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Daily Howler: Useless then, vicious now. Sic semper name-calling Herbert
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MUD AND (GORILLA) DUST! Useless then, vicious now. Sic semper name-calling Herbert: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MARCH 1, 2007

THE DOGS OF NARRATIVE: No, there’s nothing hugely wrong with Dan Balz’s front-page report—a report about John McCain’s “announcement” on last evening’s Letterman. But our analysts were struck by the dogs that didn’t bark—by the things Balz could have said, but didn’t. After giving the basic who’s, what’s and where’s, Balz offers an overview—still on page one. Can you hear the familiar howls of the famous dogs who didn’t choose to bark?
BALZ (3/1/07): In this case, however, McCain, 70, may have additional motives for using the late-night comedian's show, as he tries to rekindle some of the spontaneity and unpredictability from his first campaign. He cast himself as an insurgent politician in 2000, but this time, weighed down by a supportive position on the Iraq war that is out of step with the public even as he methodically woos the GOP establishment, he has struggled to project the buoyant personality of his first effort.
Say what? McCain is “trying to rekindle the spontaneity and unpredictability” of his 2000 campaign? On the basis of that, could you possibly say that John McCain is trying to “reinvent” himself? Well, you could say that but, correctly, Balz doesn’t. That narrative was endlessly applied to Gore in Campaign 2000 but, correctly, Balz skips past it here. Meanwhile, could you say that McCain was being a bit “calculating” in going on a comedy show to “rekindle his unpredictability” (whatever that means)? In “struggling to portray a buoyant personality?” You could say that but, correctly, Balz doesn’t. Yes, that narrative is being endlessly hammered onto Hillary Clinton. But correctly, Balz skips past it here.

Al Gore is reinventing himself! In 1999 and 2000, Balz’s cohort found endless ways to force this into their “news reports.” And: Hillary Clinton is calculating! They cram this into their “news reports” now. But those are narratives for Clinton and Gore, not for the far more saintly McCain, and so these narratives, however familiar, don’t intrude today. Correctly, Balz tries to report the basic facts—some of which are slightly odd—but holds back from forcing these unpleasant frameworks onto the tale he’s reporting.

Yep. It’s odd to be told that a 70-year-old man is trying to “rekindle his unpredictability,” whatever that means. (Mightn’t that be the mark of a phony?) And it’s somewhat odd to be told that he “cast himself” as an insurgent in Campaign 2000. (Couldn’t that mean he was faking his persona?) But Balz doesn’t have a “fake/phony” narrative for Saint McCain, and no such insinuations intrude on his piece. Indeed, Balz at times goes out of his way to avoid reporting McCain’s reinventions. For example, Balz must have taken the prose we highlight here straight from McCain’s leading writers:
BALZ: [During Campaign 2000,] McCain would later find himself in conflict with religious conservatives after he delivered a speech sharply critical of the influence of Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson, among others, describing them as "agents of intolerance."

Those kinds of remarks have soured some conservatives on McCain as a potential party standard-bearer. Some doubt his commitment to social issues, despite a long record opposing abortion rights, and others believe he has not been a strong advocate for supply-side tax cuts, which have been at the heart of GOP economic philosophy since the administration of President Ronald Reagan.
Gee! Why would a social conservative doubt McCain’s “commitment” regarding abortion rights? Could it be because McCain expressed every conceivable view on the subject during Campaign 2000—back when he was “casting himself as an insurgent politician?” Could it be because he explicitly said, during that campaign, that he opposed the overturn of Roe vs. Wade? McCain takes the opposite position today, but Balz doesn’t report that. Nor does he use the word “flip-flop.” That word, of course, is part of a narrative that is reserved for John Kerry.

Balz is fairly kind to McCain; he skips McCain’s laughable flips on abortion. And he skips McCain’s ethanol flip in discussing his decision to compete in Iowa (which he by-passed in 2000, as Balz notes). And he’s kind when he says, in the passage we’ve quoted, that McCain is “weighed down by a supportive position on the Iraq war that is out of step with the public even as he methodically woos the GOP establishment.” Balz fails to note that McCain’s position on the war is very much in step with that “GOP establishment”—and with the Republican primary voters he must win to get nominated. Does that mean that McCain made a “calculation” when he adopted his stance on the war? You could say that, if you wanted to—but Balz doesn’t choose to say it today. Would that his colleagues would be so kind when “framing” our major Dem hopefuls.

Balz is fairly kind to McCain—and there’s nothing hugely wrong with that. But we do want to note the dogs of narrative that didn’t bark in this front-page report. The press corps had unflattering narratives for Gore and Kerry, and they endlessly hammered them into their stories; they have several such narratives for Clinton today. But how about McCain? Is he flip-flopping, reinventing or calculating as he tries to “rekindle his unpredictability” (whatever that means)? You could say that but, this morning, Balz doesn’t. The power of narrative is the power to spin, and the press corps is drunk with that power.

