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Daily Howler: Weird! We read Obama’s book--and discovered Clinton's plan
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ONE STEP PAST KRUGMAN! Weird! We read Obama’s book—and discovered Clinton’s plan: // link // print // previous // next //

A CHANCE TO SEE WHO THEY ARE: We oppose The Cult of the Offhand Comment, but it was stunning to see what Mike Allen said when a South Carolina voter, addressing John McCain, referred to Hillary Clinton as a “bitch.” Allen is a major press corps insider; in recent years, he moved from the Washington Post to Time, then on to the Politico. But what came into Allen’s head when he saw the tape of that incident? He spoke with CNN’s Kiran Chetry, who asked if McCain might be damaged:
CHETRY (11/14/07): All right Mike, does that hurt McCain?

ALLEN: Oh, give me a break. Of course not. First of all, I think it's kind of funny. You watch that tape, it's clear to him who she was referring to. He could have said, “Whoever were you talking about?” Which might have been the deftest way to handle it.

CHETRY: But he said, “That's an excellent question.”

ALLEN: All right. But what Republican voter hasn't thought that? What voter in general hasn't thought that? And what people like about McCain is his straight talk, his candor, and if he had folded or buckled under that question, that would have looked ridiculous...But Kiran, this was just a funny moment on the campaign trail.

CHETRY: Well, it's only funny unless you're offended by somebody calling a woman the b-word.
Good for Chetry, who always seemed like a fish out of water at Fox. (For fuller transcript and tape, just click here.) But what a remarkable statement by Allen! Referring to Clinton, a woman had said, “How do we beat the bitch?” And Allen’s reaction was a true classic. Who hasn’t thought that? he asked.

Absolutely astounding. On television, not just among friends.

Then, of course, there was Chris Matthews, on his three-dozenth Diet Coke of the day and creaming with rage against Clinton again. He played tape of the incident on Wednesday night’s Hardball. Here’s how he framed the remark:
MATTHEWS: Up next: John McCain gets a dose of straight talk on the campaign trail. Catch this line.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (videotape): How do we beat the bitch?

MATTHEWS: That’s right! You heard it! Stick around for McCain’s answer and the rest of what’s new out there in politics.
To Matthews, it was just “a dose of straight talk” when Clinton got hit with the b-bomb.

By the way: MSNBC got itself busy doctoring this particular tape. Matthews reveled in the full tape, in which McCain replies to this woman at some length before saying he respects Clinton. But on Tucker, and on the next day’s Morning Joe, the tape had been edited down, making it look like McCain voiced his respect for Clinton very quickly (Tucker) or instantly (Morning Joe). On Tucker, Josie Hearns watched the doctored tape, then made a point of saying how quickly the saintly McCain had moved to voice his respect.

We’re opposed to The Cult of the Offhand Comment; we wouldn’t trash McCain for this incident. (We would note the way he now panders to GOP voters; on the tape, he tells them that he respects “anyone who gets the nomination of the Democrat [sic] Party.”) But we thought Allen and Matthews were quite instructive in their respective reactions.

MORE MATTHEWS: By the way, Reader PB has directed us to an old, home town newspaper profile of Matthews; in it, Matthews made his views about Clinton abundantly clear. The profile was written by Peter Nicholas, in the Philadelphia Inquirer magazine. (We can’t find a link. We reviewed it on Nexis.) Along the way, Matthews offered a dose of straight talk about a certain vile senator:
NICHOLAS (6/3/01): In 1994, [Roger] Ailes hired Matthews for a show on NBC's "America's Talking" network. Ailes later moved him to CNBC, where Hardball was born.

"He had a natural sense of moral outrage," said Ailes, now chairman of Fox News.

The outrage is no put-on. Aboard a recent shuttle flight to Washington, Matthews spotted New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. Earlier in the day, he'd been complaining privately that, as first lady, she'd rejected a health-care plan that would allow nurses to give care to public school students because it was "too narrow-bore."

"In other words, 'I'm not going to get enough credit for this,' " Matthews told a colleague in the cafeteria of MSNBC headquarters in North Jersey. "Madonna won't get flowers brought to her. I hate her. I hate her. All that she stands for."
Later that year, he said this to Don Imus, speaking of Gore: "He doesn’t look like one of us. He doesn’t seem very American, even.” In short, Matthews has always been a nasty nut-case—and his lunacy bears a strong partisan animus. Do you see why it’s so astounding? That our “liberal” journals have never written a profile which even begins to describe and critique who and what this strange man really is?

