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Daily Howler: It's time for pundits to say what they know about the spawn of Lee Atwater
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IT’S TIME FOR THEM TO GROW! It’s time for pundits to say what they know about the spawn of Lee Atwater: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2008

COMPUTER TROUBLES—AND RACE CARDS: Uh-oh. We’ve picked up some kind of problem. We may be able to finish our Times report tomorrow (and we’re planning a “Philosopher Fridays”). But it’s possible that we may not.

For what it’s worth, we hadn’t read this New Republic piece by Sean Wilentz when we did yesterday’s post. If you’re interested in the way the race card is played, we think it’s well worth perusing. We’ve met Wilentz once—and admire him a lot. That said, he makes (some) categorical statements about the Obama campaign that we ourselves wouldn’t make—and he makes some categorical statements of absolution regarding the Clinton campaign that we wouldn’t make either. But then, we understand the problem: All the way back to the Greatest of Greeks, people have always resisted the “we just don’t know” card. (We humans love to believe we know things, even when we plainly don’t.) We’re inclined to believe that Wilentz is right when he says the Clinton camp didn’t play race cards. But we’ll just flat-out assert this: It was grossly wrong when people insisted they had, when the “evidence” and logic were so flimsy—when those people couldn’t possibly know.

And yes, that was “playing the race card” too, just as Wilentz says.

We do think this: Many journalists have openly played the race card against the Clintons. Wilentz discusses those card-players too, and we think he’s on solid ground when he does. Please understand: As he does this, he’s discussing journalists whose gruesome bad judgment—and bad faith—have been on display for years.

This week, our “intellectual leaders” reached the point where they were actually pimping smears for Matt Drudge! Taking it straight from Dowd and Rich is almost as bad. Regarding Rich and Dowd, many of you want to admire the one, while rejecting the lunacy of the other. We think they’ve both displayed extreme bad judgment—and bad faith—many times in the past dozen years. We’ve been a bit surprised by that too. But over time, let’s be frank—there it was.

In our view, the race card was played against Candidate Clinton; now, it’s being played against Candidate Obama (see below). It’s time for journalists to reject this broken-souled relic of our history. This will be a bit out of character, of course, given what Wilentz describes.

IT’S TIME FOR THEM TO GROW: Last night, in Hardball’s opening segment, a panel of pundits discussed two events: Bill Cunningham’s anti-Obama rant, and the scurrilous, moronic press release from the Tennessee Republican party.

All these pundits understand what is involved in these events. They all understand that the Tennessee press release is 1) an attempt to play racial/ethnic politics, and 2) an attempt to reinforce the crackpot claims that Obama’s a scary Muslim. But to our eye, the pundits seemed weirdly constrained in their comments. Hence a question, one which has presented quite early in the current campaign: Do these pundits intend to speak clearly about what is occurring this year?

Make no mistake—these pundits have felt free in the past to voice their views on various subjects. For instance, Howard Fineman sat on last night’s panel; during Campaign 2000, he felt free to expound, at considerable length, on Candidate Gore’s psychiatric disorders. He was willing to explain what it meant when Gore appeared in suits at some events, and in less formal attire at others. He worried about this with Brian Williams—even saying that he’d seen the same conduct in 1988, when Gore first sought the White House.

Fineman’s comments were light-years beyond inane—but he felt free to make them. Now, the time has come for Fineman, and his colleagues, to speak about something that actually matters. They all know what’s involved in Cunningham’s rant, in that Tennessee press release. The question is simple: Will they speak? Will they describe what’s before them?

Norah O’Donnell understands those events. Howard Fineman understands them too, as does the loud crackpot Matthews. The question: Are they willing to say what they know? They felt free to speak during Campaign 2000, when they were so deeply troubled by Gore’s vastly troubling clothing. (In those days, O’Donnell spoke truth to pundit power, often making Matthews angry.) Will they say what they know in this instance?

A bit of background might be in order. All these pundits understand a basic twenty-year history:

The politics we’re talking about began in 1988. In that campaign, George Bush the elder brought Lee Atwater to the forefront of Republican politics. No one had “defined” Jimmy Carter or Walter Mondale in the way Atwater would soon “define” Michael Dukakis. As such, that Willie Horton-driven campaign was the start of our modern define-and-smear politics. All the Hardball pundits knows this. They can see where it’s led us today.

This week, as they watched Bill Cunningham’s rant, they all could see where the past twenty years have left us. But none of them said what they knew last night; to our eyes, they seemed uncomfortable. At least two of their number felt very free to express their views about Gore’s troubling clothes. Americans of all political stripes should hound these people to the gates of hell if they spend the next nine months pretending they can’t see what’s before them.

Twain described the ranting Bill Cunningham more than a hundred years ago. Today, Fineman knows who this loud nut-case is; Dionne, Shields and Carlson all know it too. At long last, these stone cowards need to speak up. For once, they should try doing duty.