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Daily Howler: When we rant about fish tales, we make Richard Cohen a prophet
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THE CHILDREN’S HOUR (PART 1)! When we rant about fish tales, we make Richard Cohen a prophet: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, MAY 9, 2006

MEDIA MATTERS GETS IT RIGHT: Regarding Sunday’s Meet the Press, Media Matters offers an excellent post. Sadly, we suggest you click here.

Special report—Children’s hour!

PART 1—FISH STORY: Omigod! Richard Cohen, largely right once again! Here’s the part of Cohen’s new column which captures some of our own recent thoughts:

COHEN (5/9/06): The anger festering on the Democratic left will be taken out on the Democratic middle. (Watch out, Hillary!) I have seen this anger before—back in the Vietnam War era. That's when the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon. In this way, they managed to prolong the very war they so hated.
We too remember those days—days which extended well beyond that 1968 White House race. We remember what it is to lose White House elections with 40 percent of the vote. We remember McGovern (in 1972) and Mondale (in 1984), and even the slightly-more-successful Dukakis, getting pole-axed in 1988. We even recall Campaign 04, when the Democratic hopeful, John Kerry, was still being tagged with those bad old days (through faked photos of himself with Jane Fonda). This morning, Digby correctly notes, as he rages at Cohen, that the Vietnam War “would still be going on if it hadn't been for those ‘haters’ who were willing to take on their own party when it behaved in an immoral fashion.” That’s an exaggeration, of course, but it’s largely accurate. But is there some rule here against being smart—smarter, at least, than we were in the past? Today, we need to find ways to oppose immorality which won’t destroy us in the long run. But that “third way” doesn’t show up today as The Dig rages on at Vile Richard.

Just how dumb have we now become? Last night, we got a chance to find out when we got spoon-fed our Countdown. In his first segment, Keith played it wondrously dumb—he brought up that Bush fishing story. Asked to name his best moment as president, Bush had—well, you know what he said:

OLBERMANN (5/8/06): I`ve got 33 questions about Hayden, but let`s get the fish thing out of the way first. The president obviously wasn’t serious, but he wasn’t misquoted either, it wasn’t mistranslated. He answered seriously about his worst moment as president. Why didn’t he answer seriously about his best moment? And why does this weird joke seem to have resonated so strongly on the Web and on talk radio?
Really? It was “obvious” that Bush was joking? In fact, we would have thought that was obvious too. But it hadn’t seemed obvious at Digby’s own site, where Tristero, quaking with rage at this outrageous statement, worked his way inside a Bold Leader’s head. We’re sure that Tristero is a fine dude. But what follows is utterly foolish. And increasingly, this is who we’ve become:
TRISTERO: There are, [in my opinion], only three ways to understand this comment, assuming it's true. Quite possibly it's the pathetic whine of a deeply, perhaps clinically depressed man who believes himself a total failure. Or maybe this is a man so uninterested in his job, let alone in serving his country, that he has no business whatsoever being president. Or perhaps this is simply an arrogant bastard who holds in utter contempt anyone who dares to ask him a question, so he responds with the stupidest thing he can say. (Obviously, nothing precludes all three or some combination of two.)
The fourth possibility—that Bush was joking—doesn’t seem all that “obvious” here. But wait a minute! Tristero may have considered that option, although it isn’t clear:
TRISTERO (continuing directly): To be all pre-emptive about it, someone's bound to comment that maybe this just shows how much of a down-to-earth regular guy Bush is. Yeah? All the down-to-earth regular guys I know don't have their own lake, fer chrissakes. Those people are filthy rich, even if they wear jeans on their estates. But there's a character thing here, too. The down-to-earth people I know who hold important jobs are mighty proud of of what they do and mighty happy with their achievements. And they can tick them off without thinking too hard about what they might be. And, even as a joke, they don't talk about catching a big perch when a newspaper asks them to name their best moment in more than five years. They name their accomplishments. Or, if they're trying to play up the down-to-earthiness, they name their children or something they did with their spouse.
Soon, Tristero was transmitting insight from another source—and debunking the thought that it would have mattered if Bush had been joking:
TRISTERO: One of the trackbacks informs us that Bush was laughing when he boasted of this. As if that makes it any less bizarre a statement—that's just the old "I'm jes' regular folks" nonsense Bush pulls, to distract people from the fact that he's a rich prick who has an artificial lake stocked with sport fishes on his private estate.
Well actually, it would be much less bizarre if this statement was meant as a joke—except in Dumb Loud Pseudo-Liberal Land, where we increasingly live, hatching our feel-good but born-loser strategies, just as we did in the past.

With apologies to wise-man Greg Sargent, these posts are deeply, utterly foolish. But increasingly, this is who we’ve become.

Uh-oh! Like Cohen, we remember the days when feel-good pseudo-liberal foolishness created a perfect environment for the right. And increasingly, that’s who we’re becoming again—without any apparent attempt to avoid those disasters of the past. Largely, it’s happening because older, more experienced “liberal leaders” are refusing to instruct or direct younger liberals—younger people who may be a bit more headstrong, less savvy, less experienced, less wise. Older leaders like Olbermann, who threw his audience that bone last night, then began to bone up himself, for his daily sports radio show.

Question: If Olbermann knew that Bush was joking, why did he and Howard Fineman discuss the fish tale, right in Countdown’s opening segment? Easy! They were throwing a bone to Keith’s target audience! At this point, Olbermann treats us like rubes almost nightly, giving us “news” we’re eager to hear. And Fineman knows where Bush stands in the polls. When Bush was ascendant, he clowned the opposite way, praising a Bold Leader’s fine suits of clothes (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/11/01). Last night, he still was fishing for fools—and increasingly, in our children’s crusade, that’s who we are becoming.

TOMORROW: No leader too lazy

THE SEARCH FOR USEFUL ENDS: At times like this, we often turn to the words of noble Nestor, a role model from the dawn of the west. As you’ll recall, when headstrong Diomedes spoke back to Agamemnon, "all of the Achaeans shouted their assent, stirred by the stallion-breaking Diomedes' challenge." But Nestor scrambled to his feet. As Professor Fagles deftly has it, "His advice had always been the best:"

HOMER/The Iliad:
But Nestor the old driver rose and spoke at once.
"Few can match your power in battle, Diomedes,
and in council you excel all men your age
But you don't press on and reach a useful end.
How young you are—why, you could be my son,

my youngest-born at that, though you urge our kings
with cool clear sense: what you've said is right.
But it's my turn now, Diomedes.
I think I can claim to have some years on you.
So I must speak up and drive the matter home.
And no one will heap contempt on what I say,
not even mighty Agamemnon...”
The seasoned charioteer offered good sound advice. And how the roiling troops responded! “The troops hung on his words and took his orders,” Homer says. “Out they rushed, the sentries in armor, forming under the son of Nestor, captain Thrasymedes...”

Nestor offered sound advice. (In his criticisms, he was more diplomatic than we are.) But where are the noble Nestors today? Alas! The king of Pylos’ sandy harbor has few imitators on the modern lib web. We rant and rave about fishing tales. “How young” we seem when we do such things—and how aggressively we avoid “useful ends!”

YOU’RE RIGHT: You’re right. It would be better—better by far—if such things didn’t have to be said.