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Daily Howler: Goldwater boasted of a conscience. Today's liberal boasts something else
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THE INSOUCIANCE OF THE LIBERAL! Goldwater boasted of a conscience. Today’s liberal boasts something else: // link // print // previous // next //

Milbank, Blinken and Odd: Where do they come from? Where did they spawn? Does their presence here on earth strengthen the “mega-verse” theory?

This morning, Americans asked themselves these questions as they read Dana Milbank’s attempt to discuss yesterday’s Senate hearing. At one part of his analysis, the alternate life-form typed this:

MILBANK (7/15/09): The bickering sometimes made Sotomayor a spectator at her own confirmation hearing. She sat slightly hunched over the table with two glasses before her: one for water and one for Sprite so the diabetic jurist could keep her blood sugar at the right level.

One slip of the tongue could doom her otherwise secure appointment—and the pressure to avoid error was evident in her eyelids. When Leahy asked her to explain her controversial remark about the superior judgment of a wise Latina woman, she blinked no fewer than 247 times during her answer. When Sessions asked her about the same remark, she blinked an additional 146 times. Her overall blink rate appeared to be between 90 and 100 per minute in the morning, calming to about 50 in the afternoon.

The Democrats did their best to put her at ease.

No doubt. But who will put us humans at ease, as evidence grows that alternate life-form are playing key roles in our universe?

Milbank didn’t start this. To our recollection, the mainstream press corps discovered the magic of the eye blink through the auspices of Ross Perot, whose refusal to blink in 1992 produced extensive “analysis.” In October 1992, for example, the Post asked Abigail Trafford to analyze the body language of the three presidential candidates, who had just staged their first debate. She spoke with an expert—“clinical psychologist Martha Davis of the New York Psychiatric Institute.” The pair of savants were soon counting blinks, thus helping the American public evaluate its options:

TRAFFORD (10/13/92): Perot entered the debate with some major potential problems in his body language. To begin with, Perot rarely blinks, which can make some people uncomfortable, said Davis. Instead of blinking normally once every two to four seconds, Perot can go more than 20 seconds without blinking. In the debate, he softened this "hypo blinking" by putting on glasses.

If memory serves, the life-forms offered many more thoughts about the gentleman’s lizard-on-a-hot-rock refusal to blink. But no: Milbank didn’t invent the type of analysis he put on display this morning.

Yesterday, Milbank too was counting blinks, apparently thinking that such behavior would make him seem like a human journalist. Apparently, he didn’t know how actual humans would react to his behavior—that it would seem like the latest sign of his extra-terrestrial origins.

THE INSOUCIANCE OF THE LIBERAL: Who knew? Today is the 30th anniversary of Jimmy Carter’s famous “malaise speech”—the famous speech in which the word “malaise” was never used. Gordon Stewart, one of Carter’s speech-writers, recalls the episode in today’s New York Times. We were struck by this part of his piece, which we’d call his “insouciance column:”

STEWART (7/15/09): Contrary to later spin, the speech was extremely popular. The White House was flooded with positive calls. Viewers polled while watching found that the speech inspired them as it unfolded.

To this day, I don’t entirely know why the speech came to be derided for a word that was in the air, but never once appeared in the text. Still, the “malaise” label stuck: maybe because President Carter’s cabinet shake-up a few days later wasted the political energy that had been focused on our energy problems; maybe because the administration’s opponents attached it to the speech relentlessly; maybe because it was just too hard to compete with Ronald Reagan and his banner of limitless American consumption.

What, us worry? Thirty years later, Stewart has no idea how that potent Group Narrative came into being. But then, this pattern is quite familiar. Over the course of the past thirty years, we liberals and Democrats have cared very little about the occasionally puzzling ways we come to political ruin.

