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Print view: Gregory failed to do his job. What about libs and progressives?
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IN SEARCH OF A WINNING MOVEMENT! Gregory failed to do his job. What about libs and progressives? // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2011

Outlook journeys to Harvard again: On Sunday, Outlook did it again! It turned to a lauded Harvard professor for a hot steaming pile of pure bullshit.

In this case, the professor was Elaine Kamarck. Kamarck is best known for her years as a policy guru with the Clinton administration and the Gore campaign. But in 1997, she migrated to the Kennedy School of Government, where she serves as a Lecturer in Public Policy.

As such, she is expected to offer fatuous pap to serve the needs and reinforce the frameworks of the press elite. In Sunday’s Outlook, she served that purpose, just as Sissela Bok had done one week before.

Kamarck’s pap concerned the way we go about picking a president. As she started, she rolled her eyes at the way those stupid “voters” proceed. We include the Post’s headline:

KAMARCK (5/29/11): The serious GOP candidates are in. Will voters get bored?

After some weeks of hand-wringing over the need to have a “grown-up” in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, we now have a field of them. The contest is “settling,” the party establishmentarians said after lead grown-up Mitch Daniels announced that he wouldn’t run. It is settling down, settling in, for the long haul to Iowa.

But with eight months to go before the Republican primaries, will voters be content with this group of boring guys or go looking for someone more exciting? What, exactly, does being a grown-up mean? And, more important, do grown-ups win?

“The voters” don’t seem to like the grown-ups! It seems that “the voters” get bored. As she continued, Kamarck let us know that she herself is much better:

KAMARCK (continuing directly): Not always. I should know. If the grown-up in the race is the one with the best policy credentials, the one who finds the mistakes in the briefing book before he opens it, the one who knows the name of the Nepalese prime minister and can even pronounce it—that’s my man (or woman; Hillary Clinton fit the bill in 2008). Over the years I’ve always fallen for and worked hard to elect the grown-up, only to learn the hard way that, as often as not, everyone else finds him boring and sometimes sort of irritating.

Like the late David Broder, whose “Broder primary” winner was always the wonkiest, I’ve learned that the grown-ups often lose.

Poor Kamarck! She always favors the grown-ups—but over the years, she has learned that the great unwashed often don’t. Her choice of Broder as a soul-mate is amazingly bogus, of course (see below). But within the culture we are critiquing, academic elites will always peddle garbage like this on behalf of elites in the press.

How absurd was her choice of Broder? Soon, Kamarack was letting us know how bad the rubes’ conduct can get:

KAMARCK: None of this is very new. Take the 2000 election. Al Gore, who could pronounce not only the multisyllabic names of foreign leaders but also the multisyllabic names of environmental pollutants, ended up losing to a guy who said, “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?”

Thinking back to that race, the contrast hardly seemed to matter. The nation was rich, we had a budget surplus, unemployment hovered at just above 4 percent, and our soldiers weren’t getting shot. Americans went for the guy they’d rather have a non-alcoholic beer with.

Thinking back to Campaign 2000, Kamarck takes a silly snide shot at Bush, then blames the voters—“Americans”—for the unfortunate outcome. “Americans” went for the guy they’d rather have a beer with, the professor snarkily says.

Sorry. Presumably, many voters cast their votes on a fairly silly basis. But it wasn’t voters (“Americans”) who drove the years of inane complaints about the dullness of Candidate Gore—it was the elite mainstream press. Beyond that, it was the elite mainstream press which pushed the silly framework Kamarack cites: Who would you rather have a beer with? Was it the “voters” who kept getting bored? Here was Broder describing Gore’s convention address, in one of the most mindless columns ever put into print:

BRODER (8/20/00): In tone and substance, Vice President Al Gore's acceptance speech on the final night of the Democratic National Convention was like nothing I have heard in 40 years of covering both parties' quadrennial gatherings.

Usually these acceptance speeches are attempts to take you to the mountaintop and show you the future. Gore's was more a request to step inside a seminar room, listen closely and take notes.

