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Daily Howler: Why didn't Clinton mention John Edwards? Gene Robinson has no idea
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GENE’S RACY NEW NOVEL! Why didn’t Clinton mention John Edwards? Gene Robinson has no idea: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JANUARY 31, 2008

FROM OUR “INFINITE NUMBER OF MONKEYS” FILE: Really? Predictable work on the Times op-ed page? Well yes—and we’re afraid it has happened again! You know what to do—just click here.

We’ve taken the trouble to check this one out. And no—this isn’t a reprint of a piece someone else had already published. You’ve read this column a thousand times. Today, Nick Kristof gives you the chance to read it one time more.

DISAPPEARED BY BEINART: Readers, it’s a tenet of Hard Pundit Law: What gets done by the press corps, gets disappeared by the press corps. Yesterday, we showed you Harold Meyerson eliminating his cohort from public discussion. This morning, Peter Beinart does the honors, offering this blinkered view of the current Dem primaries.

Not long ago, Beinart was Washington’s Lion of Baghdad; he stood, sword in hand, at The New Republic, urging his country to march off to war. Today, he assures us—on the basis of a “study,” which he’s carefully read—that “the tone of the Obama-Clinton race” is nothing for Dems to worry about. “For starters, the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama isn’t all that nasty,” he correctly says. And then, he offers this puzzling digest of campaigns that really were vile:

BEINART (1/31/08): In 1992, Jerry Brown accused Bill Clinton of funneling business to Hillary's law firm. In 2000, supporters of President Bush accused rivals of spreading rumors that he had used cocaine. That same year, Al Gore insinuated that Bill Bradley's health-care plan was racist, and Bradley bashed Gore for holding a fundraiser at a Buddhist temple. For better or worse, this is what American presidential politics is like.

Weird! As everyone knows, there has been one super-nasty primary in recent years, but it’s absent from that account. In fact, in Beinart’s account, George W. Bush is a bit of a victim—and Al Gore (groan) is once again said to have played a race card. (As always, Gore is said to have “insinuated” the claim Beinart puts in his mouth.)

But so it goes as this Lion of Baghdad recalls our recent primary battles. And he goes on to assure the world that the Democratic nominee will not be harmed by the recent ballyhooed squabbling. But uh-oh! In doing so, Beinart disappears the likely role of his own clan, the mainstream press.

We tend to agree with one thing Beinart says. If Obama emerges as nominee, he won’t be hurt by what has happened. In large part, that’s true for an obvious reason; within the mainstream press, Obama has been cast as the Innocent Party in the squabbles of the past few months—squabbles which have been lovingly flogged throughout the mainstream media.

But a Nominee Clinton may be hurt by these overblown events. Many Dems believe that she and her husband have been playing a “race card” in recent months. And Beinart’s colleagues have eagerly said this, as we see below. (Why, her husband even said “fairy tale”—an overt racial comment.) But the real problem lies in the future. Fairly obviously, these recent events have reinvigorated the press corps’ hatred for All Things Clinton. As E. J. Dionne even mentioned, in passing, “the old, irrational Clinton hatred is alive and well in certain parts of the media.” Absent-mindedly, E. J. completely forgot to say which “parts of the media” were so consumed. But today, the Lion of Baghdad plays even safer; he pretends that this endless, irrational hatred isn’t part of the picture at all.

We agree in part with brilliant boy Beinart. After all, he has read one “study” on this question, much as he so conscientiously did before begging his nation to march off to war. It’s true: The recent squabbling has been overblown. But it is being overblown by his own mainstream press corps—and it has generated nasty themes within that gang of crackpots and losers. In our view, if Clinton ends up as the Dem nominee, these events could end up being quite harmful. But readers! What is done by the press corps, gets disappeared by the press corps! And Peter Beinart, the Lion of Baghdad, plans a career inside that group—where’s he viewed as a “serious” man.

GENE’S RACY NEW NOVEL: Last night, CNN’s Tom Foreman said the most racist thing we’ve ever heard. He’d been asked to preview Super Tuesday. When he did so, he played the race card in a way the press corps has taught us to loathe:

FOREMAN (1/30/08): For the Democrats, let's look at this. Hillary Clinton has focused a lot of energy on these five states, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Boy, these are naturals. That's her home turf where she's a senator. Fly over here to Arkansas, that's where she came from. She hopes to show up well over there. And, of course, in California....

Obama, on the other hand, is going to play hard for Illinois. That's his home territory. And then he's going to look at states where there are large black populations in the south, for example—hoping he can show well there. And he's going to play hard for the states that hold caucuses, especially with a lot of new independent voters who might like the idea of coming together and helping him along, just as they did in Iowa.

Disgraceful, isn’t it? According to Foreman, Obama was “going to look at states where there are large black populations in the south, for example—hoping he can show well there.” All our analysts looked at each other. Well-trained by the mainstream press, they agreed: Foreman’s statement was the most racist thing they had ever heard.

