LETS PLAY NUTBALL (PART 1)! To their credit, the candidates laughed at Chris Matthews sad, stupid question: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MAY 7, 2007
BON MOTS FROM OUR OWN MODERN ROYALS: In Sundays Post, Marc Fisher began his column with a rant about the way Americans are bowing and scraping before Queen Elizabeth. (Headline: Shameful Bowing Before the Crown.) We puzzled at the point behind his piece. And then, of course! We reached it:
FISHER (5/6/07): Today, as we enter the eighth consecutive presidential campaign involving a Clinton or a Bush on the ticket—a span of 28 years—it is sad to see Americans bowing and curtsying to a monarch, a descendant of the very king against whom we fought a revolution.That pointed paragraph stood all by itself in this otherwise puzzling piece. Readers: Please! Dont vote for Clinton!
This morning, Nicholas Kristof devotes his entire New York Times column to this same heartfelt sentiment. In doing so, Kristof displays a basic skill of our monarchical modern press corps: Its flawless skill at generating reasons to reject all Dem White House contenders.
Kristof, a major globe-trotter, rarely writes about domestic politics. According to the Nexis archives, this is just the second time he has mentioned Clinton in the past six months. And he hasnt mentioned McCain at all; ditto Giuliani, Edwards and Romney. (On March 6, he wrote a flattering profile of Obama.) By inference, then, todays column seems to represent a deeply-held view about our current election. In the following passage, we see that deeply-held view expressed. Its the same view expressed by Fisher:
KRISTOF (5/7/07): If Mrs. Clinton were elected and served two terms, then for seven consecutive presidential terms the White House would have been in the hands of just two families. That's just not the kind of equal-opportunity democracy we aspire to. Maybe we can't make America as egalitarian and fluid as we would like, but we can at least push back against the concentration of power. We can do that in our tax policy, in our education policy—and in our voting decisions.Poor Kristof! How he frets about our traditions! Particularly after George W. Bush rose to the White House partly because he inherited a name and rolodexes of donors from a previous president, we should take a deep breath before replacing one dynasty with another, he fervently writes.
Again, this seems to be one of Kristofs most deeply-held views about our ongoing election. And what a surprise! Its another in a long line of reasons to vote against a Big Dem! But then, our mainstream pundits generates narratives of this type as easily as other folk breathe. And theyre very weak—very weak indeed—when it comes to inventing such critical narratives about those saintly Big Republican men.
Consider the deathless work of Fisher and Kristof during Campaign 2000.
This morning, Kristof says we shouldnt vote for Clinton—because, in 2000, we voted for Bush. If we really want a presidential dynasty, then that's fine, he generously says. But we shouldn't back into it without discussion—for the second time in eight years. But did Kristof discuss these dynastic complaints eight years back, when they would have cut against Bush? If he did, he stood in a lonely minority. In those days, the mainstream press corps was busy inventing far-fetched reasons to vote against Gore—and Fisher and Kristof were willing players in this disastrous job action.
In November 1999, for example, Fisher wrote a Post magazine column about Gores troubling clothes that pushed the bounds of sanity. According to Fisher, Gore had recently worn a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American. (Despite this offense against American values, Gore won every Democratic primary, starting with New Hampshire two months later. He then won the popular vote against Bush.) And not only that: Because Gore had hired an oddball like Naomi Wolf, Fisher said we had two choices: We can say Gores a good man whos been duped by over-eager aides, or we can say this is a man who does not know himself, a man who is unknowable, unreadable and therefore not fit to be president. (Two of Wolfs oddball books had been New York Times Notable Books of the Year.) Al Gore doesnt know who he is! Eight years ago, this was standard Gore-hating bullshit, and Fisher ran to type it on up—in the stupidest way he could think of.
So how do you like your f*cking war now, you great lover of democratic traditions?
Kristof, meanwhile, wrote a set of biographical profiles of Bush for the Times—and somehow kept citing the various narratives which had been invented to slime and trash Gore! Weirdly, he never mentioned the problems that had already surfaced concerning Bushs National Guard service, but he managed to voice a suggestion that Gore had embellished his Vietnam role for his political career (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/26/03). But then, standard jibes against Gore kept popping up—in Kristofs profiles of Candidate Bush! But then, in the past decade, the propagation of reasons to vote against Dems has been a major mainstream press specialty. And now, Kristof has one main thought about Campaign 08. And here it is: Dont vote for Clinton!
