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20 August 2001

Our current howler (part IV): Drivel redux

Synopsis: The press corps hijacked your last election. And they’re eager to do so again.

Sometimes a Beard Changes Everything
Erica Jong, The New York Times, 8/18/01

Auto Industry Reaches Surprising Consensus: It Needs New Engines
Rebecca Blumenstein, The Wall Street Journal, 1/5/98

For future generations, they’ll be High Entertainment. A more evolved race will be amused by our pundits, much as we roll our eyes today at the exploits of medieval surgeons. And without question, future readers will get a good laugh from Erica Jong’s "Sometimes a Beard Changes Everything." That’s right—the Times op-ed page was at it again, puzzling out Al Gore’s new whiskers:

JONG: What do American women want in a president? The same thing we want in a husband. Someday we might have a woman candidate, but until then, women want someone masculine but not so masculine that we can’t control him.

Oh. "Al Gore clearly is softened and humanized by his beard," the vacuous Jong went on to explain. "A beard on Al Gore says: I’m my own man now." For that reason, "I think it’s just what he needs."

In Homer, the gods on Olympus rocked with laughter as they observed the folly of humans. So it will be when your great-great-grandkids click back through the Times op-ed page.

But alas! We’ve learned one thing in the past two weeks—when Gore returns to the political wars, our pundits are going to pick right up where they left off with Election 2000. Sugarplums will dance in their heads—named "earth tones," "alpha male," and "Naomi"—and the addled themes of the last election will be crammed down our throats once again. Indeed, Jong just couldn’t help herself as she pondered those telling new chin-chops:

JONG: Al Gore’s problem was always his tendency to seem too goody-goody good boy. Most people felt he had a people-pleasing problem. We felt he had followed a script written for him by Mommy and Daddy.

We swear we aren’t making this up! By the way, concerning Gore’s "goody-goody good boy" problem: "The beard changes everything. It smacks of long-repressed rebellion. It says: Love me for who I am or not at all."

Question: Is there anyone else on the face of the earth as dumb as our celebrity pundits? Could you possibly imagine anyone else emitting such consummate drivel? But alas! Our featherweight foghorns are now standing by, waiting to toy with our discourse again. And in the process—if we let them—our election will be waylaid again.

Just how dumb can they make an election? Consider one topic they ground into dust the last time we tried to conduct one. Gore—the Democratic nominee for president—had written a major book, Earth in the Balance (1992). With global warming looming ever larger in the world’s ongoing debates, one would think that our brilliant press corps would have analyzed the work in Gore’s book.

No chance! Indeed, what did the press corps do instead? They did what they did all through the election—they took some dimwit RNC spin, and made it conventional wisdom. That dimwit piece of RNC spin concerned internal combustion. At one point in Gore’s best-selling book, he said something that has itself become CW all over the world auto industry. "It ought to be possible," Gore said in passing, "to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a twenty-five year period." CEOs of the world’s car companies have long since signed on to that hoary statement. For example, there was Rebecca Blumenstein, on page one of the Journal, reporting from the Detroit auto show:

BLUMENSTEIN (1/5/98): Time is starting to run out for the internal combustion engine.

That was Blumenstein’s opening sentence—almost four years ago. And guess what? Reading on, it got better:

BLUMENSTEIN: [A]uto makers from Tokyo to Stuttgart to Detroit have reached a surprising consensus on an idea deemed heretical not long ago. A fundamental shift in engine technology is needed. "We need to press very hard to increase fuel economy and lower emissions" of carbon dioxide, says John F. Smith Jr., chairman of General Motors Corp. He predicts a "slow phase-off" of the internal-combustion engine in 20 to 30 years and adds, "It is prudent for us to be working very hard on alternative technology."
And yes, that really was John Smith, the GM head, noting that internal combustion was going. We hate to say it, but Gore was right in his comment about IC engines.