Stewart’s column made us think of this recent Matt Yglesias post. Credit where due: Unlike the clueless Professor Rosen, Yglesias knows something was grossly wrong with the mainstream press long before 2002. But to this day, he finds one major part of that breakdown “inexplicable:”

YGLESIAS (7/8/09): My strong sense is that contrarianness reached its apogee in the 1990s when a general sense took over that politics was basically silly and that punditry should be seen as basically akin to the college debate circuit wherein the idea is to construct the most clever possible argument rather than to actually hit on the truth. When this general spirit of the times merged with the elite press’ inexplicable loathing of Al Gore you started getting really bizarre arguments being made with a straight face. People would say that one good thing about George W. Bush was that he was dimwitted, which made him understand leadership. Or that a big problem with Gore was that he was interested in public policy.

This attitude brought us thousands of Americans killed in a terrorist attack, thousands more killed in a senseless war, and eventually the collapse of the world economy. But that in turn has at least to a small extent reminded people that it actually does matter what happens and who’s right.

Unlike our hapless liberal professor, Yglesias understands that the press corps’ floundering conduct under Bush continued an earlier breakdown. In particular, he knows that the elite press corps “loathed” Candidate Gore; he knows that this loathing elected Bush, leading to many current miseries. And yet, right up to this day, he calls the loathing of Gore “inexplicable.” To this day, he has no idea where it came from.

Maybe it’s our fault. After Labor Day, we plan to roll out a new product; at a new web site, we plan to start posting our (largely written) book about the press corps’ coverage of Campaign 2000. Was the press corps’ astonishing coverage of Gore truly “inexplicable?” In fact, big journalists explained their own conduct at various times, starting as early as June 1999, when Howard Kurtz published a prescient report about the “harsh coverage and punditry” so plainly being dumped on Gore’s head (click here). Kurtz noted the “stark contrast” in the coverage of Bush and Gore—and he asked some major scribes to explain it. At least two explained that stark contrast, quite memorably; they remain major players today. (Roger Simon, Jim Warren.) We’ve posted that material again and again. But liberals refuse to understand it—or we prefer to pretend that we can’t.

What, us worry? Or analyze? Maureen Dowd doesn’t do policy—and we liberals don’t stoop to that! To this day, Stewart hasn’t conjured how that “malaise” story ever took form. Yglesias knows Gore was loathed (and thus kept from office). But he has no idea why.

The insouciance of the modern liberal is truly a thing to see! We’re having computer problems today; we’ll therefore leave things here for the day. Tomorrow, we hope to return to more recent work from our “intellectual leaders.” To this crowning bit of rube-running, for instance. Or to Dahlia Lithwick’s recent liberties with a union event.

Let’s exclude Yglesias from what follows:

Increasingly, your liberal “intellectual leaders” treat you like hayseeds, like stooges, like rubes—like eyeballs to be drawn to the screen or the site. They hand you silly personality tales, tales increasingly driven by sex. (Maddow self-degrades further each night.) You will never see a progressive politics as long as this low-IQ, high-profit clowning remains the rule of the tribe.

How should we react to these “intellectual leaders?” Progressives need to pick up sticks and drive them into the countryside. They deserve a good public re-education. Perhaps they can get one out there.

Final point: Some patterns are quite familiar. Carter’s speech was “extremely popular,” Stewart writes—until the story-line inexplicably changed. (“Viewers polled while watching found that the speech inspired them as it unfolded.”) Similarly, Candidate Gore won that crucial first debate, in every poll—until we inexplicably got handed a new, super-potent Group Narrative. (Viewers polled after watching said Gore won. Average margin: ten points.)

Some patterns are quite familiar. We liberals can never explain them.

The Warren court’s verdict: Below, you see what Warren told Kurtz about that “harsh coverage and punditry.” For our money, Simon’s statement was much more striking:

KURTZ (6/25/99): "We're sort of bored with Clinton, and many of us think Clinton's a moral scum, and probably subconsciously, at a minimum, we taint Gore by virtue of his association."

We think Clinton’s a moral scum. And we taint Gore, Warren said.

Ten years later, a bright young liberal calls the loathing “inexplicable.” Even when big players explain, we find them inexplicable.