Are there dynastic problems surrounding our politics? Absent-mindedly, no one mentioned this troubling problem when it affected a Republican hopeful. Eight years later, its being discussed—as a reason to vote against a Big Dem! Kristof has written almost nothing about this election; this seems to be the first thing on his mind. But sadly, no—we cant take him seriously; weve seen this weak, empty scribe type before. And weve seen the work of his own royal cohort as theyve spun the past fifteen years of our politics. Dems should talk back against this new theme. Dems should talk back long and loud.
MOST LAUGHABLE POL OF ALL TIME: How skillful is the modern press corps at inventing reasons to vote against Dems? As we all know, John Edwards big house and fancy bouffant show what a big fake and phony he is. But has any pol ever offered a funnier narrative than Mr. Populist himself, Fred Thompson, who actually rented a red pick-up truck to ride around in when he ran for the Senate? Recently, Noam Scheiber described it:
SCHEIBER (4/27/07): By the time Fred Thompson decides whether or not to join the presidential fray, you will have heard the story of his red pickup truck at least a dozen times. The truck in question is a 1990 Chevy, which the famed statesman-thespian rented during his maiden Senate campaign in 1994. The idea was that Thompson would dress up in blue jeans and shabby boots and drive himself to campaign events around the state. Upon arriving, he'd mount the bed of the truck and launch into a homespun riff on the virtues of citizen-legislators and the perils of Washington insider-ism. For good measure, he'd refer to himself in the third person as "Ol' Fred" and the Chevy as "this ol' baby."Its the funniest thing of all time! In reality, Thompson was a wealthy lobbyist when he rented his little red anti-Corvette. But the funniest thing about Scheibers piece is his credulous opening sentence, the one we highlighted in the passage above. Here at THE HOWLER, well take a wild guess—no, you wont hear the story of his red pickup truck at least a dozen times in the coming weeks. Thats because of an obvious fact: As a general matter, the modern press corps recites these tales only when they cut against Dems.
Its cute that Scheiber still doesnt know this. But then, his TNR sandbox-mate, Michael Crowley, is unaware of the modern world too. In this post, he commented on Romneys recent weird statement that his favorite novel is Battleship Earth (by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard). [A]t a minimum I suspect hes invited a new round of unwelcome questions, Crowley said (even as he inaccurately wrote that Romney apparently added right away that hes no Scientology fan). Readers, where do they find these bright-eyed young lads? In fact, youve heard next to nothing about this truly weird matter. And lets face it: By the rules of the current game, you most likely never will. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/3/07, to see A. B. Stoddard bat this story away.)
Youd think Crowley would know how the modern game works. In April 2000, at the Boston Globe, he pretended that he didnt know why Gore had once claimed seven years as a journalist—and he suggested this proved that Al Gore was a liar. (Duh. Gore had spent two years as an army journo, then five more years at the Nashville Tennessean. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/00.) In 2002, he became the first to say that Kerry seemed to have character flaws because he wind-surfs and plays the guitar. (Yes, he actually said it. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/10/02.) In short, Crowley seems to understand, all too well, the modern rules about who gets hit with dumb stories and sheer fabrications. But like other good boys who inhabit these mags, he keeps pretending that the press corps cant wait to mash Big Republicans too.
That rented truck is too funny for words. But heres a guess, because were alive in the world: Until liberals scream, shout, holler and yell, youll hear next to nothing about Freds non-Corvette. Instead, youll hear how handsome, smart and charming he is (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/30/07). Youll hear how he looks like a president.
And oh, by the way—Dont vote for Clinton! Just like with Al Gores funny suit!
FOR THE RECORD: Since it involves this general subject, we think Sally Quinns column this weekend gave Obama some very good advice. (We wouldnt necessarily assume that he needed it.) Well discuss this by the end of the week. But shes telling you exactly how Obama will be attacked if he wins the Dem nod. Liberal reaction has not been encouraging—but then, what else is new?
Special report: Lets play nut-ball!
PART 1—THE CANDIDATES LAUGHED: To their credit, the Republican candidates laughed. Their moderator, the tormented Chris Matthews, had struggled through eighty-one minutes of Thursdays debate without raising the question which tortures his dreams. Hed asked a few questions about Iraq—and a ludicrous question about Darling Arnold (details tomorrow). At one point, he even asked an enjoyable down-the-line question, a question designed to let the hopefuls have fun. I want each candidate to mention a tax you'd like to cut, he said—in addition to the Bush tax cuts, keeping them in effect. As a result, each candidate was able to enjoy the good fun of handing tax-payers even more free money, thus building our annual deficits higher—without explaining how his new cuts would fit into an overall, sane budget plan. It was good solid Republican fun—and note how Matthews directed the hopefuls! They had to retain Bushs tax cuts, he said. He didnt ask for the candidates views. In the sprit of down-the-line fun, he told them—they just had to do it.
