Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reeding Comprehenshun

Ur doin it rong.

The Incomparable Somerby gives E.J. Dionne and the rest of the Village Idiots a lesson in reading comprehension. Here is a long, dense and illuminating excerpt:

A TECHNICALLY ACCURATE COLUMN: But then, novels are everywhere in your discourse, happily recited by all. In today’s column, E. J. Dionne recites a new approved part of a long-running dime novel:

DIONNE (8/14/08): And there is that [Mark] Penn memo that speaks of Obama's "lack of American roots." Thankfully, Clinton declined to take up this idea, but John McCain's ads are now subtly toying with it.

Everyone is saying that now. But if you read the memo in question, Dionne’s presentation is basically bogus.

In fact, Hillary Clinton did take the bulk of the advice offered in that Penn memo. As we noted yesterday, the memo was written in March 2007. Josh Green was too dishonest to say so in his ballyhooed nothing-burger, but Penn explicitly said the following. This is rather basic:

PENN MEMO (3/19/07): We are never going to say anything about his background.

Buzz-kill! “We are never going to say anything about [Obama’s] background,” Penn said in the memo—and, throughout the rest of the year, Clinton never did. (Thus following what Penn’s memo said.) But she took other parts of Penn’s advice too. Here is the part of the (rather long) memo which Green was willing to quote in his piece (to read Green’s ballyhooed piece, just click here). Note again: Penn was looking for things the campaign could do “without turning negative” (our emphasis):

PENN MEMO (3/19/07): All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light.

Save it for 2050.

It also exposes a very strong weakness for him—his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values. He told the people of NH yesterday he has a Kansas accent because his mother was from there. His mother lived in many states as far as we can tell—but this is an example of the nonsense he uses to cover this up.

How we could give some life to this contrast without turning negative:

Every speech should contain the line you were born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century. And talk about the basic bargain as about the deeply American values you grew up with, learned as a child and that drive you today. Values of fairness, compassion, responsibility, giving back.

Let’s explicitly own ‘American’ in our programs, the speeches and the values. He doesn’t. Make this a new American Century, the American Strategic Energy Fund. Let’s use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds.

But duh. No, Clinton didn’t spray the word “American” around in the way Penn recommended. But some flag symbols did appear, and as anyone alive on the planet would know, she did adopt that basic speech element about being “born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century.” In short, she did several of the most basic things Penn recommended in this memo. She avoided discussing Obama’s background—and she stressed her own middle-American roots. Penn thought this narrative conferred an advantage on Clinton, since it couldn’t be matched by Obama. (If you actually read the f*cking memo, you will see that he thought Obama gained an advantage from certain narrative elements that couldn’t be matched by Clinton. This is basic product advancement, written in an insider’s shorthand.)

In our view, there has been a great deal of vastly silly squealing about this particular memo. (No, we wouldn’t have written it ourselves. But then, we aren’t consultants—or product managers.) But as always, the silly squealing has been driven along by blatant misstatements about its contents—and about Clinton’s reaction. In this morning’s column, Dionne is careful to avoid saying that Penn told Clinton to criticize Obama’s “lack of American roots;” presumably, he understands that Penn told her not to do that, though many others have said different. This includes Green, who seems to have trouble telling the truth when the truth conflicts with insider narratives.

There is a great deal more in that particular memo that Dems would benefit from pondering. Green avoided these parts of the memo, and few others will mention them. But a new novel-chapter is being written in the days since Green’s nothing-burger appeared. Dionne has now become the latest to nudge the chapter along.

Here’s the new narrative: Vile Penn told Clinton to attack Obama’s lack of American roots. But thankfully, Clinton didn’t take his advice. In fact, he plainly told her that she shouldn’t discuss Obama’s background—that instead, she should stress her own roots. And Clinton followed both suggestions. She didn’t attack Obama’s background. (Although Obama’s campaign was soon spewing perfect bullsh*t about —omigod!— the Lincoln Bedroom, and was soon spewing tortured attacks about Bill Clinton’s business dealings. We can't see the memos about those discussions—and so we get to cry a good cry about the Penn memo, giving no thought to the things that were said inside the Obama campaign about those absurd Lincoln Bedroom claims.) And she did introduce the speech element about her own middle-American background. It’s hard to know why anyone would say that she didn’t follow that memo. Oh wait—we almost forgot! They say it because it’s part of a novel! Because the other kids will.

For the most part, Clinton did what Penn advised in that memo. But the children have their novel, and they’ll keep typing it up.

