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Daily Howler: Pundits have showcased their D-plus culture in the weeks since Obama's win
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D-PLUS ELITE! Pundits have showcased their D-plus culture in the weeks since Obama’s win: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2008

The sound of one tooth gnashing: All week, we’ll explain the woeful, “D-plus culture” which defines large swaths of the upper-end press corps (see below). But how silly do their analyses get? As always, we find ourselves drawn to the work of Times tyro Maureen Dowd.

On Sunday, Dowd was frettin’ and fumin’ at the thought that Hillary Clinton might become Secretary of State. At THE HOWLER, we were most struck by this D-plus exposition:

DOWD (11/16/08): How, one may ask, can [Obama] put Hillary—who voted to authorize the Iraq war without even reading the intelligence assessment—in charge of patching up a foreign policy and a world riven by that war?

You can hear the gnashing of teeth from John Kerry—who thought the job was promised to him in return for his endorsement after New Hampshire—and Bill “Judas” Richardson, who met Friday with Obama in Chicago to discuss the job.

And Joe Biden would probably like a little less blond ambition at State so he could be the shadow secretary. But as James Carville has said, a campaign is the time to stab your enemies and a transition is the time to stab your friends.

That kind of “analysis” almost defines the work of our upper-end “press corps.”

What’s wrong with Dowd’s presentation?

First, Dowd seems flummoxed by the idea that Clinton, “who voted to authorize the Iraq war,” might end up running foreign policy in “a world riven by that war.” She imagines Kerry “gnashing his teeth,” and empathizes with Biden and Richardson—who have, of course, expressed no views like the ones she places inside their heads. But duh! Kerry and Biden also voted to authorize the war—and Richardson was pretty much cheer-leading for the war in early 2003. (He was then a newly-elected governor.) Is there anywhere else on the face of the earth where “analysis” of this type gets e-mailed all about and treated as top-notch reflection?

But wait a minute, you may say. Dowd is upset with this possible choice because Clinton voted to authorize the war without even reading the intelligence assessment! But very few senators meet that test—a test which may or may not be significant. When Dana Priest first reported this matter in the Washington Post, she said that only six senators read the full NIE:

PRIEST (4/27/04): In the fall of 2002, as Congress debated waging war in Iraq, copies of a 92-page assessment of Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction sat in two vaults on Capitol Hill, each protected by armed security guards and available to any member who showed up in person, without staff.

But only a few ever did. No more than six senators and a handful of House members read beyond the five-page National Intelligence Estimate executive summary, according to several congressional aides responsible for safeguarding the classified material.

During the 2008 primaries, it became fairly clear that Clinton wasn’t one of the six; she had been fully briefed on the intelligence by the people who created the NIE, she and her campaign staff said. Were Kerry and Biden in the Readership 6? We don’t think we’ve ever seen this matter resolved. Does anything think that Dowd knows?

Who comprised the Readership 6? In an interview in late 2005, Senator Rockefeller seemed to name himself and Pat Roberts as two of the six; Senator Bob Graham seems to make three. Did Biden or Kerry present at the vault? We don’t have the slightest idea. No one who watches the way the press works will likely assume that Dowd knows. (For the record, very few pundits other than Dowd have spent any time on this matter.)

At any rate, Clinton, Biden and Kerry all voted for the war resolution. Richardson seemed to support the war fairly strongly. Should Kerry and Richardson be gnashing their teeth? Should Biden be troubled “by blond ambition”—one of Dowd’s favorite gender-plays? This passage by Dowd is pure, flat-out gong-show. We’ll examine the culture supporting such work all through the course of the week.

Bernard just can’t stop predicting: You should always read your Boehlert and Foser—but here’s Boehlert’s blog post about Dowd’s latest column. Meanwhile, Media Matters presented this report about some Clinton-trashing reactions on last Friday’s Hardball. Michelle Bernard and Jennifer Donahue offered these assessments as part of a longer, gong-show discussion with a hopeless, Clinton/Gore-hatin’ host:

BERNARD (11/14/08): No, they're not going to keep her in line if she's secretary of state. If she's secretary of state—

DONAHUE: Well, that's why she's not gonna get it.

BERNARD: —she will run a parallel government. It will be a huge problem.

DONAHUE: I don't believe she'll get it.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: If he hires her, he cannot fire her.

DONAHUE: She's not gonna get it.