Never has a candidate provided more detailed information on his autobiography and the program initiatives he plans. One more paragraph and he would have been onto the budget of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.


He mentioned only three aspects of what was, in fact, a significant record in the House and Senate—his work on the environment, welfare reform and arms control.

But, my, how he went on about what he wants to do as president…

On some of the headline proposals—for Medicare prescription drug benefits or a patient's bill of rights—Gore humanized his presentation by pointing to specially invited families in the audience who would have benefited directly from the programs he is promoting. But I have to confess, my attention wandered as he went on through page after page of other swell ideas, and somewhere between hate crimes legislation and a crime victim's constitutional amendment, I almost nodded off.

Broder openly mocked Gore for discussing so many “swell ideas.” In fact, the speech was so goddamned boring that Broder almost fell asleep, The Dean disgracefully said.

That said, how did “voters” respond to the speech? You know, those pathetic “Americans”—the ones who screw everything up? On MSNBC, Republican pollster Frank Luntz conducted a focus group during Gore’s speech—and starting that very night, Luntz repeatedly called the speech a “home run.” In Newsweek, Ana Figueroa adopted the rave as she described those voters’ reactions:

FIGUEROA (8/20/00): Al Gore hit a home run with his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night. In fact, he hit it out of the ballpark—at least according to a focus group of undecided swing voters who recorded their reactions to the veep's big night.

The 36-member group from the metropolitan LA area, sponsored by MSNBC and Luntz Research, met each night of the convention on a sound stage a few miles from the Staples Center. Each of the 12 moderate Republicans, 12 moderate Democrats and 12 independents has some college education, voted in the 1996 election and plans to vote in November. As they had done nightly, each participant held a device to register and tabulate their reactions to the speeches...

One participant, Rosalba Rodarte, was moved to tears. The others on the panel burst into spontaneous applause at the end of the speech. Some confided that they too, were almost overcome with emotion at various times. (The evening's prime tear-jerker moment: the appearance of Ian Malone, the ailing baby whose parents were urged to put him up for adoption because their HMO initially refused to pay for his nursing care.)

Said Luntz: "This speech got a great reaction. I've held over 500 focus group sessions like this one. I've never had anyone cry after a political speech." Rodarte, 38, a moderate Republican, said the speech struck an emotional chord with her because she works with disabled people. "They need help, and they don't get it. I see a lot of moms with broken hearts. Gore said to them, 'I'm going to help you out.' The speech really touched me. I believe he's speaking from the heart."


Many Republicans on the panel described the speech as positive, uplifting and passionate, and praised Gore for tackling unpopular issues. Republican Barbara Mora, 58, said she was "hopeful." "If he gets in, I would be comfortable." Other members of the panel were downright effusive. "He showed incredible leadership. I believe this man. I'd like to see him president for two terms," said Diana Cuevas, 40, a moderate Democrat.

"It blew my mind. It was much more than I expected. He came across on everything... The speech will push him in front of George Bush," said Elsie McClenon, a 54 year old apartment manager who is registered as an independent. Nearly everyone on the panel agreed that Gore met the challenge of stepping out from the shadow of President Bill Clinton. Said Luntz: "Everyone expected him to bore us to tears.”


Luntz believes Gore has plenty of reason to celebrate. "Gore said the very phrases people wanted to hear," he said. "I think the Gore people are probably popping champagne bottles after this speech. Down in Texas, I'm not sure how happy they are."

That’s how the great unwashed reacted—the people whom Kamarck denigrates. But as she denigrates the great unwashed, she kisses the ass of David Broder—the man who made a point of saying he almost fell asleep.

“Everyone expected him to bore us to tears,” Luntz said about Gore’s speech. Can we talk? He was describing the expectations which had arisen from years of brain-dead propaganda by the likes of Broder.

For the record, Broder was also bored to tears by the long-winded speeches of Hillary Clinton, another of Kamarack’s grown-ups. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/06.

Kamarck should be ashamed of herself. On the bright side, you can see one pattern quite plainly in her mindless column. Simple story: Academic elites like Karmarck kiss the ass of the mainstream press elite. In this way, they win better coverage for themselves—and they extend a long campaign in which the great unwashed get mocked and everyone gets disinformed.

