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Daily Howler: Rachel Maddow got her prize--and Paul Starr pulled his punches
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STARR REPORT! Rachel Maddow got her prize—and Paul Starr pulled his punches: // link // print // previous // next //

PAUL TSONGAS, BILL CLINTON—AND LEAR: To paraphrase a whole cable network: Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! That was the script at MSNBC last Friday, as a string of pundits keened and wailed, lamenting the “disgraceful” way poor Chris Matthews had been “censored”—censored for his insightful remarks about the vile she-b*tch, Hillary Clinton.

We’ve never seen so many people retract an “apology” quite so fast! By Friday night, Chris was weepily thanking the shills, expressing the “joy” that he had felt when they authored the “wonderful words” which undercut his prior, fake comments.

To see the ways the gong-show gang all wept about poor Matthews on Friday, just head over to Media Matters—to Jamison’s Foser’s Friday piece, or to this later report. But the lamentations continued on Saturday night; Digby transcribed some of the wailing in this embarrassing report. In this transcript, it was the liberal-but-hapless David Shuster who told The Great Man what a genius he is. Because Matthews’ absurd remarks about the late Paul Tsongas illustrate a Big Theme of our modern politics, we thought you might want to peruse them. This exchange is stupid all the way through—but we’ll focus on Tsongas:

SHUSTER (1/19/08): I thought it was just brilliant the way that the Clintons took advantage of a trap that maybe Barack Obama set for himself when he mentioned Ronald Reagan and talked about the Democrats not having relatively new ideas the last 15 years, which of course covers the Clinton administration. How do you rate the way the Clintons jumped down his throat on that?

MATTHEWS: Well again, you don't have to like it, but you have to observe it. We're not talking about what is good and what is bad here, but of course we all have our observations about this kind of politics.

Inevitably the Clintons find themselves running against a kind of an outsider politician, someone trying something new. In 92 it was Paul Tsongas who talked about modifying the entitlement programs, doing some things with Social Security that may be sacrificing some benefits but basically saving the system.

They just wait for the other side to do that and then they jump on them. They play the safety, they play in the pocket they let the other guy scramble. Or in the Middle East, they talk about an even-handed policy and they jump on them.

They're very effective at letting the other guy do something that exposes him and then jumping on him.

It was clear that Matthews was criticizing “the Clintons” for practicing “this kind of politics,” in which they “jump down the throats” of opponents after “letting the other guy do something.” Shuster blathered about the shocking way “the Clintons” criticized Obama regarding Reagan. But Matthews’ reference to Tsongas is so doubly inane that it deserves further comment.

In recent weeks, Matthews has been presenting Tsongas as one more of the endless “good guy” who got savaged by the vicious Clintons. We’re sure that Tsongas was a decent man—but he was absurdly wrong about Social Security in the 1992 campaign, and Candidate Clinton was plainly right to challenge him about it. Good grief! At the time, it had only been eight years since Reagan’s “Social Security fix”—but Tsongas wanted to cut the program further (“sacrifice some benefits”). Plainly, Clinton was right to oppose him.

But so what? On MSNBC, Matthew doesn’t explore the merits of matters like this; he simply announces his novelized view, in which the Clintons (and Gore) are morally wrong, in any position they’ve taken. But there’s a deeper irony to Matthews’ recent pitch, in which Tsongas is a wondrous truth-teller done wrong by the vile Bill Clinton.

What’s so odd about that presentation? We’re sure that Tsongas was a decent person. But it has long been clear that he and his medical team deceived the public about the state of his health during the 1992 campaign—and Tsongas died from his cancer in January 1997! In short, if Tsongas had won in 1992, he would quite likely have died or been disabled in office—and his deception would have stood among the greatest in campaign history. But so what? In the scripts which have driven so much of our politics, any opponent of Clinton (or Gore) is automatically cast as the wondrous truth-teller. As such, we’ve gone through a sixteen-year period of “King Lear politics.” As in Lear, the dissemblers have been believed, and the truth-tellers have been trashed as the liars. George Bush is just trying to tell you the truth! So Bob Herbert insisted, with cosmic stupidity, after Bush and Gore’s crucial first debate.

MSNBC—a GE affiliate—is now an open propaganda machine. If Obama is nominated, they’ll quite likely go after him too—though the scripting will likely be different. (Just a guess: He won’t be cast as a liar, like Clinton and Gore. He’ll be cast as an alien, like Michael Dukakis. What’s his problem with the pledge of allegiance?) We’ll discuss that future scripting later. On Saturday night, it was still the deranged King Lear who spoke on this sick cable channel.

STARR REPORT: Rachel Maddow got her prize—and poor Chris Matthews had to report it. On Saturday night, his cable channel was propagandizing its way through Nevada and South Carolina. And uh-oh! Shortly before 8 P.M. Eastern, Matthews introduced Pat Buchanan—and Maddow. As he did, he made an announcement—one he didn’t seem to enjoy.

Reading from the teleprompter, he said that Maddow is now “an MSNBC political analyst.” Darn it! We couldn’t get our VCR running quickly enough to catch the talker’s full comment. But we did capture him saying this, with a somewhat menacing aspect:

MATTHEWS (1/19/08): Congratulations. I didn’t know anything about that, and if I had had anything to do with it, I might have gotten involved.

You’re right—his words don’t quite parse. And Rachel agreed to say ha ha ha, just like two old pals were joshing. But based on tone—and a decade of Matthews-watching—we would guess that Chris wasn’t pleased at the revoltin’ new development. We’d guess that Matthews wasn’t pleased to see Maddow getting her prize.

