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Daily Howler: Nothing has changed, Kevin Drum says. But then, he's a true Flat Earth Liberal
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FLAT EARTH LIBERAL! Nothing has changed, Kevin Drum says. But then, he’s a true Flat Earth Liberal: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2007

HERBERT STRIKES AGAIN: A new Zogby poll has now emerged—with Clinton trailing every major Republican! Of course, this poll could be an outlier; it could just be wrong. But as this poll was discussed on today’s Morning Joe, everyone knew to avoid the obvious. This new poll suggests an obvious possibility: When Tim Russert and Brian Williams staged last month’s attack on Clinton, it may be that they hit their target.

(Update: For Greg Sargent's take on the Zogby poll, you know what to do: Just click here.)

This was endlessly done to Gore—and to Gore’s polling numbers. Now, Clinton-Gore haters have a new prey—and they may be getting results.

No, no front-runner has ever been treated the way Candidate Clinton was treated that night. But career liberals have kept their mouths shut about that very basic fact. Most likely, they’ll also accept the loathsome but familiar way Bob Herbert behaves this morning.

When last we looked in on this hopeless fellow, he was trashing Candidate Gore for his bad character after the first Bush-Gore debate. Gore had sighed too much, Herbert angrily said—and Herbert even vouched for Bush’s good faith in his endless misstatements. (Astounding. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/5/07.) This morning, the hopeless Herbert is at it again, beating up the present Dems and showcasing his endless failure to understand American politics.

Today’s Dems are “weak tea,” he asserts—and he starts with Candidate Clinton. Question: Who actually “reasons” this way—except for modern journalists?

HERBERT (11/27/07): This election, the most important in decades, cries out for strong leadership. The electorate is upset, anxious and hungry for change. But ''weak tea'' is as good a term as any to describe what the Democrats are offering.

Hillary Clinton is the cautious, rigidly programmed candidate who, in the view of most voters, will say whatever the moment demands. Spontaneous she ain't. You can just picture her cross-examining advisers and prowling through polling data to determine whether she's for or against driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

In a word, that’s just astounding. Clinton is “rigidly programmed,” Herbert says, not “spontaneous”—just as was endlessly said about Gore. And then, the gentleman moves to pure fantasy. In reality, there is no poll that justifies the vastly embellished claim that, “in the view of most voters,” Clinton “will say whatever the moment demands.” (This too was constantly said about Gore.) And then, the crowning blow to your intelligence—the familiar resort to what Herbert “can just picture.” Herbert can “just picture” Clinton “prowling through polling data,” he says—and so he hands this picture to us! Other hopefuls don’t review polling, of course. At least, not in Herbert’s home movies.

There are no words for the stupidity of that construction—or for the harm it does to Dems. (This claim about polls was endlessly made against Gore. It’s a modern RNC classic.) But Herbert then starts in on Obama—and he recites golden oldies here too:

HERBERT (continuing directly): Barack Obama has the incandescent smile, and the personality to go with it. Oprah loves him, and a lot of campuses are wild for him. But you still wonder if there's any there there.

His is the make-nice candidacy, no sharp edges. But it's one thing to offer yourself as the agent of change, and quite another to answer the obvious question, ''Change to what?''

This portrait is less punishing than the portrait of Clinton—but it’s equally scripted and phantasmagoric. As everyone except Bob Herbert knows, Obama has now been trashing Clinton for weeks—and his campaign was doing so for months before that. But so what? To Herbert, Obama is running a “make-nice candidacy;” he’s a guy with “no sharp edges.” (For the record, this is precisely the portrait being drawn of Bill Bradley eight years ago. Bradley was calling Gore every name in the book—and his campaign was inventing new names for the book. But the press corps kept saying that Bradley was too high-minded to fight—even as they repeated the endless slanders against Gore which he and his campaign were spreading.)
At any rate, after dismissing Edwards too, Herbert goes on to sketch out the problem. If the Dem nominee doesn’t shake the world, the Republicans are going to win! Here’s the ridiculous standard Herbert sets—for the Dem nominee, no one else:

HERBERT: Bush-bashing is not enough. Unless one of the Democratic candidates finds the courage to step up and offer a vision of an American future so compelling that voters head to the polls with a sense of excitement and great expectation, the Republican Party could once again capture the White House (despite its awful performance over the past eight years) with its patented mixture of snake oil and demagoguery.