These are very bad people. They aren’t very smart and they aren’t very honest. And they’re easily bored.

Kamarck should try reading Ashburn: Presumably, average people cast their votes for all kinds of reasons. But if it’s sheer inanity you enjoy, you have to turn to the empty minds of the mainstream press.

Here’s Lauren Ashburn, in the Daily Beast, trying to finger Newt Gingrich’s jewels. Given the sweep of their vacuous culture, press elites don’t even feel the need to hide their vast inanity:

ASHBURN (5/28/11): Since Callista and I frequent the same downtown D.C. hair salon, I can attest to the fact that she likes to look good. She is what women call a "girly girl" a la Cindy McCain. Her hair is a pale blonde masterpiece sculpted by an "artiste," her clothes immaculate, and it's obvious by her size that she knows her way around a treadmill or two. I mean, a make-up artist travels with her, for goodness sake.

So it was hardly shocking to learn that she also likes nice jewelry. But $500,000 worth over two years? Whoa. The price tag makes even a jewelry lover like me blanch. Knowing Newt's history with women and affairs, an obvious question leapt into mind: What did Newt do to necessitate such a huge "I'm sorry" tab?


In our society, men have a longstanding tradition of begging forgiveness through jewels. Look at NBA star Kobe Bryant. In 2003, Colorado prosecutors announced that he was being charged with raping a 19-year-old. The next day he walked his wife, Vanessa, and their 6-month-old daughter, into an exclusive jewelry boutique in Santa Monica. The couple walked out hand in hand with an 8-carat purple diamond ring worth a cool $4 million. Maybe that's why they're still married after the charges against Kobe were dismissed, though he denies it was an apology gift. (Note to Newt: Good thing you don't play basketball.)

In the absence of facts, it is always easy to jump to conclusions; to find bread crumbs and assign a malevolent purpose. Maybe Newt simply loves his wife and enjoys buying lots of bling. Or maybe it's part of the marriage contract.

So was the New York Times right to put Tiffanygate on the front page, with a picture of a beaming Callista sporting a necklace estimated to be worth $45,000? And shortly after an earlier Page 1 piece about Callista's journey from Other Woman to adoring wife always by his side? True, the country's future undoubtedly rests more heavily on its $14-trillion debt. But what American women—okay, this woman—really want to know is what Newt bought and what he thought he was buying in return. And no amount of campaign glitz is going to distract us from getting the answers.

It’s hard to get much dumber than that, but the Ashburns will continue to try, even as the Kamarcks keep trashing the voters. For the record, we don’t think anyone has established how much jewelry Gingrich actually bought. But people like Ashburn will rarely get distracted by something like that.

We’ve seen a few of Ashburn’s cable appearances. She’s very good looking—and she has absolutely nothing to say. Her Daily Beast tag line says this: “Lauren Ashburn is a 20-year journalist and former managing editor for USA Today and Gannett Broadcasting.”

We have one question: Why?

Special report: In search of a winning movement!

PART 1—GREGORY FAILS (permalink): Life can be sweet at NBC News! David Gregory was apparently being paid $2 million per year before he took over at Meet the Press.

For that kind of scratch, you’d think a nation could at least get minimal competence.

At a minimum, a Sunday host should challenge gross misstatements of fact. But alas! That didn’t happened when a gross misstatement was made on Sunday’s program.

The statement was made by Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, one of Gregory’s pundit guests. Castellanos uncorked a major groaner about the fate of Medicare:

CASTELLANOS (5/29/11): Republicans have a much better hand [for the 2012 elections], I think, than we're giving them credit for...We just got a heads-up on Medicare. And here's what I think Republicans are going to say: “You love your Medicare, seniors, don't you? You count on it. It helps you sleep good at night. Good. Did you know it's $35 trillion in debt? Our economy's going broke and dragging Medicare along with it. In a little over three thousand days, CBO says your Medicare's going to end.”

Sorry. Three thousand days is about eight years—and the CBO hasn’t said that Medicare “is going to end” at that time. In fact, the CBO hasn’t said anything dimly resembling that statement.