That article was the Wall Street Journal’s lede story on January 5, 1998. The story also led the New York Times’ page one. But unless you’ve read the DAILY HOWLER, you likely don’t know that Gore was right—that it’s conventional wisdom all over the car biz that internal combustion won’t be cool too much longer. That’s because the RNC had a story it liked much better—Al Gore has made a Crazy Proposal suggesting that we "get rid of cars." And the RNC just kept faxing it out, and our pundits just kept on reciting it. (Conservative pundits could say it freely, knowing how dim—and how compliant—our idiot press corps would be.) In the election, you not only didn’t hear a word about the environmental issues now roiling the world. It was worse than that—on the few occasions when Gore’s book was mentioned, it was almost surely raised by conservative spinners, who were feeding you press-sanctioned bull.

So don’t be fooled because they’re telegenic. Don’t be fooled because they’re famous. Our press corps is one of the most dysfunctional elites ever seen on the planet. And they’re very eager—they simply can’t wait—to start talking earth tones and alphas again. As a group, they live for vacuous chatter; nonsense is their great lingua franca. They turned your last election to mush. If you let them, they’ll do it again. Visit our incomparable archives: Jack Kemp talked cars with Bill O’Reilly. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/00. For more IC transmission problems, see THE DAILY HOWLER 3/24/99, 4/29/99, and 5/24/99.

What we really need is a new world-class muffler: Don’t be fooled because they’re telegenic. And don’t be fooled because they’re famous. No one else on the face of the earth is as dumb as our celebrity pundits:

JONG: [Gore] was just too nice. He was smart. He was literate. He was well-prepared for the presidency. None of that was enough. What then did he lack? The bearded allure of the highwayman, the pirate, the rebel leader seem to counteract the android in Al Gore.

Oh. And by the way, no one changes their story like our pundits. Just before sharing her insights on "bearded allure," Jong explained Bill Clinton:

JONG: It was Mr. Gore’s misfortune to follow the most popular adulterer in American history. Women hated what Bill Clinton did, but we just couldn’t seem to hate Mr. Clinton. He was just such a good communicator. He talked to us. He listened to us. He was in touch with our feelings. He was the communicative husband we’d always longed for.

He was just such a good communicator! But when Erica Jong thought of President Clinton, did she really think of "communicative husbands?" We’re sorry that we have to mention this, but Jong got lots o’ ink a few years back when she was quoted in the New York Observer, saying of Monica and Wild Bill, "Oh, imagine swallowing presidential come!" Future generations will simply marvel at the way we ran our public discourse; only by saying the world’s dumbest things could our pundits earn their spot in the guild.


The occasional update (8/20/01)

Bryperbole: Why do we single out Bryant on this? He took the hyperbole to the next level. Interviewing the Hotline’s Craig Crawford, he offered the following comment:

BRYANT GUMBEL: Yeah, but, I mean, are Democrats ready to forgive Gore for—for running what is arguably the worst campaign in presidential history, for basically losing the race he couldn’t lose?

Pundits love saying it, but is it true? Did Gore run "arguably the worst campaign in presidential history?" Gore’s first campaign trip—to New Hampshire—occurred on March 15, 1999. The next day, CNN/Gallup/USA Today released its new national poll: Bush 56, Gore 41. Running "the worst campaign in presidential history," Gore picked up fifteen points in the polls and actually won the popular vote. Bush—who lost the fifteen points—ran a good campaign, pundits will tell you.

Because he isn’t a Dem and he isn’t a nitwit, Bill Kristol gets to say things like this:

KRISTOL: I think [Gore] ran a pretty good campaign. I’m a dissenter on this. I mean, he had this huge burden of having been vice president to a president who was impeached and he got half a million more popular votes than Governor Bush.

How it works: Because Bill Kristol isn’t a Dem, he doesn’t have to go on TV and pretend that Clinton didn’t get impeached. And he doesn’t have to pretend that Gore wasn’t powerfully hamstrung by Clinton’s impeachment—and by the press corps’ determined spinning of impeachment and Everything Bill.

Gore was right on internal combustion—and the press corps pretended that he was a nut. Despite all that, he gained fifteen points—and now, of course, the same scribes say that the Hapless One blew a sure shot.

Commentary by Bryant Gumbel
The Early Show, CBS, 8/14/01

Commentary by William Kristol
Meet the Press, NBC, 8/19/01