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Daily Howler: Colbert King's column was a disgrace. It captured a 16-year era
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THE POST AND THE END OF AN ERA! Colbert King’s column was a disgrace. It captured a 16-year era: // link // print // previous // next //

He knows what he’s talking about: This morning, Paul Krugman, who knows what he’s talking about, criticizes three different things Republicans have said about the stimulus package. You’ll note that he doesn’t echo the claims found in this HuffPo report.

Odd, isn’t it? Over the weekend, that piece was echoed by one and all, in 20-second efforts all over the web. (For one example, just click here.) Who knows? Maybe we’re all just Brent Bozell now! More on this topic tomorrow.

THE POST AND THE END OF AN ERA: Twice last week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Washington Post published special “commemorative editions,” charging two bucks for the paper instead of the usual fifty cents. The paper captured the start of an era—and made a few bucks as it did.

Truly, though, the Post should have charged extra for Saturday’s paper, which truly captured the soul of an age. In this case, the newspaper captured the end of an era, through an astounding op-ed column. We refer to this column by Colbert King, a Washington Post editorial board member. King’s column was given the featured position on Saturday’s hard-copy op-ed page. As we write, it remains the featured piece among the day’s columns on-line.

With his astounding piece, King truly captured the end of an era. He captures the end of the 16-year Clinton/Bush era, an era which was largely driven by the rolling Clinton-hatred of the upper-end Washington “press corps.” King is a member of that sad group—and, to judge from Saturday’s piece, he is by now barely sane.

We know—it’s hard to swallow such radical judgments when your emperors go for their strolls. But please review the gentleman’s column—and understand these things:

In a time of war and financial collapse, King used his weekly column to offer inane complaints about—what else?—the vile personal conduct of President Clinton. And understand this: This loathing explains King’s final column in Campaign 2000—three days before the critical vote which changed the world’s history.

Give him credit: This Saturday, King seemed to know that what he was writing was an insult to the public discourse. He opened with a revealing look at the mind-set of your lords:

KING (1/24/09): I close this first week of the Barack Obama presidency with a few churlish thoughts that, perhaps, I should keep to myself but won't. I'm in the autumn years of life, beyond the point of worrying about my life when I grow up. So here goes:

Note the mind-set of this fine breed: King will only withhold “churlish thoughts” if they might harm his own future career. No concern is expressed about what these thoughts might do to your public discourse—your interests. But with that warning, we were handed King’s complaints about “William Jefferson Clinton.” Most important, we saw what Colbert King has on his mind, even as the world is collapsing around those who are less wealthy.

What were King’s complaints about Clinton? First, King was offended when he saw Clinton at Wednesday’s National Prayer Service. “Pray that he becomes acquainted with John 3:30,” this humble man humbly prays in his column. Then, he starts to detail his complaint. Yes, he actually wrote this:

KING (1/24/09): Pray that he becomes acquainted with John 3:30: "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Obama and his ascending secretary of state need a lot less Bill Clinton.

I tuned in to Wednesday's National Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral, a historic event that marks the end of the president's inauguration.

Sitting in the front pew after a day of ceremonies and a night of partying was our new president, flanked by his wife, Michelle, and by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill.

Let’s stop there. Obama’s ascending secretary of state is, of course, married to Bill Clinton. But so what! King is willing to let us know that she “needs a lot less” of the man! Continuing, King fleshed out his complaint. Please note the highlighted passage:

KING (continuing directly): But wait! Also seated in the front pew was Hillary Clinton, who was still only Obama's secretary of state nominee. How did she rate that, while the rest of Obama's team was seated among the 3,200 invited guests?

Hillary Clinton made the front row because the man seated to her right used to be president.

Even if asked by the first family or planners to occupy the front pew, the Clintons should have had the good grace not to horn in. It was not their hour.

To state the obvious, the Clintons were sitting in the front row because they’d been asked by Obama. But Clinton-hatred robbed King’s cohort of its slim faculties long, long ago. In a time of war and financial disaster, the gentleman’s leading concern this week was Bill Clinton’s seat at a prayer service. Obviously, Obama did ask the Clintons to sit where they sat—and no one with an ounce of sense gave the matter a moment’s thought. But to the emperor King, it seems to have been the week’s top event, with King expressing his pique at both Clintons! Which brought m’lord to Event Number Two. It’s hard to believe, but this second complaint is crazier, by far, than the first:

KING (continuing directly): Which gets us to Hillary Clinton's swearing in as secretary of state.

It was a low-key event, staged in Ms. Clinton's Senate office.