Of course, there was nothing racist about Foreman’s remark; he was making the most obvious observation in the world. Indeed, pundits have endlessly said it, for the past year; for reasons that are perfectly understandable, Obama was likely to end up doing well among African-American voters. It’s as American as Boston cream pie—and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it: People of various ethnic, racial or religious groups tend to vote for one of “their own” at certain points in their group’s ascent within American culture. In 1960, for example, “We Irish” stampeded off to the polls, thrilled at the chance to vote for Dear Jack. There was absolutely nothing wrong with that—and we know that, because Tim Russert described these events in Big Russ & Me. Indeed, what follows is part of the human pageant, as familiar as buffalo wings:

RUSSERT (page 141): Nuns weren’t supposed to talk about politics, but when it came to President Kennedy, Sister Lucille just couldn’t help herself. That was fine with me. I had a picture of JFK in my room, and my friends and I had Kennedy bumper stickers on our bikes. It was the last thing we were expected to notice, but suddenly a group of ten-year-old boys was excited about politics. Our neighborhood was overwhelmingly Democratic, and we especially loved Kennedy. Although the national popular vote in 1960 was almost exactly fifty-fifty, Buffalo voted for Kennedy over Nixon by almost a two-to-one margin. In the second ward, where we lived, the margin was even greater...

We loved Kennedy because he was young and handsome, but even more, we loved him because he was Irish and Catholic. With his Harvard education and his father’s wealth, he was, especially to the adults I knew, an important symbol of success at a time when many Irish Catholics still felt themselves to be a step or two behind some of their fellow citizens in their pursuit of the American dream.

My own enthusiasm for JFK was less complicated. Father Edwin Dill, my father’s old friend, asked me during the campaign, “Timmy, why are you for Kennedy?”

“Because he’s Irish Catholic,” I replied.

Just outside Boston, it had worked that way in our home too. Right from Day One, our working-class, Irish-Catholic grandmother insisted that we were going to Harvard, just the way Dear Jack and his brothers had done; one of her daughters had married a man of adequate means, and she knew that this would now be possible. (There followed an endless succession of spelling bees, designed to sharpen us up for this task.) Thus our question: Why shouldn’t ten-year-old kids in South Carolina feel the same pride about Obama that ten-year-old Tim Russert felt for Dear Jack? And why shouldn’t their parents feel what Russert’s parents (and neighbors) felt? With his success and obvious brilliance, why shouldn’t Obama be seen as “an important symbol of success at a time when many [African-Americans] still feel themselves to be a step or two behind some of their fellow citizens in their pursuit of the American dream?” Why shouldn’t some ten-year-old kid write these words in the future: “We loved him because he was young and handsome, but even more, we loved him because he was African-American?”

Russert tells a story that’s as American as southern black cooking. And let’s say it again: Every pundit has said, for the past year, that Obama would likely have an advantage in southern states where African-Americans make up a large part of the Democratic electorate. There was nothing wrong with saying that—or with what Foreman said last night. And there was absolutely nothing wrong when this prediction materialized.

Which brings us around to Gene Robinson’s recent unfortunate column.

Robinson seems like a thoroughly decent man—as most people are. But his column starts with a nasty charge, one that shouldn’t be offered up lightly. “Playing the race card against Barack Obama didn’t work out quite the way Bill Clinton had hoped,” he said at the start of his piece. That was a very serious charge. And here was the deeply unfortunate, disingenuous way Robinson chose to “defend” it:

ROBINSON (1/29/08): I wonder how all the Clintonistas who protested that Bill and Hillary Clinton would never, ever dream of stooping to racial politics must be feeling now, after Bill was videotaped in the act. On Saturday, as Democrats in South Carolina went to the polls, a reporter asked Bill about Obama's boast that it took two Clintons to try to beat him. Bill replied: "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here."

Now, the question had nothing to do with Jesse Jackson. So why do you suppose such an expert on American politics as Bill Clinton with no prompting, would bring up contests that took place decades ago—back when South Carolina picked its convention delegates in caucuses, not primaries? John Edwards's victory four years ago, in a primary, would have been much more relevant; he ran a good campaign, too.

Why did Clinton bring up those earlier contests? Well, here’s a painfully obvious answer: He was saying that a major African-American candidate has an advantage in South Carolina, due to its large black electorate! Indeed, that’s what Foreman said last night—and everyone had offered some variant of this obvious statement over the previous year. Everyone had mentioned the fact that Obama had an edge in the Palmetto State. Why, a certain Post pundit had even said it, fairly often—and his name was Gene Robinson! Last July, for example, Robinson wondered if blacks might fail to warm to Obama due to fears that a black candidate just couldn’t possibly win:

ROBINSON (7/31/07): [I]sn't Obama at least a bit concerned that black voters might succumb to a kind of historical fatalism about how race works in America?

"What I see is a lot of press fascination with a black candidate who does not yet have 100 percent of the African American vote," Obama said yesterday in a telephone interview. "It's fascinating to me that people would expect that somehow I would be getting unanimous black support at this stage of the campaign, when probably only about 50 percent of black voters know much about me at all."

Obama pointed out that "black folks have known the Clintons for a long time." He also noted that when he ran for the U.S. Senate, his poll numbers among African Americans started low but later went stratospheric as voters got to know him.

