Thursday, September 04, 2008

Why Your Party Loses

One of the last honest critics of the media and politics:

WHY YOUR PARTY LOSES: Inanity is their way of life–and no, they really can’t stop themselves. In this morning’s New York Times early edition, what photograph sat atop page one? A photograph of John McCain shaking hands with Levi Johnson. Who on earth is Levi Johnson? Atop page one of the Washington Post, a giant photo filled the page. This was the photograph’s caption:

WASHINGTON POST PHOTO CAPTION (9/4/08): As he arrives in Minnesota for the Republican National Convention, Sen. John McCain is greeted by his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and her husband, Todd, right, along with other members of both candidates’ families. To McCain’s right are the Palins’ daughter Bristol and her fiance, Levi Johnson.

No other “members of both candidates’ families” were pictured. Only Levi and Bristol.

Yes, these are the two newspapers’ early editions; they couldn’t use photographs of Palin giving her actual speech. But of all the things they could have pictured, each newspaper chose to picture the young unmarrieds. Let’s say it again: Inanity is their way of life. And no, they really can’t stop.

Press corps inanity to the side, has the media greeted Palin’s selection with sexism and elite condescension? Yes, there has been some of each–and there has been some exaggeration of same by major Republican honchos. But in all the events of the past few days, the major difference between the two parties has been made abundantly clear. It’s captured in this Politico piece by John Harris (for the record, the headline is grossly deceptive). If you want to know why your party loses, consider the highlighted passage:

HARRIS (9/4/08): As the controversy over her qualifications and McCain’s vetting process overwhelmed events here, hypocritical rhetoric was flowing at full tide on all sides of the debate.

Many conservatives, who spent a generation ridiculing the politics of victimhood and group identity, are now zealously invoking both in the Twin Cities. A common GOP talking point here is that Palin’s gender and experiences as a mother should be counted as an asset among her qualifications. At the news conference, former Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift condemned “an outrageous smear campaign” against Palin, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said, “The Republican Party will not stand by while Gov. Palin is subjected to sexist attacks.”

Let’s repeat what Fiorina said: “The Republican Party will not stand by while Gov. Palin is subjected to sexist attacks.” Remove the limiting term there–“sexist.” Thus adjusted, Fiorina’s statement explains our electoral politics over the past twenty years.

The Republican Party will not stand by while its candidates get attacked. The Democratic Party, and its major affiliates, have done just that. For years.

Consider again the most remarkable instance of this repulsive conduct.

In August 1999, Gennifer Flowers–a public crackpot–was invited on two different cable “news” programs to discuss, at remarkable length, the various murders the Clintons committed. (You read that correctly: their murders. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/03.) On August 2, she appeared for half an hour on Hardball; because her performance was so bizarre, she was then invited to do a full hour on Hannity & Colmes. On the latter program, Flowers extended her brief; she not only discussed the Clintons’ murders, she took the chance to let the world know that Hillary Clinton was a big giant lesbo. After giving Flowers a full hour, Fox reran a half hour of “highlights” two nights later.

At the time, Bill Clinton was president of the United States; Hillary Clinton was your nation’s first lady. But so what? As best we can tell from Nexis archives, here’s what did and didn’t happen after those two programs aired:

  • The Democratic Party didn’t say a word about this astounding misconduct.
  • No name-brand, liberal columnist said a word about it. (Examples: E.J. Dionne; Al Hunt; Mark Shields; Frank Rich.)
  • No name-brand “liberal journal” ever mentioned what had happened.
  • No “media reporter” discussed what occurred.
  • In the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz mentioned Flowers’ Hardball appearance. But he didn’t report what she’d said.

Now! Go back and reread Fiorina’s statement, and consider the conduct of the past several days. If you still don’t understand why your party loses, then let’s face it–you never will.

By the way, what else transpired as these Dem/liberal elements kept their traps shut in August 1999? On Fox, a gang of male pundits went on the air and mocked the way Hillary Clinton looked back in the 1970s. (They had a photograph, and it looked very funny. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/6/08.) And of course, all across the political landscape, the RNC and the MSM kept inventing new, bogus tales about the vile Candidate Gore. The Democratic Party never said boo about those matters either. Neither did those liberal journals. Nor those liberal columnists.

How does your political world work? Here’s how:

Sally Quinn and Maureen Dowd played the fool about Palin–and the Republican Party fought back hard. They’ve played the fool about Big Dems for years–and the Democratic Party said nothing.