“It was a low-key event,” King writes—but no event is so low-key that it won’t anger the Clinton/Gore-hater. In fact, no one on earth cared a fig about that particular low-key event—except for the family, and except for King’s brain-damaged cohort, of course. If you want to know how a candidate like Bush reached the White House, it’s all explained right here:

KING (continuing directly): It should and could have been all about her. It would have been, too, if her daughter, Chelsea, had held the Bible on which she took the oath of office. Bill Clinton could have stood on the sideline—looking on adoringly, of course—so as not to distract attention from the person of honor.

But he couldn't resist being at center stage; hence he assumed the role of Bible-bearer.

Such a needy man.

We know. You’ve now decided that this is a joke—that we have simply been making this up. But truly, that is what this high lord wrote in his weekly column, in our most important political newspaper. In a time of war and financial disaster, Colbert King decided to stick his big, long nose into the midst of that low-key event. All-knowing, he informs us that Chelsea should have presented that Bible, not that “needy man.”

Chelsea should have been holding the Bible, this consummate imbecile said. He said it in his weekly column in our most important political newspaper.

But then, this conduct does make perfect sense. Like Antoinettes through the annals of history, Colbert King had a better idea about how this family should have behaved—even at this “low-key event.” And needless to say, this man—this man who is barely sane—had more insights to offer:

KING (continuing directly): He should accept his status as a man less followed and get out of the new administration's life.

He dogged his wife's presidential campaign with his political freelancing. The danger is that he's going to stick around to dog the administration for the next four years.

He will, too, unless the secretary of state has a "come to Jesus" meeting with Bill and tells him:

At this point, King condescended to list five things the secretary of state should tell her husband. You can read the list for yourselves. But in the last of the five, King has Hillary Clinton speaking profanely to her husband. “Keep your damn hands to yourself,” Colbert King tells her to say.

It’s hard to fund words for the borderline sanity King put on display in this column. And it’s hard to find words for the open insult he delivered to average people. King, of course, is well-off and positioned—he’s a former bank executive and a current Post board member. (In fairness, he writes excellent pieces about DC affairs—when he isn’t dragged away by derangement.) Outside the palace, events are mightily bearing down on less privileged people than he. But so what? Their reward from King are these “churlish thoughts”—his thoughts about who should correctly have held the Bible when a secretary of state took her oath.

Incredibly, that is what the lords and ladies think is worth discussing.

The borderline sanity is fairly clear—but so is the shape of an era. You see, the ludicrous loathing King puts on display drove the work of the Insider Press Corps through much of the past sixteen years. Most consequentially, it drove the work of these pampered souls as they chased Candidate Gore around, trashing him fort twenty months, eventually sending Bush to the White House. That loathing explains King’s final column in Campaign 2000—the one he wrote three days before the public went to the polls for a history-changing vote.

On Saturday, we saw what Clinton-hatred looks like at a time of war and collapse. In that November 2000 column, we saw what Clinton-hatred looked at a time of peace and prosperity, when transferred to the vile Gore. (We can’t find the column on-line.) King started that day by boo-hoo-hooing at the idea that Bush’s DUI arrest had become public so late in the game. (“My short stint working at the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse in 1971 taught me that there are millions of Americans suffering from alcoholism and other drinking problems; that many are in denial; and that too many, unfortunately, won't seek help. From what I can see, Bush stepped up to his problem years ago.”) But then, having vouched for Bush’s conduct, he turned his attention to Candidate Gore and joined a long string of upper-end colleagues expressing their distaste for the troubling man. Every Dem in human history had been far better, King told:

KING (11/4/00): The eleventh-hour disclosure of Bush's arrest may hurt him. But it doesn't add luster to the Democratic ticket. At this stage, the best thing Al Gore and his running mate, Joe Lieberman, have going for them is that they don't have to run on George Bush's Texas record or the Republican Party platform. Beyond that it gets hard.

It wasn't always this way with a Democratic ticket. The 1960 John F. Kennedy presidential campaign caught the imagination of many in my college-age generation. Unlike this year's race for the White House, the 1960 presidential election was about more than keeping Republicans out of the White House. We were enthusiastic about the Kennedy-Johnson ticket. We actually liked the candidates and what their campaign stood for.

When Lyndon Johnson and running mate Hubert Humphrey sought the White House in 1964, many of us also eagerly voted for them. Again, not just because we feared what Barry Goldwater might do to the country. Johnson and Humphrey were regarded as men of conviction who would fight hard for economic opportunity and racial justice. The Democratic standard-bearers didn't have to demand our allegiance; they had earned it.

Excitement with Democratic tickets didn't stop there. Jimmy Carter's integrity was seen as the perfect antidote to Richard Nixon's Watergate corruption. And while Walter Mondale's presidential bid was unsuccessful, his candidacy evoked strong support among his party's core constituencies because of his strong support for basic civil rights, working people and the poor. Bill Clinton, for much the same reasons, enjoys the same kind of loyalty—his personal flaws notwithstanding.

Not so with Gore and Lieberman.

