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POOR RICHARD, NOVELIST! The New McCain takes brainless new stands. But he’s still thoroughly honest: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2006

POOR RICHARD, NOVELIST: New evidence never effects their novels. Case in point? Here’s the first paragraph from Richard Cohen’s column in today’s Post:
COHEN (12/19/06): Earlier this year a close friend of John McCain gave me fair warning: McCain was about to become much more conservative, and I would not like what was coming. He was right. I did not like McCain's speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, and I think his support of intelligent design is—sorry, John—just plain brainless. But it is not the supposedly new McCain that bothers me, it's the old one: His incessant sword-rattling has gotten just plain rattling.
Grisly! According to Cohen, McCain deliberately “became much more conservative” this year, forging a “supposedly new McCain.” And not only that—in order to reinvent himself, the New McCain has adopted positions which are “just plain brainless!” Ah yes, a New McCain! We well remember the days when Cohen punished Big Dems for imagined reinventions; in those days, Cohen was even prepared to invent absurd “evidence” to support the vile charges he was making. But nothing can be permitted to change the novel he’s typing about John McCain. Case in point? Here’s the sixth paragraph from Cohen’s column—yes, from his column today:
COHEN: Anyone who knows McCain appreciates that his call for more troops in Iraq is not, at bottom, part of any political strategy. McCain is a thoroughly admirable man. Like any other politician, he will punt when he has to, but he is fundamentally honest, with sound political values. For a long time those values—a belief in public service, a visceral hostility toward the ways of Washington's K Street lobbying crowd and a sense of honor that his Vietnamese captors came to appreciate—obscured the always present, but muffled, sound of drums and bugles.
We now have a New McCain, complete with “just plain brainless” positions. But so what? The novel was blocked out long ago. McCain remains “a thoroughly admirable man.” It’s the law—he’s “fundamentally honest.”

But so it goes when our strange pundit corps types its political novels. Indeed, all the way back in March 2000, E. R. Shipp, then the Post’s ombudsman, described their remarkable practice. Shipp’s column, which was headlined “Typecasting Candidates,” remains the most accurate description in the mainstream press of the way this bizarre cohort works. Think of Shipp as an anthropologist describing a strange foreign culture:
SHIPP (3/5/00): The Post has gone beyond [in-depth] reporting in favor of articles that try to offer context—and even conjecture—about the candidates' motives in seeking the office of president. And readers react...to roles that The Post seems to have assigned to the actors in this unfolding political drama. Gore is the guy in search of an identity; Bradley is the Zen-like intellectual in search of a political strategy; McCain is the war hero who speaks off the cuff and is, thus, a "maverick"; and Bush is a lightweight with a famous name, and has the blessings of the party establishment and lots of money in his war chest. As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.
According to Shipp, the Post wasn’t really “reporting” on a group of candidates. No, it was more like the Post had pre-assigned “roles” to a group of “actors” in an unfolding “drama.” Shipp went on to describe the way the Post’s reporters were bending the facts to support the typecasting which defined their drama. Ceci Connolly was misreporting the things Gore actually said, Shipp noted. And other Post scribes were actively burying McCain’s mistakes and misstatements.

Shipp only had 634 words—but she nailed the thoroughly oddball way the Post was “reporting” Campaign 2000. And nothing ever changes their novels (which Shipp described as their “dramas”). Even now, when McCain reinvents himself, he remains “fundamentally honest.” He is “thoroughly admirable,” despite his new pose—and despite even his war-monger ways. “[T]oo often in the past he has played the role of the sword-rattling heckler,” Cohen says—describing a man who is “thoroughly admirable.” Nothing—nothing—changes the way this priesthood chants its strange liturgies.

For the record, Cohen was one of the scribes who helped construct the Post’s “typecasting” in 1999, when McCain made his first run for the White House. “No One Like McCain,” said the headline on his gushing November 16 column. Today, it’s embarrassing to read what Cohen wrote. But here’s the type of thing his cohort was writing as their silly, childish novel began:
COHEN (11/16/99): The hero still does things his own way. Unlike most other candidates, he does not ration his time with the press. Reporters sit with him in the back of his campaign bus and ask him anything they want. We talked about the Vietnam War and Kosovo, Chechnya and gun control, abortion, homosexuality, campaign finance, Marlon Brando movies, great books, flying off a carrier, reciting movie plots to his fellow POWs, going over the wall at the Naval Academy lo those many years ago, and that dish from Rio, the fashion model he had such a crush on. For a while he wanted to find her but then someone told him, no—it's best to remember her as she was.
Today, Cohen emulates “the hero.” He remembers McCain as he was back then, back when Cohen’s crush began. For what it’s worth, here’s a later description of all the big fun they were having on McCain’s bus:
COHEN (2/8/00): Oddly enough, in all the analysis I've read of John McCain's unanticipated success, the word "fun" is never mentioned. But the man is having fun. It's clear. A trip on his bus is, well, a trip. You laugh and laugh—at least I do—and when, once, I asked him why in the world he would talk to the press hour after hour, totally on-the-record, he said it was "fun." He was having fun.
Fun was had! The novelists laughed and laughed on the bush—kind of the way the hero laughed in the old days, with “that dish from Rio.”

