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, theres nothing hugely wrong with Dan Balzs front-page report—a report about John McCains announcement on last evenings Letterman. But our analysts were struck by the dogs that didnt bark—by the things Balz could have said, but didnt. After giving the basic whos, whats and wheres, Balz offers an overview—still on page one. Can you hear the familiar howls of the famous dogs who didnt 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 doesnt. 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 doesnt. 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, Balzs 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, dont 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 hes reporting.
Yep. Its odd to be told that a 70-year-old man is trying to rekindle his unpredictability, whatever that means. (Mightnt that be the mark of a phony?) And its somewhat odd to be told that he cast himself as an insurgent in Campaign 2000. (Couldnt that mean he was faking his persona?) But Balz doesnt 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 McCains reinventions. For example, Balz must have taken the prose we highlight here straight from McCains 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."Gee! Why would a social conservative doubt McCains 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 doesnt 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 McCains laughable flips on abortion. And he skips McCains ethanol flip in discussing his decision to compete in Iowa (which he by-passed in 2000, as Balz notes). And hes kind when he says, in the passage weve 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 McCains 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 doesnt 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 theres nothing hugely wrong with that. But we do want to note the dogs of narrative that didnt 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 doesnt. The power of narrative is the power to spin, and the press corps is drunk with that power.
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! Thats a deeply punishing assessment. Herbert takes the idea that Hillary Clinton is calculating and he raises it several levels. Shes always scheming at something, he says. And he says that shes a conniver.
Youd 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, heres what hes 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.Ruthless! Its a word that was part of the narratives about Gore—a candidate Herbert never tried to defend (more below). But on Monday, Herberts focus was Hillary Clinton—and she took a savage licking. (After all, she controls a machine.) At the start of this column, shes a scheming conniver; by the end, shes a ruthless Swift-boater. Youd think a real man would support such rough claims. In the case of Bob Herbert, youd be wrong.
Indeed, what exactly has Clinton done to earn the mud and dust Herbert throws? (Thats his headline: Mud, Dust, Whatever. Its meant to be a take-down of Clinton!) Its 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 thats 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 Perots 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.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 doesnt 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 Geffens 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 wouldnt say or think that—but then, were not stupid. But you dont 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 lets 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.Herbert is still a bit too gutless to accuse vicious Clinton directly. But lets 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 doesnt 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, heres 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 Herberts 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 hes doing this week with Clinton. He offered every inane complaint about Gore which could be found in his cohorts grab-bag. Good God! Try to believe it! He even used one of his fatuous cohorts 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 dont exist to say how dumb (and tragic) that column about Gore actually was. But then, to read Herberts 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 thats 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.
IDIOTS SECRET HELPER: Lets face it—the idiot Dowd writes all these boys columns. Here she is, our eras 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.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! Hes such a believer that he doesnt even bother to say what it is he believes.