That may help explain the lukewarm response to the Gore-Lieberman ticket among the black rank and file, as the White House learned this week from a number of African American pastors. Their warning shouldn't have come as a surprise. Compared with Democrats from Kennedy to Clinton, Gore and Lieberman have done relatively little to earn the trust and confidence of the Democratic Party's base.

Everyone was better than Gore! Why, even Clinton was better than Gore, he even managed to say, with straight face. Later, King offered a few more objections, straight from his cohort’s hymnal:

KING: It probably doesn't help that Al Gore doesn't seem all that likable. On a personal level, he has none of Clinton's charm. Gore is condescending, lacks charisma, is a shameless pander and puts too much yeast in his stories. And like his boss, Gore's campaign finance ethics have not been always the best. A JFK he is not.

Gore trailed JFK’s standards on campaign finance ethics? Truly, it would be hard to express how absurd that comparison is. But King understood his cohort’s key themes about Gore’s condescension, pandering, lack of charisma—and about the yeast in his stories. (Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal! Al Gore said he inspired Love Story! Except, of course, that he didn’t.) Having defended Bush’s failure to “reveal the [DUI] arrest himself,” King recited the requisite themes about Gore—themes his cohort had spent years inventing.

Don’t misunderstand—King more or less endorsed Gore by the end of this column (even though Gore was “hard to swallow”). Under Bush, “the Supreme Court would take an even farther turn to the right,” King noted; domestic policies would swing right too. Nor is it likely that King’s striking column affected any electoral votes; the Post has little pull in Florida or New Hampshire, states where the worm sadly turned. But the tone of this column had been widely echoed all through the Clinton/Gore-loathing world, among columnists with a much wider influence. For example:

The New York Times is widely read in the state of Florida. And in that newspaper, Frank Rich had spent the entire year insisting that Candidates Gore and Bush were just two privileged peas in a pod. (He kept it up for years after that.) Bob Herbert had vouched for Bush’s honesty—and slandered Gore—in the punishing column he wrote right after their fatal first debate. And on the Sunday before the election, Maureen Dowd returned to the muse she had long found Gore’s highly comical bald spot. “I feel pretty,” she imagined Gore singing, as he looked in a mirror and talked to himself about “The Spot.” In short, the simpering scions of this fatuous class had long since transferred their Clinton-hatred to Gore. (Roger Simon, quoted by Howard Kurtz: “We want to hear him say what a terrible reprobate the president was...We’re going to make him jump through the hoops. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”) But then, none of these idiots seemed to see anything wrong with that game plan. Our advice for King, for Rich, Herbert, Dowd? Check today. Ask the dead of Iraq.

In our book, the Post should have charged a hefty fee on Saturday last, for the edition including King’s column. Written at a time such as this, the column expresses the broken-souled values of a simpering, pampered “journalistic” elite. And it captures the shape of a 16-year age. It tells us how Bush got where he was—and how your army got to Iraq. Over the years, these Antoinettes have lived for one thing—for their much-loved hatred of all things Clinton/Gore. On Saturday morning, that hatred was on full display as a fatuous man of the palace lectured all about who should hold Bibles. Plainly, the man is barely sane—but he managed to capture an age. In our view, the cash-strapped Post missed a good chance to make a fast buck.

How quickly it all goes away: At the close of Saturday’s column, King condescended to lecture his “fellow scribes” about the real shape of African-American history. Specifically citing his own great-grandfather, he described our greatest generations:

KING (1/24/09): The [Martin Luther] King speech was a defining moment, but the struggle began more than 200 years ago, driven by the spirit to be free.

It drove conductors of the Underground Railroad and abolitionist-led rebellions, and it organized escapes. It fueled the formation of black churches, benevolent associations with their logistics and financial leadership, and black newspapers to "plead our own cause." It led nearly 200,000 men of African ancestry, including my great-grandfather, to serve in the Civil War.

It created black universities, and it trained black lawyers to win legal victories that broke the back of legal segregation. That same spirit sparked freedom rallies, boycotts, picketing and marching in the 1940s and '50s.

And in the '60s, the thirst for freedom produced a fearsome force of young people who led a political and social upheaval the likes of which America had never seen. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King spoke for the ages.

In that passage, King is describing some of our country’s greatest generations—the generations of African-Americans who persevered, showed forbearance and developed vast wisdom through endless, inexcusable history. No doubt, his great-grandfather was one of these “greatest.” So too his parents and grandparents.

But King himself was one of the first to be offered the time-bombs of wealth, fame, position. Saturday’s ridiculous column teaches us a time-honored lesson: Once we humans gain wealth, fame, position, how quickly it all goes away!

Saturday’s piece was an open insult, a grinding disgrace. And it captured a 16-year age. Gore lied about those doggy pills! He wore three-button suits! And: Chelsea should have held that Bible, not that needy man!