For me, this memo illustrates the difference between Hillary's campaign and pretty much everyone else. She presented herself as stronger than her opponents by talking about herself and what she meant to do, inviting the listeners to draw their own comparisons. They (not just Obama) talked about how horrible she was and how they weren't her, or else talked about how despicable this or that group of voters were for picking that "monster". Somerby flatly calls the Obama campaign on the carpet for their smears, pointing out that they discussions leading up to trashing the Clintons' personal integrity would make for some mighty interesting memos.

As I have personally seen from the bile and invective that arrives in my inbox from the Obamacans, that campaign is grounded in smear, fear and hate. It is telling that since he claimed the nomination in June, Obama has continued to campaign against Hillary, a relentless stream of innuendo, lies, and paranoia disseminated by his camp followers. Even this memo release has nothing in fact to do with trying to build up Obam for the general - it's all about continuing the war against Hillary. The weak reed that somehow the perfectly standard operations of the Clinton campaign (Play up your All-American Girl appeal, emphasize your life long involvement in the affairs of the country, make clear that you were born and raised in the Midwest, etc.) is giving aid and comfort to McCain is pitiful more than anything.

It is clear that Obama understands his weakness is within the Democratic Party. However, he doesn't appear to understand that continuing to attack the only person who can help him overcome that lack is not a winning proposition.

Politikul strategery - ur doin it rong.


NOTE - Somecomments got sent to my spam filter by accident. They are posted now.


lakelobos said...

After a month of travel down under, the arguments and the level of discussion is almost shocking. I fail to understand the memo issue. Why is it of any importance now? It shows that Penn didn't understand the source and dangers of the Obama campaign. Obama ran on hate, lies and racism; it was a typical fascisting candidacy. Fighting it with arguments such as "no American roots" makes very little sense. (Hitler was Austrian not German.) Dealing with one out of thousands of memos makes no sense at all.

What am I missing?

harpie said...

I had managed to subdue some of my anger about how the primary was conducted, but have been seething again after reading Somerby’s Aug. 14 piece.

Thanks for your clear headed take on all of this, as well as the “Barking up the Wrong Tree” column; you’ve said exactly what I wish I had been able to:

“[…] For me, this memo illustrates the difference between Hillary's campaign and pretty much everyone else. She presented herself as stronger than her opponents by talking about herself and what she meant to do, inviting the listeners to draw their own comparisons.[…]”

I could never figure out what the Obama campaign was complaining about when they said Hillary had run such an exceedingly negative campaign. It seemed to me they were using the supremely Republican tactic…accuse others of that which you yourself are guilty…and keep on accusing them as loud and often as you can…

I’m not sure I will be able to drag myself up from the depths of this sadness [and, yes, anger] before election day. I’m pretty sure there are a few others who feel the same way.

scott said...

Good post. Josh Marshall and some of the usual suspects at Kos, MyDD and have been pimping their usual narrative about these memos (Hillary and Penn are evil!) without actually reading them. It's another boring process story fed by self-aggrandizing staffers that our "liberal" Blogger Boyz have used to stoke the Hillary Hate. Looked at from another point of view, it's all the excitement they have. If you look at the sites where the Obamalove prevails, it's all about dry number crunching and process stuff about how to get to 270, not ideological excitement about their guy and what he'll actaully DO if elected. I'm an election junkie too, but the election junkie stuff (who's ahead in the swing states?) is all they have. It's sad and empty, so mainlining on Hillary Hate, their drug of choice, is the only fix available.

Bob said...

Amen to the above comments. I'll have to confess to ignoring the memo-- guess the old brain can only take so much crap before it calcifies. Plus, I had to go back to work. System shock, you know.

madamab said...

Anglachel - thanks for another great post. Somerby is a national treasure. Unfortunately, given the rancid state of our media, I fear he will have a job for the rest of
his life.

Your concept of Obama as "the Precious" inspired me to write this post over at The Confluence.

I hope you enjoy the graphics. :-)

show me said...

What a treat, three new posts!

I can't remember the exact quote but I am thinking of Sen. Patrick Moynahan's writing on ,"defining deviancy down". It seems this is what has happened to our culture in a more global sense. Ethical standards in most public communications has been dumbed down to the sound bite, the dime store novel, the cheap reality show, the glib propaganda on the talk shows. The barbarians have truly crashed the gates. "Greed is good."

A big disappointment to me is the bloggers who have mearly become derivative and are driven by the same priorities. I had hoped for something far better.