MUD AND (GORILLA) DUST: Bob Herbert doesn’t seem to think well of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton. Here’s how he started a truly remarkable column in Monday’s New York Times:

HERBERT (2/26/07; opening paragraph): If Bill and Hillary Clinton were the stars of a reality TV show, it would be a weekly series called ''The Connivers.'' The Clintons, the most powerful of power couples, are always scheming at something, and they're good at it.
Yikes! That’s a deeply punishing assessment. Herbert takes the idea that Hillary Clinton is “calculating” and he raises it several levels. She’s “always scheming at something,” he says. And he says that she’s a “conniver.”

You’d almost think that a bigfamouspundit would want to support such remarkable statements. In the case of the useless Herbert (more below), your thinking would be quite mistaken. Indeed, Herbert goes on to insult and name-call Clinton all through the course of this startling column. By the end, here’s what he’s saying about the current Democratic front-runner:
HERBERT (final paragraphs): It's ironic that the first woman with a real shot at the presidency comes off not as a compelling underdog but as the powerful front-runner at the controls of a ruthless political machine.

We'll have to wait and see whether Senator Obama is really offering a new, more hopeful brand of national politics. But here's a bit of unsolicited advice for a candidate making his first foray into the crucible of presidential politics:

Don't listen to those who tell you not to fight back against the Clintons. You will not become president if you allow yourself to become their punching bag. Keep in mind the Swift-boating of John Kerry. Raising politics to a higher level does not mean leaving oneself defenseless.
“Ruthless!” It’s a word that was part of the narratives about Gore—a candidate Herbert never tried to defend (more below). But on Monday, Herbert’s focus was Hillary Clinton—and she took a savage licking. (After all, she controls a machine.) At the start of this column, she’s a scheming conniver; by the end, she’s a ruthless Swift-boater. You’d think a real man would support such rough claims. In the case of Bob Herbert, you’d be wrong.

Indeed, what exactly has Clinton done to earn the mud and dust Herbert throws? (That’s his headline: “Mud, Dust, Whatever.” It’s meant to be a take-down of Clinton!) It’s hard to learn what has done from reading this remarkable column—a column which simply teems with insults, but is strikingly short on examples. What has Clinton actually done that’s so ruthless? In paragraphs 2-4, Herbert continues his insults—and he offers a single example of the conduct that has inspired him to throw so much of Perot’s famed gorilla dust:
HERBERT (paragraphs 2-4): Their latest project is to contrive ways to knock Barack Obama off his white horse and muddy him up a little. A lot, actually.

Most of the analyses after last week's dust-up over David Geffen's comments to Maureen Dowd have focused on whether the Clintons succeeded in tarnishing the junior senator from Illinois. What I found interesting was that no one questioned whether the Clintons would be willing to get down in the muck and start flinging it around. That was a given.

When Senator Obama talks about bringing a new kind of politics to the national scene, he's talking about something that would differ radically from the relentlessly vicious, sleazy, mendacious politics that have plagued the country throughout the Bush-Clinton years. Whether he can pull that off is an open question. But there's no doubt the Clintons want to stop him from succeeding.
Clinton “want[s] to stop Obama from succeeding?” Duh! Clinton is running against Obama! But in this passage, Herbert continues his stream of insults, seeming to charge Clinton with “relentlessly vicious, sleazy, mendacious politics.” (We know. He doesn’t quite say these things about Clinton—he just slickly implies them.) But what makes Clinton so vicious and sleazy? Omigod! When David Geffen showered her with rank insults, she dared ask Obama to disassociate himself from his statements! Just as she had repudiated impolitic statements RE Obama the week before—impolitic statements made by her own supporter, South Carolina state senator Robert Ford.

Clinton asked Obama to renounce Geffen’s insults. And Herbert—a dainty man, it now seems—calls her every name in the book for daring to engage in such vicious conduct! Did you follow that? Geffen calls Clinton every name in the book—and Clinton is the one who is “sleazy” and vicious!” By the way, was Obama “sleazy” and vicious” when his campaign quickly yelled “Lincoln bedroom?” We wouldn’t say or think that—but then, we’re not stupid. But you don’t even have to wonder such things if you read the work of Bob Herbert. He simply omits that part of the tale. His scruples extend just one way.

Good grief. Geffen calls Clinton every name in the book. She asks Obama to disassociate himself from the charges. And that unremarkable bit of conduct makes Clinton sleazy, mendacious, scheming, conniving, ruthless and relentlessly vicious. And let’s not forget to add this in. These are important insights too:
HERBERT (paragraphs 5-6): Senator Obama has come riding out of the wilderness (all right, Chicago) to stand between the Clintons and their dream of returning to the White House and resuming what they will always see as the glory years of the 1990s.