AN IMPORTANT REMINDER: Matthews hates Clinton; he thinks Gore “doesn’t seem very American, even.” But don’t forget his general view of Dems, expressed with Jimmy Carter present:
MATTHEWS (1/21/07): You know, I thought one of the smart things President Carter did as a candidate...was, every time President Carter won a primary, instead of standing on a platform with a bunch of sweaty, yelling people—you know, the scene with the Democratic Party usually, a bunch of crazy people yelling—and you had to have the full potpourri of Democrats present on that stage or someone would be ticked at you—you would meet in a hotel room and it was amazing. You’d sit down one-on-one, it was a unilateral, with some anchor or reporter, a serious reporter. And every time you saw a primary, you’d stay up till 11:30 to see who won, and you’d see the president, the candidate, sitting there very calmly talking about the future of the country.
Our question: When will the wet-legged losers at your “liberal” journals work their courage to the point where they start discussing the truth about this disturbed, harmful man?

ONE STEP PAST KRUGMAN: Oh. Our. God! Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times is a wonderful mainstream press milestone. We’ll try to go one more step past it.

First, let’s review the part of the piece which is pleasing beyond all compare. Mainly, Krugman wacks Obama, for his odd presentations on Social Security. But along the way, Krugman shatters a harmful press corps taboo. Oh. Our. God! Breaking every known precept of Hard Pundit Law, Krugman describes the familiar buffoonery of the plutocrats Russert and Matthews:
KRUGMAN (11/16/07): Inside the Beltway, doomsaying about Social Security—declaring that the program as we know it can’t survive the onslaught of retiring baby boomers—is regarded as a sort of badge of seriousness, a way of showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are.

Consider, for example, this exchange about Social Security between Chris Matthews of MSNBC and Tim Russert of NBC, on a recent edition of Mr. Matthews’s program “Hardball.”

Russert: “Everyone knows Social Security, as it’s constructed, is not going to be in the same place it’s going to be for the next generation, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives.”

Matthews: “It’s a bad Ponzi scheme, at this point.”

Russert: “Yes.”

But the “everyone” who knows that Social Security is doomed doesn’t include anyone who actually understands the numbers. In fact, the whole Beltway obsession with the fiscal burden of an aging population is misguided.
Oh. Our. God. In that passage, Krugman breaks a destructive taboo; he actually says, right there in print, that Russert doesn’t “actually understand the numbers” concerning Social Security—the topic on which Russert has blathered, pontificated, postured and bull-roared for all these many years. And a bit later on, he also disposes of Matthews! “[N]onsense like the claim that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme seems to be back in vogue,” Krugman writes. Thus, in just this one short column, a major pundit finally calls Russert a Big Freaking Dope—and attributes “nonsense” to Matthews.

Before moving on, let’s state the obvious: This day has been long in coming. Yes, Krugman’s take-down is only a start; there are mountains yet to be written about the work of this plutocrat pair, who were sicced on the nation by Jack Welch, long ago. But finally, someone dares to come out in print and call these men for what they are. Who knows? Now that Krugman has broken the spell, maybe the weak-hearted boys at our “liberal” journals will call home, get mommy and daddy’s permission, and begin to speak a bit more frankly about these multimillionaire charlatans. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even get permission to talk about Russert’s partisan animus. Maybe Joan Walsh will stop telling the world that she loves the way Matthews plays Hardball.

But Krugman mainly discusses Obama—more specifically, his recent stance concerning Social Security. By now, every well-informed Democrat knows there is no “crisis” afflicting this program—that the claims of a crisis which Russert pimps came to us from right-wing spin-tanks, where they were conjured decades ago. The question: In recent weeks, why has Obama been going out and reciting this tired old right-wing cant? On this question, Krugman is a bit more generous than we may be. But then, we just read Obama’s book.

Why has Obama peddled this cant? Krugman calls his recent statements “mistakes”—mistakes made by a “sucker.” This preserves the possibility that Obama has been engaged in good-faith, bone-headed error. On the other hand, Krugman suggests that Obama had a motive for adopting this know-nothing stance:
KRUGMAN: I don’t believe Mr. Obama is a closet privatizer. He is, however, someone who keeps insisting that he can transcend the partisanship of our times—and in this case, that turned him into a sucker.

Mr. Obama wanted a way to distinguish himself from Hillary Clinton—and for Mr. Obama, who has said that the reason “we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions” is that “politics has become so bitter and partisan,” joining in the attack on Senator Clinton’s Social Security position must have seemed like a golden opportunity to sound forceful yet bipartisan.
Obama “wanted a way to distinguish himself from Clinton,” Krugman speculates. According to Krugman’s speculation, this led to his recent pronouncements.

We’re inclined to agree with part of this—but we’ll be a bit less generous about Obama’s conduct. Reasons? First, we just reread his book. Second, we remember Bill Bradley.