Yep! There was some sexism in the coverage of Palin–and the Republican Party fought back hard, exaggerating as it did. But then, during this same campaign, a major Democratic woman was gender-trashed from December 2006 on. Eighteen months later, Howard Dean explained why he didn’t speak up. I don’t watch that much cable, he said.

As recently as last evening, some of our fools continued to say that they feel “insulted” by Palin’s selection. If they had an ounce of sense, they’d instead feel insulted by Dean.


Anonymous said...

If you read Somerby's stuff a lot, you'll find a a deeper philosophical concern he has, namely the idea that the MSM and the American people at large have drifted away from (if they ever had it) a commitment to discussing facts as they actually exist in the world to fantasizing over narratives that are wholly unconnected from reality. And one of his beefs is that (aside from the silence-in-the-face-of-attacks problem) career libs play along with this and don't try, vigorously and loudly, to call BS on it.

And we see what that leads to, which is that the MSM abandons its (for once) unusually professional review of the contradictions and laughable vacuum in Gov. Palin's career because she gave one speech in which she's the Just Folks Hockey Mom. The Republicans have shrewdly worked the MSM refs to eat up these pre-canned narratives and pronounce them yummy, and our guys chug along behind trying to haf-assedly compete in a story-telling game that's fundamentally corrupt. As Somerby notes, maybe instead of trying to be pale copies of our fake narrative-spewing conservative colleagues we could spend our time pointing out that the Cranky Emperor and his new partner have no clothes, no record, no issues, nothing to offer us, instead of getting sucked into the standard media narrative game.

If nothing else, it would be a blow for rationality, and we could construct a pretty easily understood story of our own - with us, you get tangible economic programs that will benefit you, and we're not going to throw away money and your sons and daughters on wars that don't make sense. The other guys aren't going to give you those benefits and are weirdly obsessed with throwing their weight around by sending your loved ones in harm's way. Why couldn't we tell that story?

orionATL said...


bob somerby is a treasure. no one else writing publicly treats political journalism with such relentless, honest criticism.

as for what bob somerby's afraid of, he has said it many times:

a culture cannot survive if its media do not provide accurate descriptions of reality.

the media have a vital "information job" to do in this culture and they are not doing it.

Nina Miller said...

I worship at the shrine of the Daily Howler. Mr. Somerby is indeed a treasure.

This is more brilliance, Anglachel. Thank you.

When you say "your party," I wondered - do you mean that in the sense of being unaffiliated, Republican, or what? This is probably a dumb question, but its noon and I'm still precaffeinated so I disclaim all responsibility for myself.

Sextus Propertius said...

There's a weird pattern at work here.

We Democrats claim to be "the party of the people" - hell, our name even *says* it - but when you get right down to it, we don't seem to *respect* the people we claim to represent. We talk about healthcare. We talk about a living wage. We talk about jobs. But when it comes time to pick a candidate, what do we do? We set about insulting the very people whose interests we claim to represent. All you have to do is take a good look at the smear campaign against Palin to see how this happens. The mutual masturbation society that is PB 1.0 criticizes her because:

1) of her accent (now there's a winner)
2) of her hunting (news flash - millions of rural and not-so-rural Americans subsistence hunt in the winter. People who think food is magically created by elves living under the counters at Whole Foods just don't get that)
3) She can't be a good mother and VP (congratulations on insulting every working mother in America - most of whom aren't trying to ascend the career ladder, but are working in offices, supermarkets, and factories just trying to keep food on the table)
4) Her daughter's pregnant (this one's been done to death)!
5) She grew up in some small town in the middle of NOWHERE!
6) She went to some freaking COW COLLEGE in IDAHO!
7) She was a SPORTS REPORTER (Olbermann, anyone?)

etc, etc, etc, etc.

So, when men and women all over America (who don't post to DU or KOS) look at Sarah Palin, what do they see?

They see *themselves*. They see a working mom, with a special-needs kid and a minor family crisis, who is still managing to keep it all together. They look at her husband and what do they see? Well, judging from the live blogging on The Confluence, about 52% of them see a "hunk", but I personally lack the toolkit to appreciate that. Hunkiness aside, they see a hard-working blue-collar guy who loves his family and (gasp!) changes diapers. They see an Alaskan fisherman, and as anybody who has been watching the History Channel or Discovery Channel for the last few years knows, that's one of the toughest, most dangerous jobs there is. They see an oil field worker (which is a pretty damned tough job, too, especially in Alaska) who gave up a good job when his wife went into state politics, lest *somebody* accuse her of a conflict of interest. They see a union member (remember them?). They see a father standing with his daughter in a difficult situation.

They see a working class family that's about to send its oldest off to war, because that's what working class families do in this country when there's a war (whether they happen to agree with it or not).

