MORE TO COME! This cult will strike in Campaign 08. Dems and libs must prepare: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MAY 18, 2007
THE ONE THING YOURE ALLOWED TO HEAR: Too funny! Eric Pooleys account of Campaign 2000 deserves full treatment; well offer that on Monday. But this excerpt from Pooleys new (and friendly) profile of Gore deserves your instant attention:
POOLEY (5/16/07): He was never quite the wooden Indian his detractors made him out to be in 2000 (nor did he claim to have invented the Internet), but he did carry himself with a slightly anachronistic Southern formality that was magnified beneath the klieg lights of the campaign. And his fascination with science and technology struck some voters (and other politicians) as weird. "In politics you want to be a half-step ahead," says Elaine Kamarck, his friend and former domestic-policy adviser. "You don't want to be three steps ahead."Every part of that passage is just plain laugh-out-loud phony. (Related question: Will Elaine Kamarck ever tire of reinforcing the press corps narratives?) But note the passage we have highlighted. Al Gore didnt claim he invented the Internet, Pooley says.
Al Gore never said he invented the Net! As we told you last July, this has become The One Thing Youre Now Allowed To Be Told about Campaign 2000. Last July, it was Michael Grunwald in the Washington Post, stating his cohorts New Standard Fact about Campaign 2000 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/25/06.) But as we noted at the time, Grunwald forgot to explain a key point: If Gore never said he invented the Net, why did Grunwalds mainstream colleagues spend two years saying the opposite? In his new profile, Pooley forgets to address that point too. Its now official: You can be told that Gore never said it. But no one will tell you why you heard different throughout the course of two history-changing years.
By the way: Where did people get the idea that Al Gore said he invented the Internet? Perhaps from a fellow named Eric Pooley, typing in March 2000. Gore had just wrapped up his partys nomination—and Pooley decided that he would recite his cohorts Standard Cant:
POOLEY (3/13/00): With Gore riding high, it's worth remembering the slough of despondency he trudged through last summer, when Hillary Clinton's Senate bid was sucking up the headlines and campaign cash. Gore talked about his very real technology accomplishments and managed to call himself the father of the Internet. He smothered his announcement that he was running to become the next President with a clumsy attempt to distance himself from the current one. Even a nice photo op in a canoe became painful, when 170 million gallons of water were released—during a drought—to lift Gore's boat.Omigod! He even worked in the canoe trip! But there it was, the Standard Claim of a history-changing era: Al Gore managed to called himself the father of the Net!
To his credit, Pooley self-corrected in August 2000 (text Monday)—but very few of his colleagues did. They kept reciting this Standard False Claim until theyd sent Bush to the White House. Clintons blow jobs had been very troubling—and his chosen successor just mustnt succeed! So they spent two years mouthing all manner of tripe. Today, they say it was bogus.
Today, the Standard Story has changed a bit—youre permitted to know that Gore never said it. What you still can never be told: It was the mainstream press corps which fed you this tale—and sent George Bush to the White House. Somehow, that part keeps slipping their minds as they tell you their new, improved tale: Al Gore never said he invented the Net. Were not sure how that gained traction.
THERE THEY GO AGAIN: Good God, these people are daft! Again today, on the Times front page, we get a personality tale. This time, the fatuous profile concerns Michelle Obama.
How dumb are the people who write these profiles? Dumb enough to offer this, in which The Cult of the Offhand Comment comes close to striking again:
KANTOR (5/18/07): To female audiences, Mrs. Obama emphasizes her struggle to balance travel, work meetings and homework detail. Last Monday, for instance, Mrs. Obama zoomed out of bed, to the airport, onto a flight to New Hampshire, through two campaign events and a McDonald's drive-through, then back to the Midwest and into her two daughters' waiting arms.Amazingly, these people find experts who are even dumber than they are. (Or perhaps they quote them strangely.) Obama makes a straight-out-of-the-can remark about the demands on her time she is facing. And the Times finds an expert who says this: This is all about the Clintons. To the journos themselves, of course, Obamas statement lets them mention a favorite fact—John Edwards lives in a very big house. Of course, Elizabeth Edwards also routinely speaks about all the demands on her time. But so what? Journos love that big, fancy house. They live to find ways to discuss it. (By the way—the Obamas house cost $1.7 million, in 2005. Thats way beyond most peoples cribs.)
