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Daily Howler: This should be a Golden Age of Democratic--and liberal--messaging
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IN SEARCH OF DEMOCRATIC MESSAGING! This should be a Golden Age of Democratic—and liberal—messaging: // link // print // previous // next //

Baker’s coven: It’s hard to be a bigger fop than Peter Baker is.

We had planned to discuss Maria Bartiromo today. (In part, we’d planned to note the limited way we liberals have critiqued her world-class, recent howler. To see her in action, click this.) But in honor of Baker’s clowning masterpiece in this morning’s New York Times, let’s put her off till tomorrow.

Baker reports on a trivial topic—the rumors which have swirled, for months, about Chelsea Clinton’s supposed impending marriage. The wedding was supposed to happen in August—but August has of course come and gone. Baker, always skillful with calendars, has thereby written a full news report about this trivial matter.

Gail Collins might have handled the topic. But she was already busy today, writing about Levi Johnston.

The topic itself isn’t all that important. Unfortunately, Baker’s foppish mind is.

According to Baker, the rumors have been out there for months, beating back endless denials from all concerned parties. In the second half of his report, the foppish fellow summarizes these endless errors. We’ll highlight his string of sources:

BAKER (9/3/09): The wedding rumor mill was started by The Boston Globe, which reported in May that ''buzz is building that Chelsea Clinton will get married on Martha's Vineyard this summer,'' specifically at the Steenburgen-Danson house in Chilmark in August. ''To prepare for the A-list affair, Danson and Steenburgen are said to be doing extensive renovations on their property,'' the newspaper reported.

The Clinton camp promptly denied the report. Then New York magazine picked up the ball in June, writing that ''insiders say that it's their understanding that the two will wed in late August'' at Mr. Jordan's house. In July, The Daily News of New York said that ''Clintonistas are quietly being told to save the date'' for a wedding at Mr. Jordan's ''the last week of August.''

More denials ensued. ''There is no truth to that,'' Mrs. Clinton said on Fox News. ''I keep reading it, and we keep saying, 'It's not true, it's not true.' But for some reason it doesn't go away.''

As the Obamas headed to the Vineyard last month, the chatter picked up. The Washington Post reported in August that ''a Washington couple let slip that they've been invited to Chelsea's wedding this month.'' The Post followed up with a 1,775-word article complete with a five-step guide on how Chelsea Clinton could execute a full-scale wedding in secret. The New York Times never published a separate account about the rumors, but a Travel section article about the Vineyard did mention the reports in passing.

On Sunday, The New York Post reported that the wedding could be that very day, saying that one of its reporters ''spotted preparations in full gear for a very large gathering on Chappaquiddick Island.”

“By Tuesday, August had faded into September,” Baker wrote, showcasing his confidence when working with technical data.

Back to the sources of those rumors. If we aren’t mistaken, Baker says the rumor was driven by these entities: The Boston Globe, New York magazine, the New York Daily News, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the New York Post. (Fox News only broadcast a denial.)

But that’s where the comical clowning comes in. Earlier in his news report, Baker has already offered a summary of the summer’s bungling. As his weak mind ponders these events, please note who he blames for the folly:

BAKER (earlier in his report): The persistence of the rumor despite the lack of tangible evidence says something about the Internet-driven media culture, where facts sometimes do not get in the way of a good story. It also says something about the Clintons and the mistrust they have engendered over the years that so many people do not take them at their word, even over a question like this.

Who was at fault for all these false rumors? Early in Baker’s news report, Hard Pundit Law took control of his “thinking.” Before he could possibly tell us the truth, he had to distribute the usual lies! The Internet-driven culture was at fault, he revealed. And of course—this being Earth—it was plainly the fault of the Clintons!

Baker blamed the Internet—and the Clintons! And that was his full list of blame.