They see one of their own.

And what do they see when they look at Obama? Contrary to what he claims, they don't see someone with "a funny name" - too many of them have Slovak, Hungarian, Norwegian, Greek, or Italian names for that to matter much. Most of them don't really care about his race ,either (they might have 30 years ago, but not any more). A few might, but they're a very small percentage. *All* of them resent being told that that's going to affect their vote. What they actually see is yet another Merlot-sipping, prep school grad who never worked a day in his life, who talks down to them, and who thinks he's *entitled* to their vote because he went to Harvard. They see someone who equivocates and prevaricates. They wonder if he'll do that when he has to make a tough call and their kids' lives are on the line.

They see John Kerry.

When Bill Clinton said "I feel your pain" and "I'll be with you 'til the last dog dies", they believed him. They believed him because they heard that Arkansas twang and they saw how the New York Times made fun of it. They saw how Sally Quinn mocked him (just as she mocked Sarah Palin) and lamented that he wasn't throwing good parties (as if the primary function of the POTUS was to provide free entertainment for Sally and her privileged BFFs). They saw that, underneath the Yale JD and the Rhodes scholarship, he was just a blue-collar kid from Hope, Arkansas who worked his ass off to get where he was. They saw he was one of them.

They saw Harry Truman.

That's why we're going to lose this time around. We're running John Kerry instead of Harry Truman. And afterwards, we'll sit around our little committee meetings, we'll wring our hands, and we'll ask why. And we'll reread "What's the Matter With Kansas" and we'll decide it's all *their* fault. "Those people" just don't know what's good for them.

Anonymous said...

Re the last comment, I agree that it makes no sense to attack Palin personally, for the reasons that the commenter eloquently discusses. At the same time, reading the comment, I feel the same trap and the same abyss opening at my feet - and its name is the Just Folks Game that the MSM loves to play and that we always lose. Sure, I'd prefer if someone like Bill Clinton was running and could more authentically carry the man-of-the-people mantle. But I'd feel a lot more comfortable if we made this election about giving the broad middle of this country something tangible that will help them in their daily lives, not a passing sense of identification with whoever the Fake Populist Flavor of the Month candidate is. Palin has a number of personally appealing qualities that folks can legitimately identify with, but let's answer an important question - how much do McCain and Palin intend to do for the folks who are hurting economically and that they're working so successfully to identify with symbolically? I think the answer is, not a whole helluva lot, and the more that gets pointed out, the better. I think the commenter's dead right, though, that some class-based and gender-based shame game isn't going to help anybody.

Sextus Propertius said...


I absolutely agree that the only way for Dems to win is to make this contest about issues rather than about personalities - but that's really difficult to do when you've nominated a candidate who has spent the last couple of years creating a cult of personality and who spent the entire primary ducking any substantive discussions.

The MSM certainly abetted this, by wasting everyone's time with silly questions about Hillary's likeability or Edwards's haircuts (or mocking Mike Gravel, for that matter, as if the Pentagon Papers case never happened) during the primaries.

I just had to vent my general disgust - thanks to Anglachel for tolerating it.

marirebel said...

Scott: You claim the Republicans create narratives divorced from reality (which they do) as if the Democratic Party does not do the same thing. Who is Barack Obama? He is a man whose time has come. He is the post-racial, post-partisan, post gender, divinely anointed (according to Nancy Pelosi) ONE who will heal our wounds, and show us the way, the truth and the light! No less than John Kerry and Ted Kennedy have told us that it is time to pass the mantle of governance on to this next generation leader who will carry forward the vision and charisma of John F. Kennedy for the entire world to see. Also, I don't really see how the FISA loving, Cheney energy bill passing, bankruptcy reform that benefits corporations giving, Iraq war funding, Roberts and Alito appointing, impeachment off the table, Democrats have all that good of a recent track record to make believable the claim that this time, really, really, REALLY, Congress will act to benefit ordinary folks.

jenmarie said...

Wes Clark said the following at Netroots Nation, although I've heard him say it before. This time he credits James Carville with first saying it. It's yet another case of saying, "Right again, Sir!"

" ...Several years ago, I was at a Washington dinner with James Carville, and we were just having a casual conversation. I said, 'James, how are we going to, how are we going to convince the American people that just because we're in a time of war that they don't have to vote Republican? How are we going to get them to understand that Democrats have a pretty good national security record?' He said, 'You'll never get the American people to believe that Democrats will defend them until Democrats stand up and defend each other.'"

Chinaberry Turtle said...

This blog and the comments are freakin' awesome (right on sextus pertius!). That is all.