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4 September 1998

The Daily Howler: Joe Klein gets it right

Synopsis: We offer a rare HOWLER word of praise for Joe Klein, who’s now asked the right question.

Primary Cad
Joe Klein, The New Yorker, 9/7/98

We rarely offer praise at THE DAILY HOWLER--it flies in the face of the charge we received when The Greatest of Greeks, after his stay in D.C., returned to his home on Olympus (see SOCRATES READS, now in progress). But the closing section of Joe Klein’s current piece--well, it forced us to walk away from our scruples.

From the very start of the Clinton years, we have marveled at the irrational air to the Clinton critique that has been carried on in the national press corps. Here at THE HOWLER, we have recorded the shabby scholarship--and the moral squalor--that have been hallmarks of the Clinton critique.

We have been particularly amused, as our readers will know, by the strange hypocrisy often found in that criticism. We have marveled at the press corps’ fondness for lying-to-prove-that-Clinton’s-a-liar, and spinning-to-prove-that-Clinton’s-a-spinner--at the press corps’ ability to display allthe traits that they claim to despise in Bill Clinton! And we have held, since the start of the Clinton years--since the absurd discussion of the Clinton draft record--that only a psychiatric explanation will ever account for the irrationality of this ongoing discourse.

Finally, Joe Klein offers such an explanation. We won’t take the time to review Klein’s current article in detail; but we think it initiates the process that will have to occur, if we are ever to understand the puzzling public discourse we’ve put up with for the past seven years. Quoting a Stanford religion scholar, Klein discusses the Clinton discourse in terms of the ancient rite of scapegoating, and his argument touches on the very phenomenon we have noted--the repeated presence, in the Clinton critics, of the very traits that they claim to despise. We ourselves are not technically qualified to evaluate Professor Girard’s argument; but we think, at least, in the questions it asks, it finally offers a new perspective on the puzzling, deeply flawed Clinton discourse.

In honor of the Klein-Girard axis, we thought we’d bring you a special feature--a four-part effort designed to highlight the routine shortcomings of the Clinton discourse. No, nothing of substance ever will turn on any of the articles we critique in this series. But we think they help demonstrate the comic failures of the ongoing Clinton criticism--the way the press corps sheds the simplest standards in the effort to slam The Big He.

We call these pieces “Minor mishaps.” We think they illustrate the slippery writing that has broken our heart so many times, and that lies at the heart of what we do love to call: “Life in this celebrity press corps.”

Meanwhile, here’s Joe Klein:

KLEIN: René Girard, whose book “Violence and the Sacred” is about scapegoating, thinks that Clinton is a classic scapegoat, which is not to say that he is an innocent victim but that he personifies the pathologies of our time...In the current instance, it is possible to see in Bill Clinton all that his accusers loathe most about themselves... [Our emphasis]

The press corps spins to prove Clinton’sa spinner? Read Klein’s piece to start to learn why.

Here’s our line-up of “Minor mishaps,” published September 5:

Volume I: What Clinton said made perfect sense. So Tim Russert did a little reinventing.

Volume II: Michael Kelly’s so certain that Clinton’s a dope, he doesn’t feel he has to bother to prove it.

Volume III: Clifford Alexander knows Clinton’s a liar. He knows it because Cliff can read minds.

Volume IV: Uh-oh. Someone at The New Republicmay still have a taste for good fiction.

Bonus edition (September 6): When it comes to fibbing-to-prove-Clinton’s-a-fibber, Hardball’shost is still King of The World.