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Daily Howler: Elizabeth Drew considers a thought--McCain conned the press in the past
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CITIZEN DREW! Elizabeth Drew considers a thought–McCain conned the press in the past: // link // print // previous // next //

HOW TO SPOT RACISTS IN SWEAT PANTS: By now, Alaskans have surely suffered enough! The New York Times sent Maureen Dowd to Wasilla–and just like that, she showcased her skill at spotting rube racists in sweat pants:

DOWD (9/16/08): I wandered through the Wal-Mart, which seemed almost as large as Wasilla, a town that is a soulless strip mall without sidewalks set beside a soulful mountain and lake.


I talked to a Wal-Mart mom, Betty Necas, 39, wearing sweatpants and tattoos on her wrists.

She said she’s never voted, and was a teenage mom “like Bristol.” She likes Sarah because she’s “down home” but said Obama “gives me the creeps. Nothing to do with the fact that he’s black. He just seems snotty, and he looks weaselly.”

Next time around, Betty Necas, 39, may know to avoid Maureen Dowd.

Not since Capucine starred in North to Alaska has so unlikely a lady ventured north to the 49th state. Earlier in the current campaign, Dowd amused her own simpering self by calling Obama “legally blonde;” by comparing him to Scarlett O’Hara; and by describing him as a wide range of “boys.” Today, the lady redeems herself by locating red-state racists. And darlings! They shop in their sweat pants!

Note to Dowd: Wal-Mart shoppers have been calling white Democrats names over the course of the past sixteen years. You never found this name-calling noteworthy before this, since it also was coming from you.

(Note on method: Was Necas responding to a question about race? Dowd forgot to say.)

WHAT DO WHITE WOMEN WANT: Since we enjoy blaming George Stephanopoulos, let’s start with his overstatement. On Sunday’s This Week, he said the thing that everyone else had been saying:

STEPHANOPOULOS (9/14/08): It is true that this week we saw a 20-point swing among white women in our [Washington Post-]ABC News poll.

That was a 20-point swing toward McCain, after Hockey Mom Palin was picked. The big swing had been announced on the Post’s front page by over-certain Jon Cohen:

COHEN (9/9/08): Sen. John McCain has wiped away many of Sen. Barack Obama’s pre-convention advantages...

Much of the shift toward McCain stems from gains among white women, voters his team hoped to sway with the pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate. White women shifted from an eight-point pre-convention edge for Obama to a 12-point McCain advantage now.

Wow! There you saw that 20-point swing–except Cohen forgot to voice a disclaimer. These data were based on a fairly small sample of white women–a smaller sub-set of the larger group polled. Because this sample was fairly small, it would yield a fairly large margin of error. As such, you couldn’t be sure that a 20-point swing had really occurred among white women. Indeed, the possibility of error was larger here than is the norm with key data from polls.

But so what? All good pundits began to marvel at that 20-point swing to McCain. Until this morning, when the New York Times reported its own brand-new poll. Who do white women favor now? In paragraph 2, Robin Toner reported a change in the weather:

TONER (9/18/08): Polls taken after the Republican convention suggested that Mr. McCain had enjoyed a surge of support–particularly among white women after his selection of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate–but the latest poll indicates “the Palin effect” was, at least so far, a limited burst of interest.

Uh-oh! In this latest New York Times/CBS poll, white women seem to have shifted toward Obama! Toner supplies the details:

TONER: [T]he Times/CBS News poll suggested that Ms. Palin’s selection has, to date, helped Mr. McCain only among Republican base voters; there was no evidence of significantly increased support for him among women in general. White women were evenly divided between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama; before the conventions, Mr. McCain led Mr. Obama among white women, 44 percent to 37 percent.

Say what? According to this brand new poll, Obama has gained seven points among white women since the pit bull with lipstick got picked. But all this past week, we’ve been hearing about a twenty-point swing among white women–a swing the other way!

Toner keeps things fairly smooth today, using words like “suggested.” But in all these polls, a limited numbers of white women were sampled, thus producing large margins of error. No poll can ever tell you exactly how large a switch may have occurred among some group. But in these cases, the margins of error were especially high. In reality, we never knew that a 20-point jump toward McCain had really occurred. Nor do we actually know today that Obama has gained seven points.

But so what? All over cable, pundits have been loudly pimping that 20-point jump toward McCain. Did that gigantic jump really occur? We don’t know now–and they didn’t know then. But remember: Americans pundits are technically weak–and they enjoy rattling off simple tales.

CITIZEN DREW: Yesterday, it was Elizabeth Drew who sadly announced her switch away from beloved McCain. She too has flipped on this greatest saint, she sadly announced at Politico. And breaking up was hard to do, as it has been for so many others. “I have been a longtime admirer of John McCain,” Drew sobbed as she started her piece. Indeed: “I published a positive book about him, ‘Citizen McCain,’” she soon confessed. (The book appeared in 2002.)

Why had Drew once admired McCain? At the start of her confession, she outlined the old love affair. But let’s give Drew a bit of credit for what she’s willing to say in this passage. Unlike others who have recently flipped, Drew admits that the saint she once loved may have fooled her in the past:

DREW (9/17/08): I admired John McCain as a man of principle and honor. He had become emblematic of someone who spoke his mind, voted his conscience, and demonstrated courage in bucking his own party and fighting for what he believed in. He gained a well-deserved reputation as a maverick. He was seen as taking principled positions on such issues as tax equity (opposing the newly elected Bush’s tax cut), fighting political corruption, and, later, taking on the Bush administration on torture. He came off as a man of decency. He took political risks.