HERBERT: The need to offer an honest vision that is almost electric in its intensity is especially important for Senators Clinton and Obama. Both have to rally enough voters to overcome deep wells of prejudice in this society. That can't be done by referencing a resume, or in a nine-second response to a question from Wolf Blitzer.

Gee, that’s not setting the bar too high! According to Herbert, the Dem nominee must “offer a vision of an American future so compelling that voters head to the polls with a sense of excitement.” He or she must “offer an honest vision that is almost electric in its intensity.” But in the real world, politicians are almost never able to offer such compelling, electric visions. In these constructions, Herbert gives us the word—the Dem nominee’s gonna lose.

And indeed, he may be right—and he may be showing us why he is right. Late in Campaign 2000, this deeply stupid “Hardball liberal” was still trashing Candidate Gore—and vouching for Candidate Bush’s good faith. Now, he has started the same line of abusive attack against the current Dem leaders. He “can picture” Clinton prowling through polls; meanwhile, he can’t picture Obama playing it tough, although he’s been doing so for the past month. With “liberals” like Herbert, who needs conservatives? This stupid man trashed Gore to the end—and he’s starting in on this year’s losers.

Herbert “can picture” Clinton going through polls? We ask a question we’ve asked before: What have Americans ever done to have this hopeless gang visited on us? Why do the gods continue to punish us with the likes of the hapless Bob Herbert?

Note on cluelessness: How utterly clueless is Herbert? How badly does he misunderstand our politics? “The American public, tired of war and economically insecure, longs for a leader who will tell the truth and offer a way out of the current morass,” he assures us. We have no idea why Herbert would think that—but last Friday, this same improbable, gauzy vision informed a fantasy-driven (and Clinton-bashing) Times editorial on immigration. Liberal pundits who believe such nonsense will trash Big Dems for being careful in what they say about such emotional issues like immigration. They’ll trash current Dems, just as they trashed Gore.

By the way: Recalling the way Herbert trashed Candidate Gore to the end, how do you like the way that one worked out? What’s your view about Bob Herbert’s judgment?

Special report: Flat earth liberal!

PART 1—NOTHING HAS CHANGED: We have no idea who’s worst—Mark Halperin, Kevin Drum or Richard Ben Cramer. But if you want to see the latest post that refuses to deal with simple reality, you see it here, as Kevin ponders the way the press corps covers presidential elections.

When you read that remarkable post by Drum, you’re reading a true Flat Earth Liberal.

A bit of background: In Sunday’s New York Times, Halperin said he’s sworn off the model that has dominated campaign reporting—a model he blames on Cramer’s 1989 book, What It Takes. According to Halperin, he once believed that the best campaigner would also turn out to be the best president; he got that notion from Cramer, he claims. (Richard Ben Cramer made Halperin do it!) But no more! He’s going to be so much wiser now, Halperin proudly proclaims. He says he’s learned this after watching the failings of Presidents Clinton and Bush. More on that come Thursday.

In his post, Kevin starts talking about Halperin’s pledge—his pledge to swear off this tired old model of campaign coverage. And just like that, Kevin shows us how determined he is to avoid observing the shape of modern electoral politics. Here you see the predictable work of the liberal scribblers who, for reasons they will never explain, will never explain your world to you:

DRUM (11/25/07): I've never read Cramer's book (though several people have recommended it), but it sure sounds strikingly familiar. Teddy White's famous "Making of the Presidency" books, starting in 1960, were all narrative tick tocks that emphasized the grueling nature of modern campaigns and their obsessive focus on strategizing and press relations. Joe McGinniss's 1968 The Selling of the Presidency was all about the Nixon campaign's marketing strategy. Even quintessential outsider Hunter S. Thompson, in his 1972 dispatches for Rolling Stone (later collected in Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72), mostly spotlighted personalities and campaign minutiae.

