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CHILDHOOD’S END! A 16-year-story is ending this week. Most voters still haven’t heard: // link // print // previous // next //

NO CHILDISH TALE LEFT BEHIND: This tale has been told for forty-plus years, by liberals and (in recent years) conservatives alike. But in Friday’s Post, Michael Gerson told this familiar tale so clownishly that his presentation should be recorded. For years, Gerson was President Bush’s main speech-writer; today, he’s a Washington Post columnist. He seems to be a decent person—but this is pure, ugly, ungodly cant about low-income schooling:

GERSON (1/4/08): There is an angry backlash against [No Child Left Behind] among some Democratic interest groups. Suburban districts resent being labeled as failures just because some minority and disabled children aren't making progress. But that is the whole purpose of the law—to prevent districts from hiding the poor performance of minorities behind the success of other students. Such districts should feel less resentment and more shame.

Teachers unions object to standardized tests, preferring more subjective, nonacademic measures of school success. And that, from one perspective, is understandable. Failing corporations do not like accurate financial disclosures. Slow runners resent those pesky stopwatches. The unions want underperforming schools and ineffective teachers to be shielded from objective scrutiny. But testing is the only way to determine when disadvantaged students are being betrayed—and by whom.

For the record, we strongly support annual testing in low-income schools—although we oppose the punitive uses to which NCLB puts such testing. (Without such testing, low-income schools will tell you whatever bull-roar they please.) But: For more than forty years, liberals and conservatives have recited the pious Victim Tale offered by Gerson in that passage. When low-income kids do poorly in school, we’re told that they have been “betrayed.” Often, the Gersons imply who the traitors are—but are too cute to come out and name them.

Uh-oh! Gerson suggests that low-income kids are being “betrayed” by their teachers—by those vile teachers unions. (For decades, liberals enjoyed suggesting that black kids were doing poorly in school because they were being betrayed by their white racist teachers.) But let’s take a wildcrazy off-the-wall guess: Like many pious name-callers before him, Gerson has never spent time inside low-income schools, and he has no earthly idea what goes on in such chambers. He has no idea what is happening to low-income kids. And he has no current plan to find out.

It feels good to bray as Gerson does; it feels good to preen, to posture and pander, to show one’s own vast concern for the disadvantaged. But how have teachers betrayed their kids? What exactly should these teachers be doing, beyond what they are doing now? We’ll guess that Gerson lacks the first clue. But this Victim Tale has been told for the past forty years, by libs and cons who share two values—a high regard for their own brilliant character, and a contempt for low-income kids.

Let’s take a guess: Michael Gerson has no idea what goes on in low-income schools. His statement broadcasts his own good character. Low-income kids can just go hang—as they’ve hung for so many years, through so many pious articles. CHILDHOOD’S END: In today’s column, Paul Krugman describes the potent Deception Machines which have long driven our budget discussions. We’re inclined to agree with Krugman’s conclusion; if Obama is the Dem nominee, these machines will probably fail to keep him out of the White House next year. But how thoroughly have these Deception Machines thrived over the past many years? Yesterday, a C-SPAN caller from Scottsdale, Arizona posed this question to Rudy Giuliani. On Olympus, the gods rocked with laughter as this call occurred:

C-SPAN CALLER (1/6/08): First of all, regarding tax cuts, you’re 100 percent right. McCain doesn’t understand economics—revenues and expenditures. If you’re spending too much, that’s an expenditure problem. If you’re cutting taxes, you’re increasing revenues. He somehow thinks that tax cuts are making the deficit worse. And it makes no sense. He doesn’t understands it.

No, we didn’t make that up. The question starts at roughly 9:20 of the tape, “Rudy Giuliani on the C-SPAN Campaign Bus.” Just click here, then fast forward.

We’ve discussed this matter many times in the past. The caller sounds completely sincere. But he has been told, for decades now, that cutting tax rates increases revenue. The people who have told him this know that it’s lunacy, but they’re playing him for a rube—and the liberal world, and the mainstream press, have never really gotten around to telling such voters that they’re being played for fools by a right-wing conspiracy. The caller believes what he has been told—in part, because no one contradicts it. Big newspapers lead more comfortable lives when they let such cant go unchallenged. And, of course, their owners and their journalistic stars gain from Republican tax cuts.

For decades, these Deception Machines have told these tales—and they’ve largely gone unchallenged. But another story is ending in New Hampshire this week—and it has gone undiscussed too.

This week, a sixteen-year story will come to an end—a story that began in New Hampshire, back in January 1992. During that period, RNC/MSM bull-shit machines have churned endless cant about Clinton-Gore-Clinton—and those stories largely went unchallenged, and they changed the world’s history. Who would be this year’s best Democratic White House nominee? We don’t have a strong opinion. But as this 16-year story now comes to an end, we think it’s important to get clear on two points. We think it’s important to see the opportunity this milestone extends to Dems and libs. And we think it’s important to understand why so few Democrats, right to this day, know about what has transpired.

