the feel of being for Obama. You don’t like the feel of being for Hillary. That’s my hunch.

He’s still obsessed with that “evil man” claptrap! But that presentation is remarkable, in various ways. Two reactions:

First reaction: Of course! Almost surely, Hillary Clinton does think that Matthews is her moral and intellectual inferior. Who wouldn’t think that after watching this dishonest man play his destructive games through the years? At this point, who doesn’t think that he or she is morally superior to Matthews? It’s something of a litmus test. Anyone who can’t see that wouldn’t be fit to serve.

Second reaction: Let’s state something else that is obvious. To state the obvious, millions of people do not have the reaction to Hillary Clinton which now constitutes Matthews’ “hunch.” For example: On this same program, Matthews would eventually discuss a new poll which shows that 68 percent of Democratic voters have a favorable opinion of Clinton. (As Matthews noted, this is the highest favorable rating for any Dem in the poll.) Meanwhile, Clinton was leading Obama, 44-27, among Democrats in the new CBS poll; in today’s Post, another new poll puts her lead among Dems at 30 points (53-23). Will Clinton win the Dem nomination? At this point, we have no idea. But surely, even Matthews can’t believe that all those people “feel subservient to her, because she’s perfect,” even as they support her. Surely, all those people don’t “feel that she thinks she’s better than [them], morally as well as intellectually.” On this same Hardball, Matthews would eventually cite the new CNN poll in which Clinton runs ahead of Giuliani by six (51-45). Do all those people “feel subservient to her, because she’s perfect?” Obviously, such a notion makes no earthly sense. But so what? At the start of his confab with Rich, Matthews offered this ludicrous notion. It was his much-hyped new “theory.”

In doing so, Matthews made something official: Matthews is unable to distinguish between his feelings and everyone else’s. (If he feels inferior, everyone must.) This strange trait has long been fairly clear. Last night, the strange man spelled it out.

At any rate, Matthews had voiced a truly absurd theory. To his credit, Rich said he only “half-agreed”—but soon, he made matters worse:

RICH (continuing directly): Well, I would half-agree. I certainly agree with the part about Obama. And I think part of the reason that he makes feel better about themselves is that a lot of Americans feel it would be a great thing and say something positive about the country to elect an African-American president, for starters.

I also think some of that, in some quarters, applies to Hillary Clinton, because I do think a lot of people are inspired by her, and for a parallel reason. Some people are inspired by the idea of a first woman president.

That said, I think what you describe as the sort of the—the feeling that Hillary Clinton is superior and knows more than we do, that’s kind of a congenital liberal problem. And it’s sort of true—it’s sort of the—you know, the stereotype of a lot of liberals in the Democratic Party.

And Obama’s sort of the exception. Somehow he, at least for the time being, has gotten out of that fray. His manner, possibly his race—I don’t know—but his message have lifted him above that sort of pious liberalism, which, by the way, could be ascribed to other Democratic contenders, not just Hillary Clinton, I think.

To Rich, it isn’t just Clinton. Other Democratic contenders are afflicted by “that pious liberalism” too! Rich at least understands what Matthews can not—that many people feel differently than he does when they think about Hillary Clinton. But soon, Rich’s own views came roaring through—the views that, when applied to Vile Candidate Gore, helped send George Bush to the White House.

Soon, this well-matched pair of pundits were explaining the presidential politics of the past eight years. Matthews raised a typically vacuous point—and omigod! Oh! My! God! Rich waxed about George Bush’s “brilliance:”

MATTHEWS (continuing directly): You know, the good question in the last campaign—and neither candidate did so well—and I think Bush may have edged out John Kerry on that—to get to your point, if your car is broke down along the side of the road, and you’re trying to fix a tire or whatever, your engine is steamed up, over-boiled or whatever, who’s going to stop and help you? Hillary? Obama? Who wins? Does either one of them win it out? Or are they both too big-picture to stop and help you?

RICH: Well, I think, in this campaign, they would not only both stop and help you, but they would change the tire themselves.

I’m joking. And there may be also a gender issue there that you would—you would think the man would do it. But, but I do think it’s a continuing problem among Democrats in general, if not Obama. For instance, that’s why, even if it’s unfair, the $400 haircut keeps coming back to haunt John Edwards.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

RICH: And sort of the brilliance of George Bush was, even though he was an aristocrat, an Andover-Yale-Harvard blue blood, he somehow convinced the American public that he would change that tire and buy you a beer, while he had a non-alcoholic beer himself—

MATTHEWS: Yes.

RICH: —and share it with you.

That’s why the $400 haircut keeps coming up, Rich said—bringing the $400 haircut up. And beyond that, that was the brilliance of Bush! “Somehow,” Bush was able to convince the public that he was a regular fellow.

That was the brilliance of Bush! Somehow, he’d convinced us of that! But to all appearances, neither Rich nor Matthews had any idea just exactly how Bush had done that. More specifically, neither man seemed to recall that, during the course of Campaign 2000, they and their wardrobe-obsessed ship of tools had recited such cant about Bush for two years! Somehow, Rich failed to remember the way he trashed Gore all through the campaign. (Or the way he’d invented Love Story.) And neither man recalled the way Matthews talked up brilliant Bush.

And things would get worse before they were done. Omigod. Matthews said this:

MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Well, let’s take a look at the Republicans now in the same thought. Romney’s perfect. I mean, Dana Milbank [sic] at the Washington Post just nailed him for his perfect haircut. [It was really Robin Givhan.] I have a theory about people who have great hairlines are probably more pro-Clinton than those who don’t. That’s just an old theory of mine.

