WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2003
CHAIT CHAT (EXPANDED): A number of readers have written to ask what-was-so-bad about Jonathan Chaits recent column. We think the question is worth addressing. Again, we remain big fans of Chaits policy work, which we expect to praise (and learn from) again.
What was wrong with Chaits TNR column? First, as we noted (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/30/03), it was a priceless gift to conservative spinners. Much of the column was a critique of Bush policy. But Chait framed the piece as a tongue-in-cheek confession of his visceral hatred for Bush. And it isnt just Bushs policies, Chait says. I hate the way he walks, the scribe writesshoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy feigning machismo. Chait also hates the fact that Bush gives nicknames, and says, I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.
Does Chait really hate the way Bush holds his arms? If so, he ought to be sent to a home. But, although Chaits piece was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the result was one thousand percent predictable. In yesterdays New York Times, David Brooks discarded Chaits serious ruminationsand quoted the list of his trivial complaints (text below). Gravely faking for his national audience, Brooks then drew the scripted conclusion: Cant you see how crazy these liberals are? Cant you see that irrational hatred is driving these complaints about Bush?
But theres more to criticize in Chaits piece than its ill-advised I hate Bush framework. More absurd is the schoolboy way he credits those very conservative spinnersthe very same conservative spinners who will now make his piece a prime tool. Early on, he notes that [c]onservatives have taken a special interest in the subject of Bush-hating. He quotes Robert Novak saying that he has never seen anything like the current hatred in 44 years of campaign watching. But it isnt just Novak who is puzzled by all the Bush-hatred: Even writers like David Brooks and Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standardthe sorts of conservatives who have plenty of liberal friendsseem to regard it from the standpoint of total incomprehension. Some of their best friends are liberals, Chait says. And even so, they cant figure it out!
But somebody else cant figure it out. For some reason, Chait cant see that these fancy-pants cons are just spinning him blue on this subject. He even puzzles over why Byron York would say such odd things about all the hatred:
CHAIT: Conservatives, in retrospect, now concede that some of the Clinton haters were a little bit nutty. But they usually do so only in the context of declaring that Bush hatred is as bad or worse. Back then, [there were] disapproving articlesnot to mention armchair psychoanalysisabout Clinton-hating, complains Byron York in a National Review story this month. Today, there appears to be less concern. Adds Brooks, Now it is true that you can find conservatives and Republicans who went berserk during the Clinton years, accusing the Clintons of multiple murders and obsessing how Vince Fosters body may or may not have been moved But the Democratic mood is more pervasive, and potentially more self-destructive.Chait goes on to say why this is silly, but he insists on pretending that York and Brooks are serious in their analyses. Somehow, Jonathan Chait still doesnt know that he lives in an age of pervasive propaganda, and that Brooks and Caldwell, and yes, even York, are just spinning readers blue on this topic. Blinded by their lovely manners and by all their liberal friends, Chait believes that these conservative writers are playing it straight in their thoughts on Bush-hatred. So he proceeds to write his I hate Bush pieceand they proceed now to make it a tool.
David Brooks played Chait for a chump. But Brooks is charming, and he has lovely friends, so Chait keeps pretending that he works in good faith. Just so youll know, this is the same group of TNR lads who sat around and barely said boo during the twenty-month trashing of Gore. These fellows do excellent policy work. In the real world, they seem to need escorts.
DAVID BROOKS, RACKED WITH REGRET: This Bush-hating is simply appalling, Brooks says. Near the end of his phony Times piece, he presents an anguished mea culpa:
BROOKS: And for those who are going to make the obvious point: Yes, I did say some of these things during the Clinton years, when it was conservatives bashing a Democrat, but not loudly enough, which I regret, because the weeds that were once on the edge of public life now threaten to choke off the whole thing.As the weeds choke off our public life, so Brooks remorsefully chokes back his tears, deeply troubled by his past silence. But plainly, Brooks is just faking. Does Bush-hatred threaten to choke off the whole thingour whole public life? Please. This statement recalls Bill OReillys recent musings about a Doonesbury outrage (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/25/03). Ill tell you, gentlemen, the disturbed host told two guests. This is poisoning everything we have here in America as far as civil debate is concerned. Brooks presents the same foolish hyperbole. Cant you hear what hes saying? Hey, rube!