You really have to be a fool to put your name on something like that. To put it in print, not to content yourself with muttering this to semi-smashed colleagues inside some Vineyard bar. But Baker, and his Ceci-collaboratin’ wife, long ago signed up for such duty.

Over the past dozen years, we have worked with various metaphors, trying to capture the small, inane band which posed as our mainstream press corps. They’re like a fraternal order, we’ve said. They’re not unlike s small stupid mafia. We’ve used the language of science fiction, trying to capture their conduct. Were the producers of Men in Black trying to tell us something?

This morning, Baker types it for all to see. Bottom line: When people are willing to “reason” this way out in public, a terrible truth swims into view:

It has been decades since your country actually had a mainstream press corps. In the early 1990s, a small, inbred mafia took their place. As we “liberals” kept our pretty traps shut, they blamed the whole world on the Clintons—and Gore.

This morning, years later, nothing has changed! Gail Collins would likely have handled the job. But she was too busy with Levi.

(For the Times women’s pages, click this. The programming still isn’t good on these life-forms. Some remain programmed for Mad Men.)

Special report: Message: We don’t care!

PART 3—IN SEARCH OF DEMOCRATIC MESSAGING: This should be a Golden Age of Democratic and liberal messaging.

Start with Enron, or start before that, and move up to Bernie Madoff, and bailouts. In the past few decades, we’ve seen an endless succession of incidents in which Big Interests loot average citizens, in ways the robber barons would surely have envied.

Big government never did anything right? In earlier eras, big government stood to regulate the Big Interests and barons—to protect the interests of average people. Indeed, in Tuesday’s New York Times, a letter writer helped us remember:

LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (9/1/09): Liberalism was not born with Franklin D. Roosevelt, and it will not die with Edward M. Kennedy.

Modern liberalism grew out of the progressive and labor movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Liberals struggled in the wilderness for decades before they convinced most Americans that the interests of middle- and working-class citizens were not well served by a system that favored the rich and powerful. As their votes in 2006 and 2008 showed, most Americans have realized that that is still true today.


That analysis of our recent elections is a dream. But we’ll roll with the writer’s history.

Liberals and progressives “convinced most Americans that the interests of [average] citizens were not well served by a system that favored the rich and powerful?” This should be a Golden Age for such progressive messaging! But it plainly hasn’t been such an age. That’s why Rick Perlstein’s reader asked those excellent questions about our gruesome health care debate (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/1/09):

Why are Democrats so bad at messaging? So bad at pushing back?

This should be a Golden Age. Obvious question: Why isn’t it?

In fairness, it isn’t as if no such messaging has come from recent Big Democrats. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton produced some subtle, rather effective messaging which suggested where he stood—whose interests he stood to preserve.

Bill Clinton said he stood for those “who work hard and play by the rules.” He told them that he “felt their pain”—that he’d be “with them till the last dog dies.” In theory, almost everyone works hard and plays by the rules, of course. But this formulation suggested that someone stood to harm such regular people. And it stated whose side he was on.

In August 2000, Clinton’s vice president defined the shape of his own White House campaign. On MSNBC, Candidate Gore’s convention speech was ridiculed by Jack Welch’s all-Irish panel—until Frank Luntz rushed into the room and told them that his polling showed that the speech had been a “home run.” What follows is part of what Gore had said. Needless to say, pundits soon warned him about such rough language—such very crude ideas:

GORE (8/17/00): But there's something at stake in this election that's even more important than economic progress. Simply put, it's our values; it's our responsibility to our loved ones, to our families. And to me, family values means honoring our fathers and mothers, teaching our children well, caring for the sick, respecting one another, giving people the power to achieve what they want for their families.


A new prescription drug benefit under Medicare for all our seniors—that's a family value. And let me tell you: I will fight for it, and the other side will not. They give in to the big drug companies. Their plan tells seniors to beg the HMOs and insurance companies for prescription drug coverage.

And that's the difference in this election. They're for the powerful, and we're for the people. Judge for yourself. Look at the agenda, look at the facts.