BERNARD: Well, he could fire her, but it would look horrible. He can't do it.

DONAHUE: He can't do it.

As usual, the Pundits of Eastwick were all in agreement! Will Clinton be offered the job? We don’t have any idea, though harpies like this define a real problem. But Bernard’s assessment was really quite striking. If Hillary Clinton becomes Secretary of State, “she will run a parallel government,” the pundit remarkably said.

Bernard has shaken out as a perfectly reasonable presence on Hardball—except where vile Clinton’s involved. For the record, the lady’s track record is comically poor when it comes to Clinton-prediction. Here’s what Bernard predicted on Hardball on Friday, June 6—the night before Clinton gave the DC speech which formally ended her White House campaign. By this time, it was fairly clear what Clinton was going to do—except to the tortured Bernard:

BERNARD (6/6/08): Look, Chris, I think that what Hillary—what Hillary Clinton needs to and what she does tomorrow could end up being two very, very different things. We have been saying all along, when Hillary Clinton lost primary after primary and caucus after caucus, we’ve looked for her to be gracious. We haven’t seen it yet.

Tuesday, I was absolutely astonished. I thought that we were going to be watching Hillary Clinton give a concession speech. She didn’t do it, and, quite frankly, I don’t believe she’s going to do it until the fat lady sings. I’m talking about the convention in August. I think we will see something very similar to what we saw when she gave an interview and she said, I don’t have reason to believe that Barack Obama is Muslim, something to that effect. I don’t think she’s going to give a sort of concession speech. I just don’t see it happening.

I think she’s going to suspend her campaign and she’s going to wait and hope and see what happens at the convention in August. Maybe behind the scenes—

MATTHEWS: You believe she will withhold an outright endorsement?

BERNARD: I do. I do. I do.

The next day, of course, Clinton ended her campaign and gave Obama a fulsome outright endorsement. By June 6, it had become fairly obvious that this was what Clinton was going to do. But on Hardball, the pundits crouched in their bunkers, like Japanese dead-enders after the war. Bernard, saying “I do, I do,” married the Clinton-Gore Derangement which has ruled Hardball and its host for ten years.

Bernard has shaken out as a perfectly reasonable presence on Hardball—except where Clinton Derangement is involved. In June, she felt sure that Clinton wouldn’t endorse. And last Friday, she did a remarkably nasty sooth-saying—offering a prediction which was even less gracious than the one she had offered in June.

As Boehlert keeps noting, these people simply can’t quit this affair. There are few signs that they ever will.

Never admit, never explain: On Monday, June 9, Bernard returned to Hardball. There was no discussion of her bungled prediction. Instead, we got this gong-show work about why Clinton had lost to Obama:

BERNARD (6/9/08): Here’s the interesting point; in voting for the Iraq war policy, Mrs. Clinton almost ran like a Republican and she really ran like a man. In the end, it could be said that`s what did damage to this historic campaign by a woman.

MATTHEWS: She ran almost like a man?

BERNARD: She ran as a man. Most people would expect a male candidate to the person who was going to vote pro-Iraq war policy, and for a female candidate to vote against it. It was absolutely the reverse here and that’s what hurt her in this campaign.

MARGARET CARLSON: Any woman thinks she has to prove that she’s as tough as a man and she did that early and it turned out to be to her detriment.

MATTHEWS: I’m not touching this! Phil, you want to get in here? You can have a piece of this.

PHIL BRONSTEIN: I’m not touching it.

But so it has gone on this childish program over the past many years. Fort the record, this program’s host killed himself for two years to get George Bush into the White House.

Special report: D-plus elite!

PART 1—THE DEAN GETS IT RIGHT: We rarely compliment David Broder for his analytical skills, but The Dean made a good point this Sunday. It’s easy to over-interpret a healthy election win, Broder said.

There’s no doubt that things look semi-rosy, on a political basis, for Democrats at this juncture. Barack Obama won the White House by a healthy, 6.7 point margin. Beyond that, the Democratic candidate has won the popular vote in four of the past five presidential campaigns, extending over a sixteen-year span. The only time a Republican won the popular vote, he had to gin up a war to do it. Four years earlier, the same candidate only came close in the popular vote because the mainstream press had conducted a two-year war against his Democratic opponent. Our side has been too meek and too compromised to explain this fact to the public.

