TOOL OF THE GODS: Sometimes we picture the after-life thusly: Youre met by a group of family and friends; theyre laughing about the jokes God has played on you. When x happened, didnt you realize? they say. Didnt you realize that life on Earth was just a big practical joke?
That picture flitted through our minds when we read Bob Herberts Saturday column. If we might ask a simple question: What the fark does this farking guy do?
On Saturday, Herbert was at it again, saying we had to improve our high schoolswithout ever citing a single way we might achieve that end. But then, he did the same thing in his April 22 column, Clueless in America (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/22/08). Around that time, Herbert had lunched with Allan Golston, Bill and Melinda Gates top man concerning reform of American high schools. But in his column, Herbert merely announced how bad our high schools are; he made no attempt to say how we might hope to improve them. And oh yeshe complained about the way the presidential contenders refuse to discuss this problem!
Look whos talking, we found ourselves thinking. Despite the time hed spent with Golston, Herbert didnt cite a single way the Gatesman thought we could reform our schools. And needless to say, he spent no time evaluating Golstons proposals. But then, life is good at the Times. Herbert does this twice a week and makes a very nice living.
And then, last weekend, the same darn thing, in a column entitled Hard Times Ahead. This time, Herbert had chatted with Bob Wise, the former West Virginia governor who now heads the Alliance for Excellent Education. (Herberts description: A policy and advocacy group committed to improving the high schools.) But durned if it wasnt the same gol-durn thing! Herbert spent his entire column glumly noting the rates at which high school students drop outand trashing the candidates once again for their refusal to tackle such issues. But as with Golston, so with Wise! Wises Alliance for Excellent Education actually has a bunch of proposals (as does the Gates Foundation); they even list them at their web site. But Herbert never said what these proposals might belet alone attempt to evaluate them. He contented himself with prose like this. Do you see why we thought we heard laughter?
HERBERT (5/17/08): At a time when the nation is faced with tough economic challenges at home and ever-increasing competition from abroad, it's incredible that more is not being done about the poor performance of so many American high schools.
We can't even keep the kids in school. A third of them drop out. Half of those who remain go on to graduate without the skills for college or a decent job. Someone please tell me how this is a good thing.
Lets see: If weve followed his chain of reasoning here, Herbert believes that its a bad thing when high school kids flounder and fail.
At any rate, for the second time in less than a month, Herbert devoted an entire column to the failures of American high schools. Once again, he lambasted the candidates for their failure to discuss this problem. But once again, he didnt suggest a single way in which we might improve these schools. He didnt say what Governor Wise thinks. He certainly didnt waste his time evaluating Wises proposals. It's incredible that more is not being done about the poor performance ofour high schools, he wrote. But what sorts of things might be done? The pundit forgot to say.
Can you see why we briefly wondered if family and friends might be laughing somewhere? Good grief, we almost heard them saying. Didnt you know it was all a big joke when you read those two columns by Herbert?
The Clogging Congressman: When he served in the House, Wise was known as The Clogging Congressman. At one point, he was even nice enough to enter the Funniest Celebrity in Washington contest. We seem to recall that hes a fiddler, though we cant find the evidence on-line. Of course, them were the days before it got hip to laugh at the dim-wits from Appalachia, a project which has continued recently on various MSM fronts.
POOR RICHARDS APHRODISIAC: Richard Cohens a real piece of worktheres no other way to put it. For our money, the most interesting current media story involves the press corps hapless attempts to handle the dispute about negotiations with Iran. But that story will be around for a while. This morning, we think Cohen has earned front-page status with his utterly silly column about the Clinton campaign.
Why does she fight? Cohen wondersand he ends up taking a hackneyed guess. But first, he shares the following. Remember: This is the level of analysis we get at the top of our press corps:
COHEN (5/20/08): That Clinton will lose this time is a foregone conclusion. That she deserves to lose is a widely accepted opinion, strongly held by women as well as men, which, you would think, should mute the growing chorus that Clinton is the victim of vicious misogyny. Anyone who thinks this ought to scan the bookshelves for the yards of anti-Hillary books written by women or read the op-ed pages, where women go after Clinton without, to say the least, sisterly restraint.
That paragraphCohens secondis so inept one hardly knows where to start. Were assured that its a widely accepted opinion, strongly held by women as well as men, that Clinton deserves to lose. We have no idea what that statement is based onespecially since Clinton is expected to win one more primary today, by a very large margin. (By the way: Who said that either Dem candidate deserves to lose? Each has received gigantic supportsupport without any precedent.) Of course, to Cohens preternaturally weak mind, this odd pronouncement, pulled from the air, should mute the growing chorus that Clinton is the victim of vicious misogyny. As further evidence that such a claim is pure pap, he cites the fact that some anti-Hillary books have been written by Hillary-hating women. But in what world would this observation count as evidence against misogyny? Simple! In the astonishing, brain-dead world where our national discourse is conjured!
To quote Joan Rivers, Can we talk? Readers, whatever one may think about Campaign 08, everyone knows that Candidate Clinton has been hit by large chunks of misogyny. Whichever candidate you might prefer, that fact is just dead-dog obvious. On just one cable news channel alone, major press figures fell like flies, forced to apologize (Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann) or actually kicked off the air (David Shuster) for their rude, inappropriate conduct. (This doesnt count Tucker Carlson and boy toy Willie Geist, chuckling at the way they involuntarily cross their legs whenever they hear Clinton speak.) Everyone knows that this has occurredbut Cohen insists that its all just a dream. He knows there couldnt have been such events because a bunch of pseudo-con women also wrote nasty books about Clinton.
(Earth to Cohen: Will someone please tell this hapless trend-setter that women can be woman-haters too?)