Hiss! Hiss-spit! Hiss-spit! Meeee-ow! These peoples inanity never ceases—which is why they should always be discouraged from writing analytical profiles. What happens when you let these folk get creative? Just note the kinds of significant details they try to tease out:
KANTOR: Mrs. Obama dislikes politics, friends and family confirmed, but not as much as she dislikes losing. Craig Robinson, her brother and the Brown University men's basketball coach, said his sister did not enjoy organized sports when she was younger because she so hated defeat and even now pouts when a board game does not go her way. His sister is brainy and warm, he said, but also a force to be reckoned with.The Times interviews Michelle Obamas brother—and sees it as a chance to learn if Barack is on the patch!
But then, the inanity is constant with this gang—which is why their editors should restrict them to simple, nuts-and-bolts reporting. (The kind of basic, informative work Katherine Seelye provided on Thursday.) But no, they love to showcase their analytical skill—and often, this means that they will showcase the biases of their cohort. For our taste, this profile today is way too catty; theres a lurking message (Michelle Obamas a bit of a bitch) which comes straight out of Maureen Dowds hiss-spitting profile last month. (We didnt review it. Click here.) But then, in recent election cycles, Dowd and the rest of her vacuous crew have had lots of problems with potential first ladies—as long as they were Democrats. Might Kantor be showing a bit too much leg in this particular passage?
KANTOR: Even successful first lady auditions can be remembered as political don'ts: take Nancy Reagan (regarded as too adoring of her husband) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (too eager to share his job), to say nothing of spouses of losing candidates, like Judith Steinberg Dean (too absent) and Teresa Heinz Kerry (too outspoken).Again, the dumbness is everywhere; Obama is running as a wife, professional, mother, volunteer, were oddly told—as if she could have chosen to run as a major league baseball player. But note what happened when Kantor recalled those earlier bungled first lady auditions. She had to go back to 1980 to find a Republican her cohort didnt like. But Big Dem names came flooding forward. In 2004, Kerrys wife was too outspoken, Deans wife not outspoken enough.
But then, potential Democratic first spouses have been trashed pretty good in the past twenty years. Often, as with Obama and Dean, the trashing goes straight back to Dowd. (To recall her trashing of Deans troubling wife, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/2/04). Was there nothing wrong with Barbara Bush (too bitchy)? With Honey Alexander (too sweet and too southern)? With Mrs. Pat Buchanan (too submissive)? With Elizabeth Dole (too fake and too scripted)? Actually, the press corps simply luvvvved the wife of Bob Dole back in 1996. They fell on the ground at the GOP Convention, praising her brilliant walk-around outing, which made the whole world think of Oprah. For one short summary of their gushing reactions, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/26/07.
Were not asserting a bias here—but Kantors list is intriguing. And so is the source of much of this bitching. Yes, it was fatuous Dowd who hissed and meowed when Deans wife wouldnt come out on the trail—and it was Dowd who hissed and spat last month about Big Loudmouth Michelle Obama. But then, Dowd has been a destructive, fatuous force in our national life for years. Empty, broken-souled and stupid, she plays Antoinette over all she surveys—and striving scriveners all too often rush to endorse her proposals.
LETTING THE SOCIOS WIN: Ive sent the analysts out of the room. That accomplished, Id have to say that Wednesdays account of that evening at John Ashcrofts bedside must be the most remarkable thing Ive ever read in a newspaper. Ill even suggest that you start with Dana Milbanks Washington Sketch, then move on to Dan Eggens front-page news report. If you havent read these accounts of this story, Ill strongly suggest that you do.
Chris Matthews and Digby have both cited a fairly obvious comparison—the hospital scene from The Godfather, when Michael saves his fathers life. No, James Comey didnt wheel the stricken Ashcroft to an unknown room in a distant ward. But if hed had a bit more time, who can say that he might not have done so?
This startling comparison duly dispatched, Ill offer a few observations:
First: Andy Cards participation here is striking, since he has always been portrayed as the sane one. Clearly, that should end.
