HOW TO TRASH A RESPECTED DEM POLLSTER! Is there any chance Bendixen was simply answering Lizzas question? // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2008
NARRATIVE NEVER DIES: Lets face it: Narrative never dies. Yesterday afternoon, we had to run a rare mid-day errand. In the car, we put on WAMUs Kojo Nnamdi Show, a daily program on Washingtons public radio giant, WAMU. Disaster! The very instant we turned on the show, this escaped into the air:
Nnamdis hapless guests were Daniel Klein and Thomas Cathcart; they were discussing their new, apparently uninformed book, Aristotle and an Aardvark Go To Washington: Understanding Political Doublespeak Through Philosophy and Jokes. More on their philosophical backgrounds will emerge in a note below.
What was wrong with this genius recitation? It has now been almost eight years since USA Todays Walter Shapiro launched this deeply damaging groaner about Candidate Gore. It happened in September 2000, and—tied to the simultaneous claim that Gore had lied about his dogs arthritis pills (yes, you read that correctly)—it produced the three thousandth press corps frenzy about Al Gore, the worlds biggest liar. The frenzy turned Gores polling numbers around just as it seemed he was pulling away from his opponent, George W. Bush. The claim that Big Liar Gore has lied again was deeply damaging. Like so many previous claims, it was pathetically wrong.
Yesterday, Nnamdis hapless guest said this: It turns out the song didnt come into existence until [Gore] was way out of law school. In fact, it was immediately clear—eight years ago!—that Gore had actually been telling a joke, a joke hed told many times in the past. (A Nexis search made this fact quite apparent. Meanwhile, on the videotape, you could plainly see and hear Gores teamster audience laughing at what he had said—at his joke.) But so what? The press corps ran with its twin Gore liar tales, and the ensuing frenzy drove Gore back to parity with Bush. Eight years later, a pair of fools went on an important public radio program and they pimped this pure bullsh*t once again.
Narrative never dies, dear readers. Narrative never dies.
In this incident, we once again see again the actual shape of the actual American discourse. In our actual discourse, the dumbest, most uninformed people on earth take to the public airwaves, where they insist on repeating old howlers—howlers their equally dim-witted colleagues invented long ago. And their larger assessments are often heart-breaking. A few minutes after hearing Klein restate this groaner, Nnamdi asked his dim-witted guests to answer a deep, philosophical question. Being clueless on what had transpired himself, he failed to see the cosmic irony involved in the question he asked:
Nnamdis guests were tossing off howlers about politicians. Only naturally, therefore, Nnamdi wondered why we let politicians get away with such conduct! And omigod! Heres the laughable answer he got. We were glad the analysts werent in the car to hear what Nnamdis guest said:
We hear the same clichés over and over, Klein said—having just recited a bogus old tale for perhaps the ten millionth time.
For the record, heres what the authors boast at their web site: Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, authors of the national bestseller Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, arent falling for any election year claptrap—and they dont want their readers to either! And readers, the spreading nightmare gets worse. As it turns out, the misinformed pair are both graduates of—what else?—the Harvard philosophy department! Once again, we had seen what happens when our greatest thinkers descend to breathe everyday air.
YOU CAN LISTEN: You can listen to the mayhem by clicking here. The eight-year-old howler about Gores lullaby comes about three minutes in.
Narrative never dies, dear reader. Narrative never departs.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: For a quick summary of the pimping of Gores union joke, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/24/03. (Scroll down to HOWLER HISTORY.)
In real time, even Bob Novak said Gore had been joking. (It was perfectly obvious from watching the tape. Youd have to be a narrative whore to miss it.) But so what? At the New York Times, Richard Berke was still playing it dumb on our answering machine, a full three weeks later. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/9/00, to learn how George Bush found his way to the White House. (Most of our real-time work on this topic was at the now-defunct SpeakOut.com.)
HOW TO TRASH A RESPECTED DEM POLLSTER: According to one progressive or semi-progressive think tank, Sergio Bendixen is recognized as one of the preeminent experts in Hispanic public opinion research in the United States...Sergios unique abilities and experiences make him a key addition to [the New Politics Institute] and understanding the coming political battleground of the 21st century. Just click here.
For many years, Bendixen has been a highly respected Hispanic pollster. But is he also a slobbering racist? Richard Thompson Ford was happy to say so—and the Washington Posts Outlook section put his charges into print (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/18/08). Lets make sure we understand how aggressive Fords charges were—before we look at the evidence behind the gentlemans judgments.
Lets be frank: Ford pulled no punches as he denounced the vile racist. According to Ford, heres what Bendixen was really doing when he made a certain remark to a reporter last month:
Bendixen had been playing the race card, Ford also said; he had been drawing on the inexhaustible well of American racism. He had engaged in subtle race baiting; hed been trying to whip racism up into a froth. Indeed, Bendixens race-baiting had already produced blowback among Clintons Hispanic supporters, Ford said—without offering a speck of evidence. But then, Bendixen had slimed members of various groups, including his own; according to Ford, Bendixen had insist[ed] that Hispanics are anti-black bigots, and he had insinuat[ed] that black politicians won't serve the interests of Hispanic constituents. As he closed, Ford said this: So far, the Clinton campaign's attempt to scare Hispanic voters away from Obama has met with significant success.