The sheer absurdity of Cohens reasoning should be apparent to all. But on the op-ed page of the Washington Post, this counts as solid gold stuff. So does this, as the great man continues:
COHEN (continuing directly): I, too, have taken my shots at Clinton. I have done so not because of any sexism but for reasons having to do with character and, inevitably, a kind of Clinton fatigue: Eight years of her husband was enough. It was, in fact, those eight yearsa drizzle of pseudo-scandals and one genuine whopperthat crippled Clinton's campaign right from the start. To most Americans, she ran first and foremost as the wife of the former presidenta third Clinton term for a weary nation. Pray, no.
Without the slightest hint of self-doubt, Cohen assures us that he has criticized Clinton not because of any sexism. He has done so because of her character. He then says that, until the Lewinsky matter of 1998, the endless scandals confronting the Clintons were, in fact, pseudo-scandals. Of course, it was this string of pseudo-scandals which created the overpowering narrative about both Clintons character problems. But Cohen doesnt stop to ponder that point. Hes too busy plowing ahead with yet another groaner:
COHEN (continuing directly): What's moreand this is the tricky partshe ran as only a woman could. She acknowledged that she had been a victim, which, of course, she was. She referred to it occasionally, sometimes with great charm, sometimes with humor, and for some votersparticularly older women who often know a bit about life that men don'tit was something of a selling point.
A man could never have done anything similar. A man cannot play the victim, especially a sexual one. I am tempted to say it would be unmanly, but that's not exactly what I mean. I mean it does not befit a leader. The Internet would sizzle with ridicule.
Again, Cohen fails to specify. When did Clinton play the victim? (Run that way?) How often did she do so? Absent-mindedly, Cohen forgets to say, and he assures us that a man could never do such a thing. Of course, many men have played variants-of-the-victim in recent White House campaigns, often gaining wide press corps sympathy. Two recent Republican nominees have endlessly displayed their war wounds, for instance, garnering the clownish approbation of Cohen and similar marks. And Bradley ran as the victim in the 2000 primaries; in response, hacks like Cohen stood in line to recite (or overlook) his ugliest accusations. It was Al Gore who gave us Willie Horton! The claim was both ugly and absurd, as Bradley himself had written, three years earlier. But so what? Scribes stood in line to repeat the claim on behalf of Gores boo-hooing victimand people like Cohen agreed to play dumb, even though they all were told about what Bradley had previously written. And, of course, in the general election, they stood in line to novelize Bush-as-victim, the victim of Vile Nasty Gore, just like Poor Victim Bradley before him. Heres the way Cohens gang-of-hacks made Poor Bush their Latest Victim when Nasty McGore dared oppose his plan to privatize Social Security. They all knew the same preferred script:
The Beltway Boys, Fox News Channel, April 30, 2000:
MORT KONDRACKE: Look, the dynamic here is perfectly obvious. Gore is behind in all the polls, so he's doing what worked with Bill Bradley, attack, attack, attack, and, you know, and he's hoping that it'll work on George W. Bush. The difference is that George W. Bush is not going to take it forever. I mean, George W. knows how to counterpunch, and I predict soon that he'll start doing it.
FRED BARNES: Yes, he's not going to be the guy on the ropes just getting punched. No rope-a-dope for him. But look, Gore was attack attack attacking, and he'sin the beginning, and now he's been going down as a result of that attack attack attacking.
Hardball, MSNBC, May 5, 2000:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Norah, lets start in talking about this amazing campaign. Who would have believed that George W. Bush would have looked so clean and so good right now after that bruising fight with John McCain? Hes up five points in a number of polls this week, and yet you see Al Gore picking away at him with these left jabs of his Its the same thing he did to Bill Bradleyattack, attack, attack.
Russert, CNBC, May 6, 2000:
JOE KLEIN: The concern I have about the Gore campaign is that he has learned one lesson and hes kind of becoming a one-trick pony.
TIM RUSSERT: Attack. Attack. Attack.
KLEIN: Attack. Attack.
RUSSERT: Governor Bush put forward a Social Security plan calling for a partial privatizing, and he attacks, saying that is risky Why, whywhy does Gore just, almost knee-jerk, attack, attack, attack?
Inside Politics, CNN, May 17, 2000:
CHARLES COOK: For Governor Bush, its a chance to show sort of bold leadership But at the same time, getting into that area is certainly a risky thing and its going to test all of George Bushs abilities of persuasion to sell this, because Al Gore is very good at the attack, just look at what he did to Bill Bradley on health care
BERNARD SHAW: What comes to mind, Stu?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, in general, he has been attacking for months now and theres been a lot of criticism that hes been overly negative. Once again here, attack, attack.
Do we understand our history? First, they novelized Bradley as Gores helpless victim. Then, they did the same thing for Poor Bush.
Different people think different things about the conduct of Campaign 08. But everyone knows about the misogyny, and many people will be voting for Clinton on this very day. But those are aspects of reality, and Cohen types at the top of our press corps, inside Versailles, which such things dont intrude. At present, his hapless colleagues are having a very hard time sorting out the discussion about diplomacy with Iran. But then, this is a profoundly unimpressive elitethe highest-paid, lowest-IQ elite out there. Their work is so bad it defies beliefand it has led us toward ruin.
BOSMANS INFLATABLE DOLL: Meanwhile, dont miss this news report by the New York Times Julie Bosman. And no, were really not making this up: As a symbol of Clintons dying campaign, Bosman chose the image of an inflatable dollan inflatable doll which is losing its air! Might we repeat our opening point? Sometimes you read the work of these folk and you think you hear dead people chuckling.