He hurts Senator Clinton in myriad ways. In all the uproar over Mr. Geffen's comments, hardly anyone has said they were wildly off the mark. There would be no Obama phenomenon if an awful lot of people weren't fed up with just the sort of mean-spirited, take-no-prisoners politics that the Clintons and the Bush crowd represent. Senator Obama—at least for the time being—is an extremely attractive alternative.
Herbert is still a bit too gutless to accuse vicious Clinton directly. But let’s add “mean-spirited” and “take-no-prisoners” to the implied complaints about Clinton, the Swift-boater of his wild, warped dreams and his mud-driven mid-90s tales.

A lot of names get called in this column. No examples of real misconduct get offered. One senses there must be a back-story here—a back-story drawn from the 1990s, which the Clintons “will always see as the glory years,” Herbert complains.

And so, we see again how we Dems and libs are held hostage to the tales that drove the 90s. Plainly, Herbert believes vile things about Clinton—things he doesn’t even feel required to relate. He name-calls her viciously—even as he complains that Ruthless Clinton is the one who is vicious. But then, Herbert has been a victim of the 90s for a very long time—and we all became victims through his sad writing. To all appearances, he has always believed the nasty tales that were told about the Clintons—and then, about Gore. Indeed, here’s the way this useless man began one of his last few columns in Campaign 2000, as George Bush inched ever close to a disastrous reign in the White House:
HERBERT (10/5/00): If he can somehow force himself to stop sighing and interrupting and behaving condescendingly in front of the television cameras, Al Gore may yet get elected president.
Good God! That was the start of Herbert’s column about the crucial first Bush-Gore debate! (Headline: “Gore Piles On.” Good God!) In this column, Herbert piled the insults on Candidate Gore, just as he’s doing this week with Clinton. He offered every inane complaint about Gore which could be found in his cohort’s grab-bag. Good God! Try to believe it! He even used one of his fatuous cohort’s stalest and stupidest scripts:
HERBERT (10/5/00): [Gore] doesn't seem to realize that in the real world, people hate Eddie Haskell.
Good God! The Gore-is-just-like-Eddie-Haskell script! According to Nexis, this script began in July 1992, penned by—who else?—Maureen Dowd. Text below.

Words don’t exist to say how dumb (and tragic) that column about Gore actually was. But then, to read Herbert’s fateful columns in October 2000 is to see how a decade of nasty tales would finally send George Bush to the White House. Plainly, Herbert had always had a bug up his keister about the conduct of the vile Clintons. He had believed the tales of the 1990s. And, like others in his dumb cohort, he had transferred them all to Al Gore.

Those closing columns on Gore were pathetic; that column this Monday may be even worse. Herbert insults, name-calls, slimes and savages, and never quite says what the stink is about. Clinton is ruthless and vicious, he says—but he never quite says where the viciousness lies. (Maybe that’s all these men owe to the girl.) But then, Bob Herbert—an utterly useful idiot—name-called Gore right down to the end. Useless then, still useless today. Except to those who spent so much time inventing so many dark tales in the 90s.

The tales came from Rush—and from Atwater too. Bob Herbert believes them today.

IDIOT’S SECRET HELPER: Let’s face it—the idiot Dowd writes all these boys’ columns. Here she is, our era’s prima loona, days after Clinton picked Gore for vice president. Simply put, Dowd has done this forever:
DOWD (7/13/92): [F]inicky baby boomers have not voted as a bloc, and they have not been drawn to politicians their own age.

Mr. Gore learned that the hard way in 1988. He often began speeches in his Presidential quest by observing that in 1960 voters chose the youngest man ever elected to succeed the oldest, and that in 1988 they could do exactly the same thing. But, unlike John F. Kennedy following Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mr. Gore was not embraced by his peers. In the Super Tuesday primaries, he ran 10 points worse among voters in his own age group than he did with older voters.

That was partly due to Ronald Reagan's great paternal popularity with young people and partly due to Mr. Gore's starched persona. Like the baby boomer's favorite teen-age sycophant, Eddie Haskell, Mr. Gore has two distinct demeanors. He can be playful in private, but in official settings, he drops his voice to sound more self-consciously sincere and he composes his chiseled features to look more earnest.
Dowd was still a “reporter” then. But Eddie Haskell made the cut for this “news report,” and her fatuous colleagues—people like Herbert—typed and re-typed her dumb comment forever. In fact, they typed and retyped all her fatuous insults until they had George Bush in the White House. Bob Herbert—could you possibly get any dumber?—was still retyping the Haskell remark eight years later, in October 2000.

In this way, these useless and utterly fatuous losers sent your soldiers to die in Iraq. They actually believed those 90s tales—the tales we got from Limbaugh, from Atwater. And it seems that Herbert is still a believer! He’s such a believer that he doesn’t even bother to say what it is he believes.