For the record, the remorseful Brooks has plenty to regret. During the era of Clinton/Gore-trashing, he managed to tolerate many thick, noxious weeds. Incomparably, our thoughts drift back to a rancid piece by Christopher Caldwell in Brooks own Weekly Standard. (Yes, that very same Christopher Caldwell, the one with the lovely liberal friends!) The piece appeared on November 15, 1999, and it concerned Gore adviser Naomi Wolf. On this fine autumnal day, the lovely man with the liberal friends had bottom-feeding thoughts to offer. Wolf says it wasnt she who recommended the Gore wardrobe, and maybe it wasnt, Caldwell conceded. But we also know the conscious or subconscious calculation by which the campaign arrived at its sartorial strategy. Really! Just what was the subconscious calculation by which Gore had been led to wear a brown suit? Easy! [W]e all know that the look hes attained is that of the aging gigolo prowling the cafes of the Vieux Port for young talent, this smutty man said. Then the smutty fellow mused a bit more about Gores deeply troubled inner life. Why was Gore taking advice from Wolf, a 37-year old married mother who had been praised for her advice to the 96 Clinton campaign? The smutty Caldwell felt he knew. Gore shows a keen need to be taken as a very cool guy by younger women, he wrote. But lets show the full rumination:
CALDWELL: Clinton biographer David Maraniss of the Washington Post speculates that Wolf presented a younger, hipper, probably sort of new-age type of advice. In that light, it is hard to remember seeing Gore quite so aglow as when his nomination was seconded at the 1996 convention by 28-year-old Michela Alioto, a wheelchair-bound beauty who went from a job in the veeps office to running for Congress against Frank Riggs in California's first district. She described Gore not only as my boss, my friend, and the very best vice president we have ever had, but, more important, as a very cool guy with his own e-mail address.Repulsive, isnt it? And could you possibly be more fake and phony? But thats the kind of smutty work Brooks swallowed down for so very long. Incredibly, meanwhile, Caldwell is the kind of conservative whose basic good faith Chait cant stop affirming. He has those lovely liberal friends, so Chait cant perceive his real character.
By the way, Brooks tolerated one more revelation in the fall of 99. He tolerated Caldwells insinuation that Gore must be having an affair with Wolf. Why had the Gore campaign said that Wolf was working in New York (where she lived) on the GoreNet project, with Gores daughter? Easy! Wolfs friendship with Gores daughter Karenna is invoked to ward off speculation about any possible wandering eye, Caldwell said, trying to feed that same speculation. Gore is being dragged through embarrassing personal speculation, as President Clinton has been for seven years. Was it true? Was Gore being dragged through embarrassing personal speculation? Yes, as a matter of fact, he was. And if you doubted it, you could just read Caldwells smutty piece! But David Brooks just read it and winked, for which he sheds big tears today. In yesterdays Times, he confesses his sins, admitting he should have said more in the past. But just that fast, he starts pretendingpretending that the hatred of Bush goes beyond the trashing of Clinton and Gore. Its the current, fake, phony RNC spinso Brooks, a fake, phony man, ran to type it. And oh yes. He took Jonathan Chaita nice liberal friendand made him the latest con chump.
PLAYING CHAIT FOR A CHUMP: Heres the way the remorseful Brooks edits Chaits piece about Bush:
BROOKS: I hate President George W. Bush, Jonathan Chait writes in a candid piece in The New Republic. He reminds me of a certain type I knew in high schoolthe kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks I hate the way he talks I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.Chait made many comments about policy matters. Brooks, though remorseful, knew to omit them. We live in an age of rank propaganda. Chaits candid piece is now part of it.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Remember: The ugly era of Clinton-hating included murder lists on national TV. Have you seen this sort of thing aimed at Bush? Luckily, noyou have not. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/03.
TOMORROW: Back to Russert