So Obama scored a healthy win. But 6.7 points isn’t a landslide—and healthy victories, even landslides, don’t necessarily signal long-term trends. (If you don’t believe us, let Nate Silver tell you. Ignore his youthful anti-Clintonism.) Broder doesn’t do this sort of thing often. But we thought the following words of warning were well worth review:

BRODER (11/16/08): I know the dangers of deciding too soon that any one election is a turning point. I recall vividly how devastated Republicans were after Lyndon Johnson's landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964. But four years later, Richard Nixon was on his way to the White House.

The Democrats were equally disconsolate after losing to George H. W. Bush in 1988, their third straight presidential defeat. But what Michael Dukakis could not do that year, Bill Clinton accomplished in 1992.

So quick turnarounds are not only possible but commonplace when so many voters hold their party allegiances lightly and so many more profess no party labels at all.

The Dean was right in what he recalled—and he skipped the unkindest cut of all! Dems imagined a thousand-year reign after Nixon got booted from office—with Agnew thrown out as a crook before him. But a few years later, Carter barely squeaked into the White House—and Reagan buried him four years after that. Some Democrats—and some pundits—seem to think that Campaign 08 is a turning-point. We think liberals and Dems should perhaps be a bit more sober in their long-term projections.

But that’s if you want to be sound in your thinking. Most of the Washington pundit corps bows to a different set of longings. They’re the nation’s only “D-plus elite”—the dumbest of our professional cohorts. In our view, they’ve been eager to showcase their D-plus culture in the two weeks since Obama’s healthy win.

The foolishness has various faces. Some big pundits have marched to war, insisting we’re still a “center-right nation.” Other pundits have happily clowned as they picture the GOP’s demise. In our view, this overpaid cohort’s D-plus culture has been visible on various sides. They specialize in silly tales, driven by overblown “evidence.” Analysis isn’t their thing.

Which of our pundits have taken the lead in showing off this D-plus culture? Over the weekend, we thought Charles Blow and Frank Rich displayed this sad culture at Gotham’s Times. Meanwhile, at the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza and Tod Lindberg offered conflicting analyses—but at best, we’d give each a C-plus [sic] for his effort. As many observers noticed, Jon Meacham was pretty silly in Newsweek a few week ago, in his “we’re still a center-right nation” piece. But Jonathan Alter, presenting the other side, got a D-plus from us as well.

This is a deeply unimpressive elite. Their culture seems to be built around riding to hounds, lovely food and the dance. As we ponder Obama’s win, we’ll consider their D-plus work all week. As always, we’re especially sad when the emerging progressive/liberal world seems determined to ape their dumb culture.

Like Broder, Frank Rich made an accurate statement yesterday. “[A]t a time of genuine national peril,” the Gotham great opined, “we actually do need an opposition party that is not brain-dead.” We agree; it would be a very good thing for the country if neither party modeled brain-death. But our analysts chuckled as Rich rolled his eyes at the GOP’s cosmic dumbness. If we want to get rid of brain-dead orgs, couldn’t the press corps go first?

Tomorrow—Part 2: Richly overBlown work defines a floundering culture.

52-48 nation: As noted, Dems have won the popular vote in four of the last five White House elections, dating back to Clinton’s 5.3-point win in 1992. How do the votes add up over that period? By our calculation, Democratic White House candidates won just over 269 million votes in those five elections; Republican candidates won just over 249 million. Using more precise vote totals, the Democratic candidates won 51.93 percent of the two-party vote; the Republicans won 48.07. (The “two-party vote” excludes votes for third-party candidates.) Yes, those numbers are reasonably close. But over the course of that past sixteen years, you’ve been living in a 52-48 nation.

Dems won by healthy margins three of five times. Clinton won by 5.3 and 8.5 points, Obama by 6.7.

And by the way: No, there is no sign that Ross Perot took big chunks of votes from Bush and Dole. According to the exit polls—the only real data we have—Perot drew equally from Clinton and Bush in 1992; in 1996, the exits polls suggest he drew a bit more from Clinton than Dole. Why do you still hear people say that Perot won the White House for Clinton? Simple! The RNC invented the claim, and mainstream pundits began to recite it. Today, liberal masses recite the claim, unaware of whose cant they’re promoting.

But then, no one recites RNC/MSM points quite the way we liberals do. Did you know that Gore had every advantage during Campaign 2000—and unaccountably blew the election?