A new opportunity: With the presumptive defeat of Candidate Clinton, a 16-year story will come to an end. This gives Democrats a new chance to take control of the narratives told about its leaders. By now, it’s abundantly clear that a Nominee Clinton would be subjected to endless nonsense throughout the campaign, as was the case with Candidate Gore all through 1999 and 2000. These attacks would be based on sixteen years of mainstream demonology—and it’s clear that many Dems and libs believe many parts of these RNC tales. (Let’s not pretend that we don’t.) Obama’s nomination lets Dems start again. And, with new, more aggressive liberal institutions in place, it will be harder—much, much harder—to assemble the welter of Demon Tales that were used to trash the Clintons and Gore. The defeat of Clinton will let Democrats and liberals at long last start over again.

About that 16-year story: As the Clinton/Gore/Clinton years end, Dems will get the chance to start over. But it’s important to understand why so many voters don’t even know that a story is ending. It’s just as with that caller from Scottsdale—they don’t know because no one ever bothered to tell them. No one told them that they were being played for fools as this 16-year story unfolded.

No one told them! When Gene Lyons wrote Fools for Scandal (1996), careful liberals chose to ignore it. When Gene and Joe Conason wrote The Hunting of the President (2000), careful liberals looked away once again. When the trashing of Gore began in March 1999, careful liberals knew they mustn’t say too much. And as the dreadful aftermath of the 2000 election unfolded in Iraq, careful liberals knew how they should discuss Campaign 2000. They knew they could trash the Supreme Court’s decision in Florida—and they knew that they mustn’t go back and help voters know what the press corps had done for two long years during Campaign 2000, before the Court got the chance to act.

This morning, Ezra and Kevin are comically telling you, comically late, about the press corps and Candidate Clinton. Kevin says he’s “feeling bitter;” Ezra says “it's a bit astonishing to watch the real-time narrative construction that went on at last night's debate.” Good boys! Missing, as always, is the obvious point: This has gone on, unabated, for the past sixteen years! But then, when it comes to this stunning 16-year story, good, careful boys have always known the basic rule. They must be careful what they say. They must pretend they know less than they do.

The selection of Obama, not Clinton, may work out well for Dems—for the world. (There will never be any real way to find out.) But the centerpiece of this 16-year story remains that pivotal War Against Gore—the war which sent George Bush to the White House, and thereby sent the U.S. to Iraq. The dead of Iraq are in their graves because the press corps conducted that war—and good careful boys like Kevin and Ezra do know all about this. But you know the rule among good, careful liberals—you’re allowed to describe that War Against Gore only once. Josh Marshall described it to Howard Kurtz in August 2002, then his big trap shut for all time. Ezra described it four years later. Indeed, so you can recall what the Hardball ingenue said, let’s reprint his words right here. At the start of an American Prospect cover story, Ezra told the truth to the world. He was describing a 2005 address by Gore:

KLEIN (4/06): The address was the keynote for the We Media conference, held at the Associated Press headquarters in New York last October and attended by an audience that included both old media luminaries and new media innovators. In attendance were Tom Curley, president of the AP, Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, all leading lights of a media establishment that, five years earlier, had deputized itself judge, jury, and executioner for Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, spinning each day’s events to portray the stolid, capable vice president as a wild exaggerator, ideological chameleon, and total, unforgivable bore.

Good God! According to Klein, the “media establishment”—this included the AP and the New York Times—“deputized itself judge, jury, and executioner for Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, spinning each day’s events to portray the stolid, capable vice president as a wild exaggerator.” In a world where the public seems to think, by a two-to-one margin, that the press corps is “too liberal,” can you think of a reason to say that just once? But Ezra quickly shut his trap about this perfectly accurate part of his story—and today, he seems amazed to find these same people inventing silly tales about Clinton. And he forgets to mention, in today’s post, that the sort of thing he describes has gone on for the past sixteen years.

Kevin at least pretends to be “bitter.” Omitting this obvious background again, Ezra won’t take it that far. (High comedy! Note the commenters, praising him for keeping these vile people honest!)

At any rate, a 16-year story is ending this week. That may turn out to be a good thing for Dems, and for the world, though there will be no way to find out. But many voters are just as clueless as that poor sad rube down in Zona. They don’t know about that 16-year story because Kevin, and Josh, and Ezra, and E.J., and a host of others agreed not to tell them. Good boys! They’ve read Lyons and Conason—and they know about Gore. And they know this—they must never tell.