In short, all-knowing Ford pulled few punches as he denounced the racist Bendixen. He made the most serious charges you can make in our politics—and Outlook put his claims on its front page. But how exactly had Ford come to know that Bendixen had been engaged in the strategy he described? The plainly brilliant Stanford professor offered amazingly little evidence. Indeed, heres the only point in his piece where he even specified what Bendixen had done:
From those eleven words, Ford assembled his assault. In so doing, he showed us how easily a professor-feller can yell race in our current climate.
Was Bendixen playing a race card when he made the quoted comment? Was he insisting that Hispanics, his own ethnic group, are anti-black bigots? Like Ford—like Outlooks John Pomfret—we have no earthly way of knowing. But lets look at the New Yorker piece in which Bendixen was originally quoted. As we do, well see how easy it has become to lodge our cultures most serious charge against a highly respected person.
Bendixen was originally quoted by The New Yorkers Ryan Lizza at the end of this long piece; the piece appeared shortly after Clinton won the New Hampshire primary. Bendixen was quoted at the end of the piece. But uh-oh! Before getting there, a reader might have noticed passages in which an unnamed Obama senior adviser could have been said—by a hostile, reckless or stupid observer—to be playing a race card too:
As Lizza notes, the evidence for the Bradley effect was, at best, murky; later, he quotes an expert on the phenomenon saying (Lizzas paraphrase) theres no evidence yet of the Bradley effect operating in New Hampshire. But if someone wanted to scream and yell about the bad faith of Obamas campaign, that person could play some (reckless) games with that senior advisers one-word answer. Later, Lizza summarized the Obama campaigns view—and he showed that he was thoroughly clueless about the shape of our current press/politics:
Who knows? Maybe Bositis is a vile racist too, despite his progressive background. (Pomfret may want to check with Ford. Surely, Post readers deserve to be told.) But in this passage, Lizza says the Obama campaign was voicing concerns about racial politics—and Lizza suggests that racial politics might harm Obama in the states to come. This shows how poorly he understood the way our press/politics works.
A person who wanted to trash Obama (unfairly) could make some hay with the work we have quoted—especially if that person were held to standards of evidence like those found in Fords Outlook piece. Such a person could claim that Obamas advisers were pimping the Bradley effect all around, despite the fact that experts were saying it hasnt been present for decades! By traditional standards, that wouldnt have been fair, based on what Lizza has written here; as far as anyone can tell from Lizzas piece, Obamas advisers had expressed reasonable concerns in a reasonable way. But dont worry: If Obama were the one the press corps loathed, the press corps would have been pimping these narratives. After all, when Lizza quotes Bendixen, Bendixen makes reasonable statements too—statements which have now been used to make him the worlds biggest race man.
What follows is the rest of Lizzas report. This includes the entire segment dealing with Bendixens statements. It is on this basis, and on nothing more, that Ford made his remarkably serious claims about Bendixens race-baiting conduct. As you read this passage, we make one suggestion: Try to separate what Bendixen says from Lizzas editorial judgments. And try to remember—youre only seeing the fragments Lizza has quoted:
By the way: Lizzas insinuations to the side, Clintons aides had been talking publicly about racial politics all through the previous year; for example, heres a press release about Clintons support among Latino voters—from May 2007. Was the campaign wrong to release that?
At any rate, that was the end of Lizzas piece. The piece ends with Lizza winking hard about the way the Clinton strategy is not necessarily uplifting. But then, Lizza scatters his not-necessarily-bright opinions all through this passage—opinions he didnt have the courage to state clearly, argue for or defend. By this past Sunday, Lizzas winking opinions had turned into Fords claims of nasty race-baiting.
Our question: What exactly is supposed to be wrong with the things Bendixen is quoted saying? On what basis can we assert that he is a vile race-baiter? Is it somehow wrong when a pollster start[s] talking privately about racial politics in the way Bendixen does here? According to Lizza, Obamas senior advisers were talking privately about racial politics too. Was it OK when they talked about race (wed day yes), but wrong when Bendixen did so?
One more question, one well look at tomorrow: Is there any chance Bendixen was simply answering a question—a question Lizza had asked?
Tomorrow, well look at the ways Bendixens remarks have been interpreted, by Ford and others. But in the meantime, please understand this: The press corps is currently playing the race card in the way they tend to play all their cards. Eight years ago, they were playing the liar card—and they played that nasty card quite dishonestly. They misquoted Gore, and they paraphrased wildly; they kept insisting that he had told lies long after it became clear that he hadnt. (Eight years later, see Narrative never dies, directly above.) This is the way your modern press corps works—the way it always plays its cards. In their (pathological) hands, Gore became the worlds biggest liar—and a phony, and a faker. Today, he holds the Nobel Peace Prize—and a highly respected Dem pollster has become the worlds biggest race man.
Is this how we want the game to be played? For many progressives, the answer is currently yes. (Weve accepted this conduct for a good many years.) They will, of course, be crying big tears if the game turns against Obama (as it well might). Our question: Why do we let this gang of crooks play their cards at all?
NOTES FROM AN ARCH-RACIST: Last year, Bendixen wrote this research-based piece for AlterNet (and for La Prensa San Diego) about the young people of California. In this excerpt, his racist leanings are really quite evident. How could anyone miss them?
If you cant see Bendixens racism there, we dont know what will convince you. One more question: Is there any chance Bendixen was simply answering the question Lizza had asked?