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Daily Howler: The liberal web should start working now to address the campaign's budding scripts
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TIME TO START—NOW! The liberal web should start working now to address the campaign's budding scripts: // link // print // previous // next //

TIME TO START—NOW: On balance, we’re inclined to agree with Ruth Marcus; on balance, we’d probably prefer that Barack Obama not seek the White House this time around. But Democrats need to be smart at the start of Campaign 08; whatever our personal preference might be, we need to address all misstatements and all spins about possible candidates. Which brings us around to the Chris Matthews Show’s latest discussion of Hillary Clinton. Chris enjoys talking about nothing else—and, as usual, on Sunday’s program, his weird gender feelings soon started to show. The talker chatted with Clarence Page about Clinton’s electability:
PAGE (12/31/06): Well, obviously, number one, just talk to Democrats, and it’s they like hold the nose and get nervous about Hillary. They're not fully confident behind her.

MATTHEWS: Oh. The complicated answers you get with—you ask a very educated woman if—assuming she's for Hillary—and you get that, “Well, yeah, but”—very nasal—and—

PAGE: “Are you a feminist?” “Well, yeah, but—”
“Very nasal!” As usual, Matthews was pathetic—and it was sad to see Page play along. But then, this talker’s problem with “very educated women” never seems to let his soul go. He has had these reactions for a very long time. Even when he tries to hide them, he can’t help it—he just starts to show.

Readers, what else did Matthews think about these troubling, “very nasal” women? On Sunday’s program, we never found out; at this point, Norah O’Donnell changed the subject, saving her host from further embarrassment. Earlier, though, Matthews had talked about Clinton’s chances “in seven or eight midwestern states.” How could she win these states, he wondered, “with the guys who are deer hunters and tough gun owners, and they think of her as something like the kind of woman they don't really want too close to them?” In fact, there probably will be “deer hunters” in some of these states who dislike Clinton on a vague gender basis. But no one will feel such blinkered aversion any more than this sad, troubled talker. Sadly, his jones about “very educated, nasal” women has been apparent for years.

Yes, Clinton may be the Dem nominee. If she is, she’ll have problems with the pundit class—problems we should be studying now. And don’t worry, such problems won’t come from Matthews alone. When it comes to domestic personality politics, the BBC’s Katty Kay is well-scripted, well-trained. Predictably, Clinton troubles her too. She made a remarkable statement:
KAY: I think [Clinton’s advisers] are nervous. They're nervous about her getting out and making television interviews and making speeches. But there's also the issue that she herself has shifted on all the major positions, and I think that's going to come back to haunt her.

MATTHEWS: Give me an example.

KAY: On the Iraq war, for example, on issues like abortion, on why was she out there doing a flag burning amendment, when perhaps she should have been spending her time on other things? People see that she's been positioning herself to win and to win votes, and I think that's going to hurt her.
Really? Clinton “has shifted on all the major positions?” And abortion is supposed to be Example Number 2? To our ear, the reliable, frequently fatuous Kay was mouthing the type of script which could become common if Clinton is the nominee. If Democrats care about 08, we should start considering this now.

Most specifically, if we care about Campaign 08, we should start considering the way the press corps tends to spin Clinton’s stance on the war. On Sunday, Clarence Page was surprisingly enlightened. This isn’t the norm for his crowd:
MATTHEWS: One thing could drive her out there. When you look at the fact that Evan Bayh dropped out a few weeks ago, that Mark Warner dropped out a few months ago, she finds herself almost marooned as the only sort of pro-war Democrat. She's on the right. What happens if the party gravity shifts, Clarence, and it becomes clear that the battle becomes Obama, who says this war was a bad idea from day one, anybody who supported this war has got to defend it, and Hillary might have to be drawn into the battle.

PAGE: Right. Well, she's kind of left the door open, saying—to say “If I knew then what I know now.” She has said her vote was based on the fact of what was known at that time.

MATTHEWS: But leaders are supposed to know then what they know now.

PAGE: The big problem for her is not to appear too stubborn about that at—or too intransigent and too much of a war hawk as far as the future and staying in Iraq at this time.
In our view, Clinton’s vote on the war resolution was a total stinker—one of the worst votes in Senate history. (Edwards cast the same vote, of course.) But Page explicitly noted a fact which insider pundits often obscure; for years, Clinton has said that there wouldn’t even have been a vote if we’d known then what we know now. Other pundits, like Matthews, prefer to paint her as a “pro-war Democrat” (“on the right”) while ignoring this long-standing statement. (In this threadbare but pleasing script, Edwards has renounced his vote—but Clinton has refused to do so.) We Dems should start refusing—now!—to let such scripts get frozen in place.

On the liberal web, we did a miserable job with this task RE Kerry in Campaign 04 (starting in February of that year). We let the scripts about Kerry gain traction (He voted against every weapon system!); as a group, we did amazingly little to confront, challenge, clarify and debunk them. So here’s your daddy, telling you now: Starting today, Dems and libs should start addressing the scripts which emerge against all possible Dem nominees. We should clarify the scripts about Obama—and the scripts about Clinton too.

In Clinton’s case, the need will be strong. “Deer hunters” may or may not be troubled by her nasal voice and her high education. But one thing is certain; pundits like Matthews will be troubled by these deeply troubling attributes. Matthews has long had a jones about such women—and Katty Kay wants to help him express it. If we care a fig about Campaign 08, we need to confront the scripts they’ll produce—and we need to start doing so now.

THREE CHEERS FOR NORAH O’DONNELL: We flashed on an earlier, street-fighting pundit at one point in this weekend’s show. Omigod! Katty Kay put forward her focus-grouped blather about Clinton’s failure to do TV shows. And when she did so, omigod! O’Donnell broke the most basic law of her tribe! She raised a point which All Good Pundits know they must never mention:
O'DONNELL: I don't think that it's her advisers that are keeping her from spending more time with the media and the public. It's actually the senator. I think there's a recognition inside her campaign—

MATTHEWS: Blame the boss.

O'DONNELL: —that she does need to get out there more, but it's because she's so distrustful of the media because of what happened while she was in the White House that she resists.
Oh. Our. God. It’s sacred law among this cohort—pundits must never mention their own tribe’s misconduct. O’Donnell did this sort of thing fairly often back in 1998 and 1999. Our analysts cheered when she went there again—when she spoke back to Katty’s sweet script.

THE LIVING DEAD: It’s bad enough that he plays Groundhog Day every weekend—holding the same worn-out discussion about Hillary Clinton, plus Saints John and Rudy. This week, though, Matthews asked his panel to take things one step further:
MATTHEWS: OK. Next up, bench strength. If Hillary Clinton and John McCain stay in the lead, they'll have to think about running mates at some point. They both need, of course, some rounding out. We put it to the Matthews Meter, 12 of our regular panelists. Who would Hillary pick? This one's all over the map: four say Barack Obama, three say Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, who just dropped out of the presidential race a few weeks back, two say John Edwards, and two say New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. In fact, there's one vote there for Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado. We also asked the Matthews Meter about Republican side. Who would McCain pick if he won the nomination? Mitt Romney wins the majority—very strong showing by Mitt. For number two, Giuliani gets three. As you saw, Governor Mike Huckabee gets two. Clarence:
It would be hard to overstate the dumbness involved here. Killing time—as the addled must do—they tried to guess who the VP nominees would be. As we’ve noted in the past, pundits rarely get this right even in the week of a party convention. It takes a real fool to guess at it now. But so what? You know the rules! Chris’ guests all took a try.