Having emerged, ironically, from his bitter 2000 primary fight against Bush as an immensely popular figure, he set out to be a new force in American politics. He decided to form and lead a centrist movement, believing that that was where the country was and needed leadership. He went against the grain of his party on the environment, patients’ bill of rights, and, of course, campaign finance reform.

While McCain’s movement to the center was widely popular (if not on the right)–and he even flirted with becoming a Democrat–there’s now strong reason to question whether it was anything but a temporary, expedient tactic.


In retrospect, other once-hailed McCain efforts–his cultivation of the press (“my base”) and even his fight for campaign finance reform (launched in the wake of his embarrassment over the Keating Five scandal) now seem to have been simply maneuvers.

Ouch! Kinsley, Cohen, Marcus and Klein have insisted that the man they revered has now unaccountably changed. It isn’t that they misjudged McCain; no, the once-great man is now different. To her credit, Drew is willing to consider a different possibility–the possibility that she and her colleagues got conned by a slick politician’s “maneuvers.”

But if Elizabeth Drew got conned by McCain, one must say this–the conning was easy. Late in her piece, Drew explains why she decided, starting in 2006, that McCain was not as great as she’d thought. She posts a tough brief against McCain. But it’s hard to see which part of her brief was hidden in 1999.

Why did Drew change her mind on McCain? Her explanation includes this:

DREW: By then I had already concluded that that there was a disturbingly erratic side of McCain’s nature. There’s a certain lack of seriousness in him. And he does not appear to be a reflective man, or very interested in domestic issues. One cannot imagine him ruminating late into the night about, say, how to educate and train Americans for the new global and technological challenges.

Good God! When it came to domestic issues, McCain was little more than a rollicking clown during Campaign 2000. In December 1999, he formally released his health plan–a health plan whose bungles were instantly obvious. (“It was almost laughably sketchy,” Joe Klein later wrote. “Even the accompanying fact sheet was filled with errors.”) Later, speaking with Jonathan Chait, McCain displayed an astounding ignorance of his own budget plan–an awkward, embarrassing ignorance. But the press corps–people like Drew–agreed to look away from these car wrecks, and from a string of others. (Many profiles of McCain included an amused account of some domestic issue or other on which he’d made the world’s most clueless remark. For some examples, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/4/07.) There’s a certain lack of seriousness in McCain? He does not appear to be a reflective man, or very interested in domestic issues? If Drew didn’t suspect these things when she wrote her book, she ought to retire–today.

A bit later, Drew says this:

DREW: McCain’s recent conduct of his campaign–his willingness to lie repeatedly (including in his acceptance speech) and to play Russian roulette with the vice-presidency, in order to fulfill his long-held ambition–has reinforced my earlier, and growing, sense that John McCain is not a principled man.

His willingness to lie repeatedly? We’ll let Drew decide when McCain is “lying,” but he endlessly misstated a wide range of matters during Campaign 2000. McCain himself later said that he lied about the confederate flag matter, and he fairly plainly lied about the anti-Bush robo-calls he paid for in Michigan. Meanwhile, he endlessly misstated Bushs’s budget plan, and he paraded about making a claim about Gore and the Buddhist temple that was cutting, and baldly inaccurate. But the press corps laughed and clowned through all that. You see, they were on a saint’s side.

One more part of Drew’s lament deserves direct approach. One glances away in embarrassment when Drew pens these mournful lines:

DREW: In retrospect, other once-hailed McCain efforts–his cultivation of the press (“my base”) and even his fight for campaign finance reform (launched in the wake of his embarrassment over the Keating Five scandal) now seem to have been simply maneuvers. The “Straight Talk Express” – a brilliant p.r. stroke in 2000 – has now been shut down.

His cultivation of the press now seem to have been a maneuver, Drew says. One is embarrassed to think that she didn’t suspect this in real time. Regarding McCain’s “embarrassment over the Keating Five scandal,” let’s recall how McCain framed this matter in real time. In November 1999, Jill Abramson reviewed the episode in the New York Times:

ABRAMSON (11/21/99): "It was certainly the most difficult experience in my political life," he now says about this tumultuous time. During a 14-month Senate ethics investigation that ended with his exoneration, he and four other senators stood accused of exerting improper influence by meeting with federal bank regulators on behalf of Mr. Keating, who had contributed $1.5 million to the political causes and campaigns of the senators, including $112,000 to Mr. McCain.

Mr. McCain told allies, including his lawyer, John W. Dowd; a former Senate colleague, Warren Rudman; and a Senate aide, that the Keating investigation was more painful than being held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

"It was a searing experience for John," said Mr. Dowd, who represented him during the ethics inquiry. "He told me it was worse than being in Hanoi.”

As with every event in his adult life, McCain sought sympathy for what he had done by framing it in terms of his POW years. And this tended to work with the press corps. In her report, Abramson said McCain had been “exonerated.” In fact, the Senate Ethic Committee had ruled him guilty of “exercising poor judgment.”

What’s the state of John McCain’s soul? We don’t know how to answer that question. But plainly, McCain was never the sanctified saint invented by our childish press corps. (They invented this saint even as they were inventing an equal-and-opposite demon named Gore.) In her profile, Drew at least is willing to say that she may have misjudged McCain in the past–in effect, that she may have been conned by the sanctified solon. Kinsley, Cohen, Marcus and Klein just aren’t willing to go there. You’ll also note that none of these pundits have ever explained that other key point. They’ve never explained why they demonized Gore–why they put George Bush where he is.

Drew at least is willing to say that she may have misjudged McCain. For a more typical gang of pugs, such outrageous thoughts cannot stand.