YOU’RE ALLOWED TO TELL IT JUST ONCE: Would Clinton be a better candidate than Obama? A better president? We don’t have the slightest idea. But what happened to Clinton, starting in late October, is the same thing that happened to Candidate Gore. For a bit of perspective, here’s Dana Milbank, just last week, followed by Milbank and Josh in 2002. What happened to Clinton, and what happened to Gore, are all part of that 16-year story:

Dana Milbank, December 2007, describing the press corps and Clinton:

KURTZ (12/29/07): For example, Hillary Clinton. Let's say she doesn't win Iowa. Let's say she gets edged out by 1,000 votes. Is the press going to savage her as a loser?

MILBANK: The press will savage her no matter what, pretty much.

KURTZ: If she wins?

MILBANK: Well, obviously if she wins by any great margin—the press with Hillary Clinton, it's a poisonous relationship. And I visited the various campaigns out there. It's a mutual sort of disregard. And they really have their knives out for her, there's no question about it out there. So—

KURTZ: And to what extent do you think that is affecting the coverage of Senator Clinton?

MILBANK: I think it unquestionably is. And I think Obama gets significantly better coverage than Hillary Clinton does, and given an equal performance he'll come out better for it.

KURTZ: Is this because journalists like Obama better than Hillary or—

MILBANK: It's more that they dislike Hillary Clinton. There is a long history there, her antagonism towards the press. It's returned in spades. And it is a venomous relationship that I see out there.

KURTZ: Interesting. All right.

Dana Milbank/Josh Marshall, August 2002, discussing the press corps and Gore:

KURTZ (8/10/02): Are the media just looking for any excuse to write negative stories about Al Gore?...Dana Milbank, Al Gore says he relied too much on consultants in 2000 and the press accuses him of reinventing himself. He skips the Democratic Leadership Committee meeting and he gets bad press. Friday's New York Times: “Al Gore would have to overcome deep resentment over his 2000 campaign to get the nomination in '04.” Sounds like there's deep resentment among the press corp towards Mr. Gore.

MILBANK: Al Gore has a big problem. The problem is one day he's going to say something that he believes to his core and it's going to be completely honest and we're going to say, “Oh, that big phony, he just thought that up last night.” And Joe Lieberman has the opposite situation. He could be full of baloney, but everybody's going to take him to be sort of the honest guy, saying it as it is. So when the two of them fight together, you just know what side the press is going to be on.

KURTZ: Sounds like the press is playing into stereotypes. Josh Marshall, don't a lot of reporters believe deep down that Gore ran a horrible campaign and doesn't deserve another shot?

MARSHALL: I think it's even more than that. I think deep down most reporters just have contempt for Al Gore. I don't even think it's dislike. It's more like a disdain and contempt.


MARSHALL: That's a good question, and I'm not sure I have the answer for it entirely, or at least not one that you'd let me run on long enough to make clear here.

KURTZ: He's never been successful in the courtship of the press.

MARSHALL: No, not at all, and this was, you know, a year-and-a-half before the election, I think you could say this. This wasn't something that happened because he ran a bad campaign. If he did, it was something that predated it.


MILBANK: You know what it is, Howie, I—and I think that Gore is sanctimonious and that's sort of the worst thing you can be in the eyes of the press. And he has been disliked all along and it was because he gives a sense that he's better than us—he's better than everybody, for that matter, but the sense that he's better than us as reporters. Whereas President Bush probably is sure that he's better than us—he's probably right, but he does not convey that sense. He does not seem to be dripping with contempt when he looks at us, and I think that has something to do with the coverage.

KURTZ: So this seems to suggest, Josh Marshall, that if a candidate or office holder or president, you know, develops a good rapport with the journalist types who cover him, then that's going to be reflected in the coverage, and if a candidate seems aloof, as Gore often did in 2000, then he's going to pay for it in the coverage.

MARSHALL: Yes, I think there's no question about that, and I certainly wouldn't agree with all of what Dana just said, but that's certainly the dominant press impression and to a certain extent it doesn't even matter if it's correct or incorrect. It's just a reality and Gore was up against that in 2000, and he'll be up against it in 2004, if he runs again.

Gore didn’t run again, for obvious reasons. When Clinton ran, she faced the same problem, as Milbank described to Kurtz last week. And guess what? In large part, the press corps was free to chew her up, in the manner that has Kevin so bitter, because careful people like Kevin and Josh—and E.J.; and Gene Robinson—left this remarkable story untold. The events that have Kevin so bitter today are part of an ongoing 16-year story—a story these careful lads didn’t tell.

Read what Josh told Kurtz that day; it’s like what Ezra wrote in 2006. If you were a fiery liberal, why would you tell that story one time? Answer that, and you’ve solved a riddle—a riddle that ran sixteen years.