So yes, a lot of clowning had taken place as we neared the end of Thursdays debate. (Well explore this in more detail tomorrow.). But uh-oh! As always, tortured thoughts of Bill Clintons sex life had been invading Chris Matthews troubled dreams. And he knew that time was running out—knew that he must finally act! And so, near the end of last Thursdays debate, he blurted out the evenings key question. Like Gurov, Chekhovs aging roué, he wanted to enjoy life so badly and it all seemed so simple and amusing (fuller text below). And so, at the 81-minute mark, he impulsively blurted the thought that tormented his dreams. Yes, his question was utterly daft. But he told all ten pols they must answer:
MATTHEWS (5/3/07): I asked about raising taxes. It was almost like the Reagan round here. Everybody wanted to do that. I'm sure he [Reagan] was listening to that good thought.Seriously, Matthews said, prophylactically. Would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House? And to their vast credit, the candidates laughed; they flat-out laughed, right in Matthews face! You have got to be kidding, Mitt Romney quickly said. No, Im not, said his laughable moderator.
Would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House again! As always, Matthews obsession with Bill Clintons sex life had powered its way to the surface again. But this was just one of many strange moments in last Thursdays Republican forum—a forum which showed how hard it may be for Dems to return to the White House.
Why did the ten Republicans laugh? Were not sure, but just think what Matthews had asked them! Taken literally, hed asked a group of Republican candidates if it would be good for the country to have a Democrat (Hillary Clinton) elected to serve in the White House. Since they themselves were running for president, their answer to this question seemed fairly obvious; this may explain all the laughter. Sadly, about half the candidates took a cheap shot at one of the Clintons in their response to Matthews query. But to their credit, several had the personal dignity to answer as Sam Brownback did:
BROWNBACK: I think it'd be bad because it would mean that Hillary Clinton would be elected—not because of who she is, but because of the policies that she stands for, of raising taxes, of not standing up for life, for marriage. I mean, those are what would be bad for the country.Huh! As it turns out, the Republicans dont want a Democrat to be president! Matthews stole more than three minutes from this debate to make each hopeful admit this. (Total time wasted: 3:20.)
Why did Matthews ask this question, making the candidates laugh out loud? For anyone who has followed his broken-souled work, the answer to that is perfectly obvious. For the past decade, Matthews dreams have been tormented by visions of Bill Clintons troubling sex life. By 1999, it was already clear; he simply couldnt stop thinking about it, and he couldnt stop forcing his troubling dream into every conceivable context. (He insulted and lied about Gore for two years, just trying to force down his demons.) Last Thursday, Matthews wasted time in a precious debate, trying to exorcize these visitors once again. But then, many of his colleagues are equally daft—and these are the people who will run the debates which will help pave the road to the White House.
As noted, this pitiful question was only one part of King Christophers Madness last Thursday. In truth, it would be hard to imagine a dumber performance than that turned in by this forums three hosts—by Matthews and his hapless partners, Politicos Harris and VandeHei. That penultimate question was laugh-out-loud funny—but other questions were actually dumber. That, and reactions of liberal observers, show us why it may be hard for Dems to take the White House again.
TOMORROW—PART 2: A tale of two (opening) questions
WHY HE ASKED: In MSNBCs post-debate coverage, Matthews explained why he asked his penultimate question—the nut-ball query which came near the end. If MSNBC ever activates the relevant link on its web site, well present the strange thing Matthews said.
THE FULL MONTY: Heres the full text of this late-debate nonsense. To their credit, the Republican candidates laughed in his face—but note the way he made all ten answer. Also, note the way he referenced Big Bill as the embarrassing nonsense proceeded. Has anyone ever referred to a former president this way in a presidential debate? Well highlight the silly repetition as ten Republicans are forced to explain it—they dont want a Dem in the White House:
MATTHEWS: I asked about raising taxes. It was almost like the Reagan round here. Everybody wanted to do that. I'm sure he [Reagan] was listening to that good thought.We dont have much time, Matthews said. But then, he had just wasted more than three precious minutes trying to drive the own demons away—the vivid demons that torture his sleep, sending dreams of Bill Clintons vile conduct.
Once again, we thought of Gurov, from Chekhovs glorious Lady with a Lapdog:
There was a great deal of exaggeration in the stories about the laxity of morals among the Yalta visitors, and [Gurov] dismissed them with contempt, for he knew that such stories were mostly made up by people who would gladly have sinned themselves if they had any idea how to go about it...
We think Penguins translator—Professor Magarshack—has gotten it just about right.