Second: It no longer makes sense to discuss Gonzalez without speculating about mental illness/dysfunction. Ive long wondered about possibly sociopathy, going back to his soul-less performance in the Texas death penalty cases. After reading this new story, I would have to say it no longer makes sense to assume anything other than major dysfunction. There is clearly nothing this man wont do. It had seemed fairly clear before this. It would now be foolish to doubt it.
Finally, I have to mention the press corps angle which came to mind as I read these stories. For this, I go back to a pair of incidents from Campaign 2000—incidents where the American press corps, on the highest levels, refused to perform normal critiques of Gonzalezs odd-acting boss.
At this point, it also makes sense to wonder about Bushs psychiatric state. This took me back, on Wednesday evening, to the incident which opened Ambling Into History, Frank Brunis intriguing memoir of the 2000 Bush campaign. Bruni started the book with a remarkably odd event—an event his great newspaper, the New York Times, chose not to report.
It would hard to imagine an incident more somber, Bruni writes as he starts Chapter 1 of his book. He describes a September 1999 memorial service for seven people who had been shot and killed inside a Fort Worth, Texas church. The memorial service was held at TCU—and Candidate Bush, then Texas governor, attended the service. Although the outdoor stadium he entered was usually a place of frenetic activity, Bruni wrote, it was now a scene of eerie stillness and quiet, its thousands of occupants siting or standing with their heads bowed.
Except for Governor Bush, that is. Bruni started his book with this incident because Bushs conduct this day was so odd. According to Bruni, Bush had made the judicious decision not to speak...but there was a prime center row of seats for him and his intimates. Print reporters, including me, positioned ourselves as close to it as we could. The scene set, Bruni described how Bush behaved at this somber service:
BRUNI (page 17): Bush saw us as he walked in and sat down; he even nodded in our direction. It was a tiny gesture, nothing wrong with it. But he didnt leave it at that. As preachers preached and singers sang and a city prayed, Bush turned around from time to time to shoot us little smiles. He scrunched up his forehead, as if to ask us silently what we were up to back there. He wiggled his eyebrows, a wacky and wordless hello. These were his usual merry tics, but this was a discordant setting for them, and it was astonishing that he wasnt more concerned that one of the television or still camera might catch him mid-twinkle.It was astonishing, Bruni wrote—and his description would get more strange. Indeed, Bushs behavior seems especially striking, because only a few weeks before this event, Tucker Carlsons profile of Bush in Talk had raised a number of eyebrows. According to Carlson, Bush had performed a mocking impression of Karla Faye Tucker, a woman then on death row in Texas. According to Carlson, Bush had pictured Tucker begging for her life. In this part of Carlsons profile, he describes the Texas governor:
CARLSON (9/99): " 'Please,' " Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, " 'don't kill me.' "After Carlsons profile appeared, the Bush campaign said Carlson had misread Bush. George Will sensibly wrote this in the Post: [I]t is difficult to imagine anything Bush said that Carlson may have misread that could do Bush credit.
In short, Bushs interview with Carlson had struck many people as callous. But just a few weeks later, there he was, clowning at a memorial service. Brunis description continues:
BRUINI (continuing directly): At one point, when someone near our seat dropped a case of plastic water bottles and caused a clatter, Bush glanced back at us with a teasing, are-you-guys-behaving-yourselves expression, and he kept his amused face pivoted in our direction for an awfully long time. About twenty minutes later, he was at it again. The Rev. Al Meredith, the pastor of Wedgewood Baptist Church, asked if everyone in the audience wanted to see the spirit of the living God sweep over this land like a wildfire. Meredith called for raised hands, and he added, Media, put your notepads down if youre in on this with us. Zoom—Bush was looking in our direction, eyebrows up, head cocked, the possibility of laughter on his lips.You can read the book if you want to learn why Bruni wasnt really surprised by all this. But I was surprised when I first read this (Brunis book appeared in 2002). I was surprised to think that Bush had behaved this way just a few weeks after that profile in Talk. But I was also surprised for another reason. I was surprised because I was fairly sure this incident had not been reported.