But the new theory seems to be, I guess, really, all the people I know who are for Romney are rich. I don’t know anybody who— I don’t know anybody who is for him who’s not rich. And it just seems to be the fact out there.

Do you mind if we tell you a small, dirty secret? In normal parlance, this man is insane. Chris Matthews is out of his mind.

A few weeks back, we happened to show you the ludicrous sessions, in 1999, when this cosmic public crackpot shared his theory about people with receding hairlines being pro-Bradley—and anti-Bill Clinton (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/13/07). Last night, he shared these borderline musings again—and said that everyone for Romney is rich. And how does he know this improbable “fact” about Romney’s supporters? Again, because everyone he knows for Romney is rich. And there you see the dysfunction again—the three-year-old’s view of the shape of the world. “I don’t know anybody who is for him who’s not rich,” Matthews says. Therefore: “It just seems to be the fact out there.”

There’s a term for this, and we don’t mean to invoke it lightly: Chris Matthews is mentally ill. But our public discourse has been defined by this lunacy over at least the past dozen years. And like the denizens of a famous empire who once thought they saw their emperor’s clothes, the people who run the liberal world still can’t bring themselves to see—or describe—what is right there before them. We still refuse to tell the world that the people in charge of our discourse are ill. We still pretend that Matthews’ private parts aren’t hanging right out in our faces. Ditto Givhan; ditto Milbank. And ditto the deeply ludicrous people who put their bizarre work into print.

Go ahead—reread last night’s public lunacy. Include the part about the hairlines. Include the cosmic Rich-Matthews flip-flop. We still refuse to see what is true. Our tribe still refuses to say it.

Do we know that people are dying, all over the world, because of our endless liberal silence? Because of the refusal to see—the refusal to say—what is in front of our eyes?

FRANKLY, THAT WAS RICH: Two days later, the 1500 words were inoperative. But here’s a bit of Rich’s pandering to his former mascot, Huckabee. Remember: This is the guy who was still trashing Gore even after his film came out:

RICH (12/9/07): Though their views on issues are often antithetical, Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Obama may be united in catching the wave of an emerging zeitgeist that is larger than either party's ideology. An exhausted and disillusioned public may be ready for a replay of the New Frontier pitch of 1960. That pitch won't come from Mr. Romney, a glib salesman who seems a dead ringer for Don Draper, a Madison Avenue ad man of no known core convictions who works on the Nixon campaign in the TV series, ''Mad Men.'' Mr. Romney's effort to channel J.F.K. last week, in which he mentioned the word Mormon exactly once, was hardly a profile in courage.

The fact to remember about Mr. Huckabee's polling spike is that it occurred just after the G.O.P. YouTube debate on CNN, where Mr. Romney and Rudy Giuliani vied to spray the most spittle at illegal immigrants. Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado, the fringe candidate whose most recent ads accuse the invading hordes of ''pushing drugs, raping kids, destroying lives,'' accurately accused his opponents of trying to ''out-Tancredo Tancredo.''

Next to this mean-spiritedness, Mr. Huckabee's tone leapt off the screen. Attacked by Mr. Romney for supporting an Arkansas program aiding the children of illegal immigrants, he replied, ''In all due respect, we're a better country than to punish children for what their parents did.'' It was a winning moment, politically as well as morally. And a no-brainer at that. Given that Mr. Tancredo polls at 4 percent among Iowan Republicans and zero nationally, it's hard to see why Rudy-Romney thought it was smart to try to out-Tancredo Tancredo.

Mr. Huckabee's humane stand wasn't an election-year flip-flop. As governor, he decried a bill denying health services to illegal immigrants as ''race-baiting'' even though its legislator sponsor was a fellow Baptist preacher. Mr. Huckabee's record on race in general (and in attracting African-American votes) is dramatically at odds with much of his party. Only last year Republicans brought us both ''macaca'' and a television ad portraying the black Democratic Senate candidate in Tennessee, Harold Ford Jr., as a potential despoiler of white women.

Unlike Rudy-Romney, Mr. Huckabee showed up for the PBS presidential debate held at the historically black Morgan State University in September. Afterward, he met Cornel West, an Obama supporter who deeply disagrees with Mr. Huckabee about abortion and much else. I asked Dr. West for his take last week. After effusively praising Mr. Huckabee as unique among the G.O.P. contenders, Dr. West said: ''I told him, 'You are for real.' Black voters in Arkansas aren't stupid. They know he's sincere about fighting racism and poverty.''

[...]

The real reason for Mr. Huckabee's ascendance may be that his message is simply more uplifting—and, in the ethical rather than theological sense, more Christian—than that of rivals whose main calling cards of fear, torture and nativism have become more strident with every debate. The fresh-faced politics of joy may be trumping the five-o'clock-shadow of Nixonian gloom and paranoia favored by the entire G.O.P. field with the sometime exception of John McCain.

[...]

Mr. Huckabee may well be doomed in the long term. He has little money or organization. He's so ignorant of foreign affairs that he hadn't heard of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran a day after its release. His sometimes wacky economic populism riles his party's most important constituency, Wall Street. And who knows how many other Arkansas scandals will be disinterred along with the paroled serial rapist who popped out last week? That Mr. Huckabee has gotten as far as he has shows just how in sync his benign style is with the cultural moment.

Oops. Two days before this column appeared, Huckabee had released his “send-them-all-back-to-Mexico” plan. And two days after this column appeared, Rich seemed to have disavowed it. Speaking with Matthews, he seemed pretty sure that the bullsh*t about Huckabee would soon fade.

But then, this cosmic loser didn’t stop trashing Gore until Gore won the Nobel peace prize! To this day, the liberal/Dem world refuses to see how things stand.