These were all tremendously influential books long before Cramer wrote What It Takes. And while Cramer might have taken personality-based campaign reporting further than anyone had taken it before, my (imperfect) memory of day-to-day campaign reporting from 1976 on suggests that suprisingly little has changed in the past three decades. Daily campaign coverage in every race I can remember has mostly been about polls, personalities, campaign strategies, speeches, debate performances, the expectations game, and the all important horserace. Today's coverage may be more intense and even more personality driven than in the past, but it's a matter of degree, not substance.

As usual, they refuse to inform you.

According to Kevin, his memory suggests that “surprisingly little has changed in the past three decades.” Campaign coverage was silly then and it’s silly now, he claims—and he goes back to Teddy White’s “Making of the President” books to flesh out his point. But what has changed since Teddy White wrote his first, iconic book, The Making of the President, 1960? In the past, we’ve explained this in great detail—although we’re no longer sure why we bother. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/14/03.)

What has changed since 1960? Something remarkably basic has changed, although Kevin will just never tell you.

What has changed since 1960? At one point in his iconic first book, White painted a truly remarkable picture. He described the way the mainstream press corps was flying around the country, mocking and laughing at one of the candidates—and bonding with the other candidate, the one who was pandering to them. And wouldn’t you know it? Forty years later, during Campaign 2000, a string of major profiles painted a very similar picture! As White had done forty years before, they described the way the mainstream press corps was flying around the country, mocking and laughing at one of the candidates—and bonding with the other candidate, the one who was pandering to them. But uh-oh! In White’s account, the press corps was bonding with Candidate Kennedy—and mocking and laughing at Candidate Nixon. By the time of Campaign 2000, though, the press corps was bonding with Candidate Bush—and mocking and laughing at Candidate Gore.

In short, the press corps’s conduct was exactly the same—but the press corps’ party allegiance had changed! To Kevin, this means that things remain unchanged. There’s nothing to look at here, people!

But so it will go—as long as we allow Flat Earth Liberals to define our understanding of the way modern journalism works.

Kevin’s failure to note that basic distinction is stunning but really quite typical. Then again, there’s the following cluelessness. What press corps does Kevin Drum read?

DRUM: Contemporary campaigns may be even more grueling than they were a few decades ago—thanks to modern technology, longer primary seasons, and a bigger press corps—but I doubt that What It Takes is really responsible for the media's current fascination with personality and horserace journalism. That's always been there.

And the reason for this is pretty simple, too: campaigns are boring. When you cover a candidate every day for months on end, listening to interchangeable stump speeches hundreds of times and being bustled around like cattle to anonymous coffee klatsches and flesh pressing events 16 hours a day, you're going to seize on almost anything to break the monotony. The candidates mostly won't talk to you, after all, and there are only so many times you can write 3,000-word thumbsuckers comparing the various healthcare plans on offer. What's more, the code of objectivity in American journalism actively prevents reporters from writing about whether the various nominees "have what it takes to fill the most difficult job in the world." That would be too much like taking sides. Unless and until that changes, they'll continue to relieve their boredom by writing about supposedly more neutral topics like polls, insider strategy, and what "many people" are saying.

Good God—that’s simply astonishing. In Kevin’s view, journalists focus on “personality” because they’ve already worn themselves out writing 3000-word policy pieces. And in keeping with their “code of objectivity,” journalists simply refuse to take sides in the matter of who would make the best president. Taking sides would break the rules. They end up writing about “personality” to relieve their resultant boredom.

We’ll let the psychiatrists step in to tell us how Kevin can write or perhaps believe such things. But when you read this predictable work, you’re reading the work of a true Flat Earth Liberal. You’re reading the work of a person who is, for whatever reason, completely unable or unwilling to see the shape of the real world.

But then, career liberals have done this to you for the past fifteen years. How long do you plan to accept it?

TOMORROW—PART 2: Duh. The obvious uses of trivia

(Warning! It will take an IQ of at least 45 to understand tomorrow’s post.)