Sure enough. Using Nexis, I have never found any real-time press reference to this peculiar behavior by Bush. In particular, there was no report in the New York Times, the paper for which Bruni worked.
According to Bruni, it was astonishing that [Bush] wasnt more concerned that one of the television or still camera might catch him mid-twinkle. But why should Bush have been worried about that? These large news orgs covered up for Bush at various times during Campaign 2000. In this same book, for example, Bruni also reports how badly he thought Bush did at his first debate with Al Gore. But youd never have known it from the next mornings Times! Bruni began his feature that day with a mocking passage about what a big *sshole Gore had been (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/18/02). He didnt betray what he actually thought—that Bush had floundered so completely that he likely had blown the election.
No, the press corps didnt report Bushs weird behavior at that somber memorial service. But then, nine months later, Bush affirmed a tough death penalty verdict where he simply couldnt have known that the convicted prisoner was guilty. In that instance, the press corps kept quiet again; its clear that they avoided asking how Bush knew the convict was guilty. And on The NewsHour, Mark Shields authored one of the strangest performances Ive ever seen, calling it probably the finest moment of Bushs campaign—because Bush had appeared in a suit and tie, with appropriately serious manner, when he announced that the man would be executed (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/6/02). Of course, after reading Brunis account of that memorial service, perhaps we know why Shields was impressed to see Bush just maintain a straight face.
At this point, its fairly clear that something is wrong with Gonzalez. To all appearances, the press corps doesnt quite know what to do about his bizarre, ongoing conduct. But then, Bush himself sent troubling signals during the course of Campaign 2000. But your press corps, troubled by Clintons bl*w jobs, decided they just shouldnt tell. Instead, they kept inventing tales about Gores deeply troubling character. Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Today, theyre finally willing to tell you: Sorry, that just wasnt true.
Special report: The cult of the offhand comment!
READ EACH INSTALLMENT: A powerful cult likes to use offhand comments. Read each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Tenet writes clearly in his new book—and uncovers a threat to our freedoms. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/15/07.Now, enjoy our thrilling conclusion. This cult will strike again.
PART 4—MORE TO COME: That shadowy Cult of the Offhand Comment has struck in our past two elections. In Campaign 2000, it struck at Gore, disturbed by his (accurate) Love Story comment. Later, it struck at Naomi Wolf; she had said alpha male in an offhand remark, and it troubled the cults adepts terribly. And through the brilliance of Bob Woodwards book, it struck at Tenet during Campaign 04; it bruited about a silly tale which made Bush seem like a wise, honest leader—an honest man whod been led astray by an over-excited white male. That slam dunk narrative helped Bush mightily as Campaign 04 unfolded. That why Bush pimped it to Woodward, five times—though we cant say why The Great Journo bought it.
Almost surely, this cult will strike during Campaign 08. Before we consider how Dems should respond, lets enjoy a good solid laugh at the silly tales this strange cohort will peddle. This takes us back to Plan of Attack, to another tale the Woodward book told. Thats the tale in which Honest Leader George W. Bush refuses Karl Roves worldly plan.
Amazingly, this ludicrous tale was a major part of this books promotion. Plan of Attack appeared in April 2004; starting on Sunday, April 18, the Washington Post ran a series of exclusive, front-page excerpts. No, that slam dunk episode never really made sense—but the Post ran it on Monday, April 19, high up in its second excerpt. But what did the newspaper run with first? It ran with a silly tale from the ranch in Crawford, where Bush was spending the Christmas holiday in late December 2002/early January 2003.
Honest to God, you just have to laugh when you see such perfect nonsense in print. According to Woodwards book, Karl Rove foolishly showed up in Crawford, hoping to interest a Wise, Bold Leader in his 04 re-election prospects. Rove believed in learning from history, and he had been doing in-depth research on how recent Republican presidents had campaigned for re-election, Woodward wrote on page 254. Needless to say, when Rove presented such thoughts to his Purposeful Leader, he was in for quite a surprise.