Gregory should have challenged Castellanos—but he just kept going, like nothing had happened. But then, NBC’s money-man also stared into air when David Brooks uttered the following:

BROOKS: I mean, this is a test of national character. Do the American people understand that Medicare is going to be bankrupt on its current trajectory, and can elites like McConnell and Schumer actually create a deal? I didn't see much hope today, from what the two were saying. I saw a little movement, maybe on both sides, but obviously a long way still to go.

Is Medicare “going to be bankrupt on its current trajectory?” Castellanos’ misstatement was wilder. But “bankrupt” can be a highly misleading term—and Brooks’ statement piggy-backed on the earlier claim that Medicare would be gone in eight years.

Welcome to the wonderful world defined by Millionaire Pundit Values! In large part, we started THE DAILY HOWLER in reaction to the press corps’ bungled discussion of Medicare issues back in the mid-1990s. At that time, pundits struggled with a sematic puzzle: Was the Gingrich Congress proposing “Medicare cuts?” Or would its proposal simply “slow the rate at which the program would grow?” For two years, hapless pundits floundered and flailed with this fiendish conundrum. The press corps was completely overmatched by this basic question.

Today, Medicare has come center stage again. Once again, major pundits don’t seem to be up to the challenge of conducting a clear discussion.

Let’s be clear about the problems dogging this new discussion:

Let’s be frank. One the one hand, our millionaire pundits just aren’t very smart. Ineptitude is always part of the equation when they attempt to discuss major issues. In this case, how well could Gregory and his guests explain what the CBO has actually said? In fairness, we’ll guess that most of our major pundits really couldn’t explain such a matter, any more than they could handle that semantic debate long ago.

On the other hand, ineptitude isn’t the only problem. Mainstream pundits also tend to be in thrall to prevailing views of Medicare which have emerged from well-funded right-wing spin tanks over the past thirty years. The frameworks these spin machines have churned infest most mainstream discussions. That may explain why Ruth Marcus said the following on Sunday’s program, even though she was booked on the show as a center-left guest.

Please note: Gregory’s question didn’t exactly make sense. But Marcus got the gist:

GREGORY: So Ruth Marcus, what wins here? Bold leadership on Medicare and the argument that the Democrats won't do something courageous, or the Democrats who say, “Hey, those guys want to take away my Medicare?”

MARCUS: I regret to inform you that I think it's the latter. And I think when you were asking Senator McConnell if Medicare was the new third rail of American politics, I think the question was wrong in a sense because it's the old third rail of American politics.

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MARCUS: This play has been run time after time. If you go back and look at the quotes from President Clinton back when he needed to win re-election [in 1996], they sound a lot like the quotes from Democrats today about “Don't let those Republicans take away your Medicare.” The difference is that the debt is bigger, the deficit is bigger, the gap is bigger, and the, the situation is more dire. But I think that, sadly, the lesson of New York 26 is "Mediscare" works.

For unexplained reasons, Marcus was “sad” to see the Democratic argument work in that recent House election. To Marcus, the sad lesson of that campaign is that “Medi-scare” always works. Beyond that, she plainly implied that President Clinton engaged in “Medi-scare” tactics in the mid-1990s. Rather plainly, she implied that Clinton, not Gingrich, had been the agent of bad faith in that endless, press-bollixed debate.

Within the “mainstream press corps,” that’s the way the “center-left” thinks about issues like Medicare.

In fact, no one corrected Castellanos’ howler on Meet the Press this Sunday. David Gregory didn’t speak, but neither did Marcus, and neither did Brooks and neither did Harold Ford. Groaning misstatements about Medicare were the norm in the mid-1990s. Today, the program has come center stage again, and misstatement remains the norm.

Gregory failed to do his job. But all week long we’ll be asking a question:

What about liberals and progressives? Sure, we screech and yell a lot. (We didn’t do that in the mid-1990s.) But when it comes to topics like this, have we ever done our jobs over the past twenty years?

Tomorrow—part 2: Schumer was really quite clear