What does Obama actually think about the Social Security “crisis?” It’s perfectly clear that, just last year, he didn’t believe there was one. Last year, he published The Audacity of Hope, a superbly written compilation of his political views. But uh-oh! Here’s what he wrote in that book, just last year, concerning Social Security:
OBAMA (page 182): Just as government policies can boost workers; wages without hurting the competitiveness of U.S. firms, so can we strengthen their ability to retire with dignity. We should start with a commitment to preserve Social Security’s essential character and shore up its solvency. The problems with the Social Security trust fund are real but manageable. In 1983, when facing a similar problem, Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill got together and shaped a bipartisan plan that established the system for the next sixty years. There’s no reason we can’t do the same today.
That passage is slightly shaky on the facts; Social Security was in much worse shape in 1983 than it is today. But in that passage, Obama seems to propose the very thing Clinton is proposing today; he says we should craft a “bipartisan plan” to address this “manageable problem.” On the next page, he continues to sketch his view of the situation:
OBAMA (page 183): As vital as it may be to raise the wages of American workers and improve their retirement security, perhaps our most pressing task is to fix our broken health-care system. Unlike Social Security, the two main government-funded health-care programs—Medicare and Medicaid—really are broken; without any changes by 2050, these two entitlements, along with Social Security, could grow to consume as large a share of our national economy as the entire federal budget does today.
Unlike Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid really are broken, he says. This is exactly what Clinton says now—and Obama attacks her for it. Just last year, this outlook displayed the audacity of hope. Today, it’s a sign of bad character.

We’re sorry, but we’ve seen this movie before; it played in 1999 and 2000, and it did massive harm to this country. At that time, Bill Bradley had launched a self-consciously high-minded run for the White House, just as Obama has done this year; Bradley faced a strongly-entrenched front-runner, just as Obama does. But uh-oh! When Bradley failed to gain sufficient traction against his opponent, he and his campaign began launching bogus attacks on this fellow’s character—and he used reams of old RNC spin in launching these punishing sorties. Indeed, by the late fall of 1999, Bradley’s campaign was using every old RNC attack-line that could be found in that org’s butcher shop. (The “mainstream” press corps loved these scripts, and was quite happy to pimp them.) With Bradley, this process even descended to the point where he claimed that his opponent, Al Gore, was responsible for the 1988 Willie Horton race-sliming—an ugly, ludicrous, inexcusable charge which the RNC had brainlessly pimped since July 1992. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/01/02, for a fairly detailed account of this matter. You’ll see George Will making this ludicrous charge against Gore during the 1992 Dem convention.)

What makes this eight-year-old episode so much like the current one? Just this: In his own 1997 best-seller, Time Present, Time Past, Bradley had explicitly said, in substantial detail, that Gore did not racialize the Willie Horton matter. Needless to say, everyone with half a brain already knew this. But you know how these high-minded White House campaigns can be! Having told the truth in 1997, Bradley began to “misstate” in 1999—and the mainstream press, which was now jeering Gore during debates, was perfectly happy to let him. (Except Mort Kondracke. See link above.)

It’s hard to watch high-minded Obama now without thinking of high-minded Bradley back then. In Obama’s book, published last year, he proposes Clinton’s current plan! But today, when she takes this stance, he attacks her character. It’s the same stance he promoted last year. (And on This Week, just this May.)

This is how Bradley helped Bush reach the White House. His claims that Gore was a hit-man and a liar were recited by the press corps all through the 2000 general election. Now Obama is calling a front-runner names—contradicting what he said in his best-seller. Unless you want a Republican successor to Bush, it’s very bad news to see this bad movie back in the theaters again.

Note on history: Yes. Sometimes, strategists do recommend such conduct. And ambitious candidates do sometimes accede. We’re sorry to have to speak frankly today. But this is your recent, sad history.

Special report: Profiles discouraged!

SEQUEL—ROSETTA STONE: We’ve continued to marvel at Joan Walsh’s assessment. Just to help you focus your thinking, here you see the Rosetta Stone of modern, dysfunctional “liberal” journalism:
WALSH (1/24/07): I happen to love Matthews on "Hardball." He is what he is, an old-school political junkie, an insider's insider who was wrong about impeachment but right about the Iraq war, who likes his men tough and his ladies pretty, and doesn't bother to hide it. He can get silly with women guests, but never sillier than when he's fawning over manly men. (I'll never forget the way, after savaging Vice President Al Gore through the whole 2000 campaign, he lost it over Gore's sad, dignified concession speech when Antonin Scalia made George W. Bush president, gushing over Gore's “sublime masculinity.”)
That’s astounding. Walsh knows that Matthews “savaged” Gore, through his two-year campaign. She knows what happened as a result. And yet, she still loves Matthews on Hardball! (Where he likes his ladies pretty.) In that passage, you confront a large modern puzzle. Why is modern “liberal” journalism so passive in the face of the “mainstream” press corps’ inexcusable Democrat-trashing? There you see the Rosetta Stone of this crucial inquiry. If you can figure that paragraph out (we’d know what to guess), you’ll finally have your answer.

For all four parts of our previous series, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/15/07. For the record, I Married Joan was a 50s sitcom (click here). We remember Joan Davis as being quite funny. But then again, we were seven years old.