Woodward sets the scene below, in a passage reminiscent of a famous book from The Iliad:
WOODWARD (page 253): Rove had with him a PowerPoint presentation on the strategy, themes, timetable and an overview plan to win reelection. The essence of the message for the president was: Pay attention man, its coming.As such, Laura Bush was cast as silent Patroclus—and Rove was cast as frightened Odysseus, approaching Achilles (text below). At any rate, Woodward lists the various campaign themes Rove presented to Bush that day. (His presentation started like this: PERSONA: Strong Leader, Bold Ideas.) But uh-oh! According to Woodward, Rove then foolishly told this Strong Leader that he should start fund-raising for his re-election in February or March of this year. Clearly, that was the dumbest thing Rove could have said! Before him, a Strong Leader stared into space, plainly gripped by a few Bold Ideas. What follows is one of the stupidest narratives ever put into print:
WOODWARD (page 256): We got a war coming, Bush told Rove flatly, and youre just going to have to wait. He had decided. It was the presidents version of Pay attention, man, its coming. War was the only option now. The moment is coming, he said...Foolish Rove had misread his Strong Leader. His silly plans had been beaten aside. His leader had spoken to him flatly. Faced with such a principled man, he knew there could be no dispute.
Slightly edited, that was the anecdote the Post selected for its first excerpt on Sunday, April 18. It sat there on the papers front page, showing the world the principled way Bush had swatted this worldly adviser aside. Oh, nooooooooo, Rove had thought—but he knew there was no changing this man. The next day, the Post put the slam dunk narrative on page one, showing us how this Honest Leader had been fooled by excitable Tenet. How hed been fooled four months after he himself started misstating intel.
Why did Woodward put that ludicrous narrative into his book—the one in which Rove is batted aside by his leader? We can only guess, but its hard to see why Woodward would have thought he actually knew what had transpired at that meeting. Its obvious that Rove was a key source for Woodward; during this passage, Woodward tells us what Rove thought, knew and could see as he speaks with his Wise Leader. But was Rove a reliable source for this uplifting tale? Who could possibly think that he was? And only two other people seem to have been present that day: Strong Leader Bush himself, and his silent wife Laura.
Why was that nonsense in Woodwards book? If we had to guess, wed imagine a deal: The White House gives Woodward extraordinary access—in exchange for a small bit of help. In fact, substantial parts of Plan of Attack were very unflattering to Bush and his team. But Woodward threw in several ludicrous anecdotes, picturing Bush as a Wise Strong Bold Leader. By total coincidence, the Post pimped these anecdotes very hard in its promotion of Woodwards big book. And soon—speaking of Bushs re-election—the world was absorbing these hero tales about how strong this Bold Leader had been. The unflattering passages were largely ignored. These hero tales were widely bruited.
The moral to all this is clear. When it suits this cohorts interests—when it suits this cults world view—this gang will repeat all manner of ludicrous tales, and theyll recite them in unison. Theyll swear that Al Gore said he invented the Net. And that he hired a woman to teach him how to be a man! Theyll even say that Tenet jumped up from a couch and yelled slam dunk at a Strong Honest Leader. No, these tales dont have to make sense—but voters will hear them again and again. And over the course of the past fifteen years, these tales—which once cut against Big Republicans too—are all being aimed at Big Dems.
In Campaigns 2000 and 2004, Dems and liberals tended to stare when the Cult of the Offhand Comment took action. This cult will strike again in 08. Dems need to yell—long and loud.
ONE OF THE WORLDS OLDEST STORIES: Its one of the worlds oldest stories—the story Professor Fagles calls The Embassy to Achilles. (And we think he has it just about right.) Poor Odysseus! With Ajax, he walks where the battle lines of breakers crash and drag, wondering how hell persuade Achilles to turn away from his strong sense of honor. And there, inside Achilles tents, Patroclus sits silently by his Strong Leader, much as Laura Bush later did:
Reaching the Myrmidon shelters and their ships,Achilles didnt respond to Odysseus entreaties, any more than a later Strong Leader responded to his worldly adviser. Then, as now, a leader gazed off, his silent partner by his side. Oh, nooooooooo, Odysseus must have thought. But he knew there was nothing he could do.
For the record, Bush wasnt plucking on his lyre. Or at any rate, Rove didnt say so.