GROUNDING JOE KLEIN: Joe Klein has been kicked off McCains campaign plane. Front-running mightily as is his wont, Klein is accepting praise from liberals over at Times Swampland site.
In our view, a progressive might want to view this scene rather differently.
In fact, Kleins grounding ends a decade of journalistic front-running for Republican hopefulsfirst for Bush, then for McCain. Today, Klein has jumped to the front of the latest line; hes now front-running for Obama. But his conduct has been highly erratic over the course of the past dozen years. As Americans, we cant build a strong politicsor a strong journalismout of such endless front-running.
A sensible progressive might want to see Klein get out of the business altogether. Lets review the recent history of his amoral front-running:
Front-running for Saint McCain (2006): In 2006, Klein published his definingly awful book, Politics Lost. He devoted a seven-page chunk of the book to the moral greatness of Saint John McCain. His portrait was classic McCain Venerationand it was extremely hard to reconcile with Kleins previous work. For a quick sense of Kleins shape-shifting, consider how his profile of McCain began. In 2006:
KLEIN (2006): For a time, in the winter of 1999-2000, John McCain seemed to have struck the perfect balance. If Jerry Browns Maryland campaign was the most fun Ive ever had covering politics, McCains New Hampshire race was the most exhilarating. This was a candidate without fear, speaking in the plainest possible language. I never saw him duck a question, and his best responses had a startling clarity. Asked about health-care reform, for example, he said: The problem is the Democrats are in the pocket of the trial lawyers and we Republicans are in the pocket of the insurance companies. And so there is gridlock, and there will continue to be, until we get the special-interest influence out of politics.
There is no more compelling spectacle in politics than watching a man on a white horse attempting to traverse a muddy field. McCain drew the largest, and most diverse, crowds Ive ever seen in New Hampshire.
This passage ran from page 165 through page 171 of Politics Lost. It was Standard McCain Veneration, of the type the mainstream press corps had perfected long before.
Coming from Klein, how fake was this portrait? Please note: Klein began by saying that Candidate McCain had never ducked a question during Campaign 2000. Indeed, his best responses had a startling clarity, Klein assertedand as an example, he gave McCains response to a question about health-care reform. This was odd, because during Campaign 2000 itself, Klein was one of the few major pundits who had challenged these silly portraits of McCain. And omigod! When hed profiled McCain in real time, Klein had specifically cited health care as a topic McCain couldnt handle!
Uh-oh! In a January 2000 New Yorker profile, Klein recorded awkward exchanges with McCain about a long string of policy matters. (He noted that the press corps would never let Candidate Bush get away with such serial ignorance.) When asked about the current state of welfare reform, he admitted that he hadnt given much thought to the hard-core unemployables who soon may be left without benefits, Klein wrote in that piece. Nor had he given much thought to the estimated thirty percent of teen-age pregnancies that, according to some studies, may be the result of statutory rapes. And these were hardly McCains only problem areas; McCain was boggled by health care, Klein wrote. Indeed, Klein recalled the embarrassing scene when McCain released his bollixed health care plan, just one month before:
KLEIN (1/17/00): Health care isnt easy, but McCain is running for president. He had just released, with no small fanfare, a plan, but it was almost laughably sketchywith no real answers for the forty-four million people without health insurance, many of whom work at low-wage jobs. (Even the accompanying fact sheet was filled with errors.)
McCains presentation had been an embarrassment. But the press corps had covered it up.
In January 2000, Klein specifically cited health care as a topic McCain hadnt bothered to mastereven though he [was] running for president. But so what? Six years later, Klein portrayed a candidate on a white horseand he specifically cited health-care reform as a topic on which McCain had shown his brilliance! But thats the way a guy like Klein works, when he starts front-running for a candidate. In 2006, he presented a standard profile of McCain on a horse. At the time, Saint McCain was the presumptive Republican nominee for president.