Of course, McCain had already flipped and flopped by that time, on an array of subjects. But that wasn’t part of McCain’s “typecasting,” so schoolboys like Cohen agreed not to notice. No, that was part of Gore’s typecasting—part of the “role” they’d “assigned” to Al Gore. So clowns like Cohen struggled and strained to justify the script, churning out nonsense like this:
COHEN (10/12/99): I expect we'll soon see Al Gore naked.

I expect when that happens the usual sources will tell the usual reporters that Gore is simply showing the American people that he's just like them. These sources will say that this was planned months ago. First, the poorly fitting suits were abandoned for more stylish ones, and then the suits themselves were junked in favor of leisure clothing, and then, after the move to Nashville, jackets were gone altogether and there was Gore, something of a hunk, in a dark shirt and light pants. He looked great. I'm sure the polls will confirm that.
There it is—one small part of the “campaign about clothing,” the one Paul Krugman later described. In fact, Gore had campaigned in casual clothing ever since his first appearance in New Hampshire the previous March, as Cohen’s own paper had clearly described. But so what? These idiots had a novel to type, so adepts like Cohen began to say different. Soon, the ludicrous fellow was typing this tripe, in a column which was scoldingly headlined “The New Gore:”
COHEN (11/16/99): This is not your father's Al Gore.

This is the new model. It is leaner and sleeker, buffed by weightlifting and trimmed by diet. It comes in new colors, too—not a somber Beltway gray but a bold black shirt and khaki pants and, on occasion, cowboy boots. The vice president of the United States is no more. He is now your pal Al.
Let’s say it again: Gore had campaigned “in khaki pants” all year. He had worn cowboy boots throughout his career; the Post had described that many times too. But Cohen had a novel to type, and he and his colleagues were willing to lie in the public’s face to establish its fatuous themes.

As almost anyone can see, “The New Gore” was not a good thing to be, back when this novel was being laid out. Having invented the terms of Gore’s alleged reinvention, Cohen forgot to say that the New Gore was “thoroughly admirable” and “fundamentally honest.” But then, that’s how these novels get typed. Shipp nailed it, back in March 2000: “As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.”

If you want to read more about the “campaign about clothing,” check the links we offer below. But make no mistake: In today’s Post, Cohen continues to type the brainless novel—the silly “drama”—his cohort “typecast” during Campaign 2000. McCain has reinvented himself—adopting “brainless” positions to do so. But so what? By the rules, he remains a saint—a man who is admirable, honest.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: The “campaign about clothing” was endlessly flogged from September 1999 through early 2000. This was one of the principal ways our priesthood established its punishing liturgy about the troubling, fake/phony Gore. Their subject matter was grindingly trivial—their lies about that subject were endless—but their novel soon fell into place. For starters, read our five-part report on Naomi Wolf (along with related subjects). See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/10/03, for links to all parts of the series.

By the way, why did the “press corps” invent these tales about Gore? In June 1999, Roger Simon pre-explained it to the Post’s Howard Kurtz. “We want to hear [Gore] say what a terrible reprobate the president was, while defending his record,” Simon told Kurtz. “We're going to make him jump through the hoops. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.” They were going to “make Gore jump through the hoops,” Simon predicted. In the autumn, Richard Cohen complied.

THE WAY THEY WERE: Embarrassingly, here’s Maureen Dowd’s description of all the high discourse conducted on McCain’s famous bus:
DOWD (2/2/00): The McCain campaign [in New Hampshire] was devilish. The senator pointed out Tom Brokaw to one town hall audience as "one of the last Trotskyites . . . left-wing, Communist, pinkos of the American media."

He reminisced about an exotic dancer he had once dated. "Marie, the Flame Thrower of Florida," he said. Asked what she was like, he replied, "She was pretty volatile," and then slapped his knee and laughed, "Har, har, har!”
But then, early on, Simon had described the big fun in a U. S. News profile:
SIMON (9/27/99): John McCain wiggles around in the seat, leans the back of his head against the window of the bus, whips out a pair of dark, happenin' sunglasses that make him look like Sen. Blues Brother, and begins to talk about his old friend Barry Goldwater, the man he followed to the Senate, a man he truly loved. "Goldwater said to me, 'If I had been elected president, if I had defeated Lyndon Johnson in 1964, you never would have been in a Vietnamese prison camp,'" McCain says and waits as the reporters scratch this furiously into their notebooks. "And I said, 'You're right, Barry. It would have been a Chinese prison camp!'"
Everyone roars. The bus rocks. And John McCain plunges into another story...
Does that sound like professional journalism? By the way, as we’ll note next month, these “journalists” had another standard theme about McCain, one they simply luvved to recite. As we’ll see, they loved to say how much he hated to talk about his days in Vietnam.

These scripts decided Campaign 2K. So too Campaign 08?