Still, the Obama campaign recognizes the importance of South Carolina as the first primary state with a substantial African American electorate. A win there could resonate in other states where the black vote will be a key factor in the Democratic primary. A bad loss in South Carolina would resonate, too—not in a good way, from Obama's point of view.

"Black folks have known the Clintons for a long time.” Obama said, perfectly sensibly—explaining away the fact that Hillary Clinton still led him in polls of black voters.

Duh. According to Robinson, Obama’s campaign thought he should win the Palmetto State—due to its large black electorate. And they said that such a win would resonate through other southern states, where there were lots of black voters. Indeed, that’s what Foreman said last night. But now, let’s get back to Bill Clinton:

In Tuesday’s column, Robinson was simply stumped about what Clinton had said. The fair-minded pundit just couldn’t imagine why Clinton had mentioned Jesse Jackson’s wins, instead of John Edwards’ win in 2004. This, of course, was completely absurd; presumably, Robinson was simply playing dumb here, the way his cohort so loves doing. Obviously, Clinton was in part stating the obvious—major black candidates have an edge in South Carolina, as Robinson himself noted back in July. The John Edwards win was irrelevant. But when your mainstream press corps attacks, they’re willing to treat you like perfect rubes. There is no charge that is so serious that they’ll handle it with care. As Robinson’s rumination continued, he made a ludicrous statement:

ROBINSON (1/29/08): Now, the question had nothing to do with Jesse Jackson. So why do you suppose such an expert on American politics as Bill Clinton with no prompting, would bring up contests that took place decades ago...John Edwards's victory four years ago, in a primary, would have been much more relevant; he ran a good campaign, too.

The only possible reason for invoking Jackson's name was to telegraph the following message: Barack Obama is black, so if a lot of black people decide to vote for him—doubtless out of racial solidarity—it doesn't really mean squat.

And the reasons to send that message would be to devalue an Obama victory in South Carolina; to inoculate the Clinton campaign against potential losses next Tuesday in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee—Southern states with large African American populations; and, most important, to pigeonhole Obama as "a black candidate" as opposed to a candidate who, among other characteristics, is black.

“The only possible reason!” In this passage, Robinson does what his colleagues so often do when they start to type preferred novels. He imagines the least flattering explanation for someone’s behavior—and then dim-wittedly tells his readers that no other possible explanation exists. Bill Clinton was “playing the race card,” he said—“stooping to racial politics.” It was “the only possible reason.” No other theory exists.

In part, Robinson’s account is correct; almost surely, Bill Clinton was trying “to devalue Obama’s victory in South Carolina” by saying what he did. But campaigns do that all the time—it’s as American as trashing Al Gore, one of Robinson’s favorite pastimes in June 1999 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/14/07, with links to previous work). Yep! Campaigns routinely “explain away” their own defeats and try to devalue their opponents’ victories; it’s what the Obama campaign did this week in the wake of the Florida voting. (There’s nothing wrong with it.) For the Clinton campaign, it would be perfectly obvious to “explain” South Carolina by noting Obama’s advantage in the state—an advantage that Robinson had cited, several times, during the previous year. Obama did have an edge in the state. There’s nothing wrong with saying so.

Here at THE HOWLER, we said that Bill Clinton was very dumb to make that reference to Jesse Jackson, He was dumb because Washington pundits were looking for ways to call him a racist (in much the way Peter Beinart dusts up Gore again this morning). Why, Bill Clinton had already said “fairy tale!” It was the most racist thing we’ve ever heard, many pundits were prepared to pretend. For that reason, Clinton’s statement was, at the least, very dumb. In making the statement, he took the bait; he gave them the club they were after.

It was dumb for Clinton to say what he said. But was it also meant as a racial attack? Was it fair to say that he played a “race card”—that he had “stooped to racial politics?” Robinson made a very serious charge—and then, he said there was no other “possible” way to interpret what Clinton had said. That was perfect bull-roar, of course—but that’s how this cohort has long played its cards. That’s how they played their “liar card” against Gore. And it’s how they’re playing this new, pleasing card against the vile racist Bill Clinton.

Darlings, Bill Clinton said “hit job!” It’s the most racist thing ever said!

By the way: This is why the recent squabbling could badly damage a Nominee Clinton. And this again shows us the D-minus way your “press corps” hands you your world.

As a general matter, Gene Robinson seems like a very nice person. But he’s part of a nasty and stupid gang which has long made a joke of your discourse. In this, as in so many past matters, they can picture no “possible” story but the story they want to tell. They’ll simply tell you the story they like—and they’ll be too lazy and corrupt to argue for their case. They’ll make the most serious possible charge—and over these justifications.

But then, that old irrational Clinton hatred is alive and well, Dionne said. Absent-mindedly, he forgot to say just who he had in mind.

By the way: Did Bill Clinton “stoop to racial politics?” We don’t know—and neither does Robinson. But nothing derails this gang’s preferred novels. Robinson made our most serious possible charge—and argued as if in a sand-box. Why didn’t Clinton mention John Edwards? Robinson had no idea.

A LETTER FROM HOUSTON: In today’s New York Times, a writer from Houston makes similar points. You know what to do—just click here.