Why had Klein reinvented things so? We dont have the slightest idea. But heres a possible hint: In 2006, the presumptive Democratic nominee was a certain Hillary Rodham Clinton. And make no mistake: If Clinton had run against McCain this year, this campaign would have been covered quite differently by more than a few major journalists. Today, Klein front-runs on behalf of Obamaand hes been booted from Saint McCains plane. A skeptic might wonder if Klein was pre-scripting a different campaign in his book.
Front-running for decent, kind Bush (May 2000): Given the standards of his cohort, Klein was quite frank, in January 2000, about the shortcomings of McCain. But uh-oh! Four months later, he was out there front-runningthis time, for Candidate Bush.
To see the way Klein flip-flops and front-runs, lets consider another passage from his bookfrom the book which appeared in 2006. In this passage, Klein describes Candidate Bushs disgraceful conduct in Campaign 2000. By the time Kleins book appeared, Bush had become a pariah, of courseand Klein was willing to hammer him hard. As this passage starts, Klein is referring to the 2000 New Hampshire primary:
KLEIN (2006): McCain beat George W. Bushwho seemed a cardboard candidate, ghostly pale in the face of his opponents florid humanityby nineteen points in New Hampshire. He was a national hero, a political phenomenon. Money began to flow into his campaign via the Internet. And then his candidacy began to disintegrate.
To be sure, Bushs disgraceful South Carolina campaign had a great deal to do with McCains decline. There was also the stark political reality that McCain just wasnt very popular among members of his own party; all his successes came in states where Democrats and Independents could cross over and vote for him.
Writing in 2006, Klein had little good to say for Bush, who was now a pariah (and a lame duck). During Campaign 2000, Bush had seemed like a cardboard candidate, ghostly pale in the face of [McCains] florid humanity, Klein recalled. And Bush had run a disgraceful South Carolina campaign, hastening McCains decline. Thats what Klein was saying in 2006, when he almost seemed to be front-running for Saint McCain.
But as we showed you two days ago, that isnt what Klein was saying in the spring of 2000, when he front-ran for Candidate Bush and spent the rest of his time trashing Candidate Gore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/20/08). Again, this was Klein in May 2000, just ten weeks after that disgraceful South Carolina campaign. Ten weeks after Bush had disgraced himself, Klein was praising the decent, kind, sweet manand was savaging vile, nasty Gore:
KLEIN (5/6/00): Let me tell you a story about George W. Bush. In the midst of the South Carolina primary, which was one of the most scurrilous campaigns I have ever covered, I go to see George W. Bush at a town meeting in Hilton Head, South Carolina. And a guy gets up and says to him, What about all these unwantedand I hope I can say this wordbastards who are being brought into the world by these welfare mothers and all they do is commit crimes and do dope and rob us? And the guy rants like that. And I've seen Republicans and more than a few Democrats answer this question a certain way for a long, long time. But Bush looked him straight in the eye and he saidand he was really angryand he said, Sir, the first thing we must remember is that we have to love all the children. And then he began to talk about some of the programs that he favorsfaith-based social programsthat'll give these kind of kids the love and support that they need. And this happened in the midst of the most unlikely campaign where his people were doing these terrible things to John McCain. And so these moments happen all the time.
Thethe concern I have about the Gore campaign is that he has learned one lesson and he's kind of becoming a one-trick pony.
RUSSERT: Attack. Attack. Attack.
KLEIN: Attack. Attack.
RUSSERT: Governor Bush put forward a Social Security plan calling for a partial privatizing, and he attacks, saying that is risky...Why, whywhy does Gore just auto-, almost knee-jerk, attack, attack, attack?
KLEIN: Well, because it'sit's, you know, scaring people about Social Security and Medicare has worked for the Democrats since time immemorial.
Ten weeks after that disgraceful South Carolina campaign, Klein warmly praised George Bushs characterand joined Russert in trashing Vile Gore. The thing that Gore has to worry about is thisBush is legitimately a decent, kind, sweet guy, Klein told Russert. The scurrilous campaign was only mentioned in passingand it was attributed to Bushs people, not to Bush himself. Bush himself was a sweet, decent guyand Klein was front-running again.