Why would Matthews have been displeased? On the evening of the New Hampshire primary, Maddow broke every rule in the book; she told Matthews, to his face, right on the air, that liberals were saying that he was the cause of Hillary Clinton’s win in New Hampshire—that his gender-based trashing of Hillary Clinton had made people very mad. This broke every rule of On-Air Pundit Conduct—and we at THE HOWLER joined many liberals in praising Maddow for it. And then, shazzam! A strange event! Within a few days, Maddow apparently told the AP about how great Matthews actually is (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/15/08). Maddow got right with a cable god. And soon, she had her prize!

Did Maddow run and lie about Matthews so she could land this big, brilliant plum? We don’t have any way of knowing—but we’ve seen this gruesome movie a million times by now. Why would Maddow, a “progressive” woman, run off to praise Matthews, an utterly crazed woman-trasher? In the particular case, we have no idea—although we’ll ask Maddow, one more time, to explain her peculiar comments. Until she does, we’ll assume the worst—that Maddow is the latest self-dealer to trade the truth for her own success. We’ll treat her with the contempt she has earned until she explains why she said what she did—why she praised this overt woman-hater on her way to her big career prize.

As noted, we’ve seen this movie a million times—and it’s getting exceptionally tired. Over the past sixteen years, big “mainstream” news orgs have hammered Big Dems—and a long string of mainstream and liberal journalists have adjusted their straight-talk accordingly. You don’t tell the truth about the Washington Post if you want to work for that paper—and you do take back what you said about Matthews if your future wealth and celebrity will come from NBC News, from the gang Jack Welch put in place. In this way, voters never hear the truth about the work of their mainstream press corps. We’ll assume that Maddow has played you this way until she tells us different.

But then, this problem has virtually defined Democratic politics over the past sixteen years. Indeed, we thought of this problem once again when we read Paul Starr’s intriguing piece in the Post’s Outlook section this Sunday.

Starr is co-editor of The American Prospect, one of the major “liberal journals” which have generally refused to tell the truth about the mainstream press corps. Let’s be clear: We agree with most of Starr’s piece; we do not, in any way, want to lump him with people like Maddow. But in the course of warning Dems that they might lose the White House this year, Starr discusses the problems which will face Obama or Clinton in a general election. In the passage that follows, he talks about Clinton. We agree with every word he said—but were struck by the words he left out:

STARR (1/20/08): The very qualities in Obama that progressive Democrats and independents find thrilling—the sheer power of his oratory and physical presence—may stir an unspoken anxiety and panic among other voters who fear the kind of change that Obama would bring. Likewise, Clinton's strength is also a source of uneasiness. Throughout her career, she has stirred an irrational hatred that is not primarily of her own making. To much of the public, when she is tough, she seems unwomanly and therefore inhuman; when she is soft, she seems unfit to be commander in chief. It's the old double bind that women have always faced in acquiring power, but wishing it weren't so won't make the dilemma vanish.

Although each candidate faces deep and abiding obstacles, racism today operates for the most part insidiously, below the surface of politics, while gender stereotypes are on more open display. Even when race rises to the surface in a political campaign, as it did last week, it usually carries with it an uncomfortable sense that the conversation is coded and that anyone bringing up the subject is out to stigmatize a black candidate. By contrast, women can be belittled and mocked in ways that no one would dare publicly try with African Americans. (Remember the boor who disrupted a Jan. 7 Clinton rally in Salem, N.H., by yelling "Iron my shirt!" at the senator?) And in Clinton's case, much of the acid sprayed at her comes from other women, some of them on the op-ed pages of national newspapers.

Each paragraph involves basic omissions. But then, if you’re a Dem or a lib, you’ve seen this movie many times in the past sixteen years.

What is missing from those paragraphs? In the first paragraph, Starr plays it semi-dumb, in a way career liberals often do when discussing the public hatred of Clinton. “Throughout her career,” Starr says, Clinton “has stirred an irrational hatred that is not primarily of her own making.” OK then, we’ll bite: Of whose making is this problem? As is so typical of his cohort, Starr forgets to tell us. He says that “much of the public” sees Clinton in certain ways, but fails to mention an obvious fact—much of the mainstream press corps has fed those perceptions, and continues to do so today. Omigod! In the very week of Matthews’ apology, his name is AWOL here. (But then, go take a look at Tapped. We can’t find a single boy or girl who has mentioned it there either. Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss! Oh please sir, might we play some Hardball?)

But Starr’s second paragraph is even more striking—again, for what is AWOL. Who has been spraying “sexist acid” at Clinton? After citing “a boor”—in fact, a radio talker—who yelled at Clinton in New Hampshire, Starr then offers this guarded talk about the nation’s newspapers: “Much of the acid sprayed at her comes from other women, some of them on the op-ed pages of national newspapers.” How odd! Starr mentions the surprising fact that sexist acid is being sprayed at Clinton by “other women”—women who can be found “on the op-ed pages of national newspapers.” But wouldn’t you know it? He forgets to say who those women are! He forgets to name their newspapers!

In a nut-shell, there you see the way career liberals have fought your fights. That’s how they acted during “Whitewater.” And that’s exactly how they acted when their betters went after Vile Gore.

Let’s be clear: This may represent an editorial decision by the Washington Post, not by Starr. It may be that the Post told Starr that he mustn’t name those names—not even the names of the newspapers. But then too, this may have been Starr’s choice—and this dainty language shows us how career liberals have constantly dealt with the mainstream press corps’ wars against the Clintons and Gore. Career liberal writers have persistently taken a pass on this matter, all through the last sixteen years. Starr’s refusal to name any names is a movie we’ve all seen before.

So typical! Rachel Maddow got her prize—and Starr’s accusation got whitewashed away. This has gone on for a very long time. If we might return to Starr’s crucial theme, this is how Democrats lose the White House. This is the way our “leaders” play—and it’s how they become cable “analysts.”