Big tobacco, big oil, the big polluters, the pharmaceutical companies, the HMOs. Sometimes you have to be willing to stand up and say no, so families can have a better life.

I know one thing about the job of the president. It is the only job in the Constitution that is charged with the responsibility of fighting for all the people. Not just the people of one state, or one district. Not just the wealthy or the powerful—all the people. Especially those who need a voice, those who need a champion, those who need to be lifted up, so they are never left behind.

So I say to you tonight: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will fight for you. I mean that with all my heart.

Gore’s speech polled off the charts, Luntz said. (After he left, the Brian Williams all-Irish panel went back to mocking the speech.) But Gore’s numbers soared in the subsequent polls. Inside Washington, everyone said the race was over—until the press corps invented two more “lies” in September’s third week.

At any rate, the kind of messaging in that passage suggests a fairly obvious fact: Human nature hasn’t changed since the day of the robber barons. Big Interests will still loot average people—unless Big Government makes them stop. Given Enron and AIG—given “the biggest heist in monetary history”—this should have been a Golden Age for Dems and liberals to produce such messaging.

But alas! It clearly hasn’t been. In the past few months, we have seen the other side churn their messages about the failures of “big government,” driving the fear of a “government take-over,” of “government-run health care.” Democrats have managed to produce little clear messaging, despite being blessed with the most comical set of data in the world’s history:

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007:
United States: $7290
United Kingdom: $2992
Average of OECD developed nations: $2964
Japan: $2581

You almost have to twist a mustachio as you read such ridiculous data. But Democrats refuse to discuss those data—refuse to say what they so plainly mean. The other side rails against Big Government. Our side is mostly silent about the Big Interests which have produced those comical data—at the people’s expense.

Over the decades, we have developed a much less robust stock of messaging on which we can draw in such times.

Why have Democratic (and liberal) voices been so feeble this season? What should Democrats be saying? On what messaging should we be drawing? In the past few days, several writers have helped us recall Democratic messaging from earlier eras. What would FDR have said? In this morning’s New York Times, Jean Edward Smith helps us recall:

SMITH (9/3/09): Roosevelt relished the opposition of vested interests. He fashioned his governing majority by deliberately attacking those who favored the status quo. His opponents hated him—and he profited from their hatred. “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today,” he told a national radio audience on the eve of the 1936 election. “They are unanimous in their hatred for me—and I welcome their hatred.”


For Roosevelt was a divider, not a uniter, and he unabashedly waged class war. At the Democratic Convention in 1936, again speaking to a national radio audience, Roosevelt lambasted the “economic royalists” who had gained control of the nation’s wealth. To Congress he boasted of having “earned the hatred of entrenched greed.” In another speech he mocked “the gentlemen in well-warmed and well-stocked clubs” who criticized the government’s relief efforts.

Roosevelt hived off the nation’s economic elite to win the support of the rest of the country.

Roosevelt was kicking up, at the vested interests—the powerful. Let us guess that he didn’t spend time ridiculing average voters, as corporate cable “liberals” now do. As a class of pseudo-liberal does all over the web.

At Salon, Michael Lind has also remembered the messaging of presidents Roosevelt and Truman. We strongly recommend his piece—just click here. (As before, we strongly recommend Lind’s Bush-era book, Made in Texas.) In this era, Democratic and liberal messaging has been weak, tame, limp, disengaged by comparison. Democratic and liberal messaging—including that which has come from the kids at our “liberal” journals and blogs.

Conservative pundits? They have decades of well-crafted messaging on which to draw for their fake, silly claims. For this reason, being a conservative pundit has now become the easiest job in the world. On our side, the messaging has been—and remains—much less rich. Their side thunders against “Big Government.” Our side mews and meows.

Perlstein’s reader had noticed this fact. He asked a good question: Why is that?

Tomorrow—Part 4: Whither liberals?