Its sad to go to Swampland this week and see young progressives praising Klein. For regular people, its hard to grasp the sheer dishonesty of major, front-running pundits like Klein. In 2000, Klein front-ran for Candidate Bush. Six years later, he had flipped; he was front-running for Saint McCain.
Today, Klein front-runs for Obama. But your country will never have a sensible discourse as long as its scripted by creeps like Joe Klein. Dont worryanother flip will come. If the future is like the past, career liberals will scramble in line.
Tomorrow: Chris runs for office (click here).
Watching Saint McCain duck: Comical! In 2006, Klein said McCain never ducked a question during Campaign 2000. He specifically cited that mavericky response regarding health-care reform. The problem is the Democrats are in the pocket of the trial lawyers and we Republicans are in the pocket of the insurance companies, Klein remembered hearing McCain say. To Klein, this answer captured the greatness of this straight-talking man.
To others, that very soundbite was a sample of McCains refusal to deal with real issues. In January 2000, Stephen Pomper evaluated the various candidates on a range of issues in the Washington Monthly. He gave McCain a grade of D-plus on health care reformand he specifically cited that scripted reply as he explained McCains shortcomings. Here is Pompers full report on McCain and health care reform. Too funny! Pomper said McCain was ducking this issueand he cited that very reply as part of the way he ducked:
POMPER (1/1/00): McCain supported Senator John Chafee's reform proposal in 1991 but disappeared during the great national debates and has only recently started to talk about health care again. He has offered a campaign proposal that would give limited grants to low-income elderly people to help them pay for prescription drug and he has even talked about expanding CHIP. But even today, he has not made the issue a strong priority and he has trouble staying on topic.
Here is McCain's response to health-care questions raised a few minutes after Orrin Hatch had been discussing the Internet (a subject McCain really likes) during the first Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire:
Moderator: "Senator McCain, several major HMOs are failing financially. The system isn't working. What do you propose to fix it?"
Senator McCain: "We need a Patient's Bill of Rights, and the reason why we haven't gotten it through the Congress is because on the Democrat side the trial lawyers have them in their control and they'll want to sue anybody for anything under any circumstance. On the Republican side, we're in the grip of the huge money from the insurance companies and the HMOsthe typical gridlock which has caused Americans to have such a low opinion of what goes on in Washington."
Not bad. But then he veers off-topic.
"The Internet should not be taxed. The Internet should not be taxed. The Internet is the greatest thing that's happened to the worldsomewhere between the invention of the printing press and the industrial revolution..."
After another 100 words endorsing the Internet, the bell sounded and the moderator tried again:
Moderator: "Let me return to the issue of health care and HMOs. Given how expensive health care is, HMOs are now waking up to the fact that they can't deliver the promises they made to consumers and still be profitable. If, ultimately, HMOs disappear, what then fills the void?"
McCain: "Obviously, the HMOs need to be made whole. We need to spend more money to make sure that they do. We have added more money for Medicare and Medicaid payments in the last emergency supplements that we passed. All of those things have to be done, but I believe we have to take care of patients first. And if the patients are not well treated in HMOs, then obviously then the HMOs are not going to be sought out by them. Again, on the Internet, we need to installwe are installing in every school..."
The Internet is important. But so is health care.
For the record, heres the rest of McCains second non-answer answer, which ran another 41 words: Again, on the Internet, we need to installwe are installing in every school and library in America filtering software that would filter out according to community standards the objectionable material. That's the way we resolve this issue of such a flood of pornography. And we are wiring those schools and libraries at taxpayers' expense. In such ways, McCain routinely ducked when asked about health care reform!
As Pomper watched McCain, he saw him veer off-topic two times after making his mavericky statement. As Pomper noted, that mavericky statement was part of McCains way of ducking this issue. But so what? Six years later, Klein was citing that very sound-biteas he happily told the world that McCain never ducked a question. But so it goes as front-running scribes invent their front-running novels.
Klein front-runs for Obamatoday. For whom will be front-run tomorrow?