Putting It to Rest

As mentioned before, back in the sixties there was that anti-Nixon poster – Would You Buy a Used Car from This Man? At the time, and probably still, the least respected folks in America were that damned used car salesman and the politician. Those two were always at the bottom of this list. In both cases the problem was really the process, and not so much the product – no one likes getting jerked around by a smooth-talker in a cheap suit, pretending to be your friend. You know you won’t be getting a Ferrari from the one and low taxes and flawless governance from the other. But do they really have to jerk you around?

 

Of course, with politicians, it seemed it was all process and manipulation. There was no product. No one ever knew just what they were selling, exactly. Maybe they didn’t know either. Maybe no one knew.

 

Of course any large nation has endless problems to solve, or, if not solved, at least carefully considered – and, if there is no one wonderful solution, you can often tinker your way out of complete disaster. But we seldom get even useful tinkering. You watch the news and you see clips of the speeches in congress, and glance at those Sunday morning political talk shows, full of accusation and the standard defense of accusation – smug and dismissive self-justification. It’s just talk. You shrug.

 

Barack Obama may be saying people are bitter – but he says it’s about the disintegrating economy and people feeling they’ve been ignored, after being jerked around. Maybe so, but they may be bitter about something else – being told they must take seriously what seems to be some kind of insider’s game played by people they don’t know, talking with each other, scoring this point or that. It’s like watching water polo or curling – you don’t really know the rules, and as excited as the players seem to be, you’re a bit bored. Questions arise, just like with the unusual sports – if all the important things happen underwater, what’s the point in even watching, or in the second case, what’s with those brooms? You’re not exactly bitter because you feel left out. You’re bitter because you’re being forced to agree this is very important – and you have to watch, and you’re supposed to care.

 

Monday, April 14, the day the reluctant finally got around to doing their taxes, much of the simmering discontent seemed to come to a head:

 

Yes, some Democrats in Pennsylvania’s Rust Belt communities were upset by Barack Obama’s suggestion that voters there “cling to guns or religion” because of bitterness about their economic lot. But many more seem to think it was no big deal – and if there’s a problem it’s with the political slapfest that has followed.

 

But the Clinton campaign flooded the media market in Pennsylvania with new ads. He insulted you! He doesn’t respect you! He’s not one of you!

 

Yeah, so? And she was an odd one to deliver that message, as if she grew up in the grit of McKeesport, spent her high school summers driving a forklift to be able to afford a few nice things, and grabbed a few courses at the local community college. Everyone knew better.

 

And most people know bullshit when they hear it. At philly.com see John Baer:

 

As a native-born, small-town Pennsylvanian, a son of native-born, small-town Pennsylvania parents – one from the coal region, one from Lancaster County – let me assure you that the so-called offensive, condescending things Barack Obama said about the people I come from are basically right on target.

 

And that Monday brought the newspaper endorsements – the papers in Scranton and Allentown picked Obama.

 

And there was this:

 

After days on the campaign defensive, Democrat Barack Obama accused rival Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday of leveling criticism straight from the Republican playbook and said, even so, he will win the White House over John McCain and an “out of touch” GOP.

 

McCain was on the same page as Hillary Clinton:

 

“I think those comments are elitist,” he said. “I think anybody who disparages anyone who is hardworking, the dedicated people who cherish the right to hunt and observe their values and the culture … and say that’s because they are unhappy with their economic conditions – I think that’s a fundamental contradiction to what I think America is.”

 

“These are people who produced the generation that made the world safe for democracy.”

 

Who cares? But the reminder of his advanced age – the Greatest Generation thing – was a neat trick. That works with the demographics of Pennsylvania. It’s an old state.

 

Noam Scheiber at the New Republic suggests she should have given it a rest:

 

This was unquestionably a serious stumble on Obama’s part. But the high-percentage move would have been to get out of the way and let the media run with it. If this were going to do Obama in, it would have done so without her help. Instead, she’s thrown Obama a lifeline. She’s made herself look completely cynical, she’s once again reminded superdelegates of everything they hated about the Clinton era, and she’s started making claims about her own cultural authenticity that don’t pass the smell test.

 

That is a bit of “inside baseball” – or water polo or curling, if you’d like – comment on how real pros play the game. If you’re out of work in Pennsylvania it’s only mildly interesting.

 

But even insiders, the best of political reporters, can get fed up. See Josh Marshall at the award-winning Talking Points Memo with this:

 

Seeing Hillary go on about how Obama has contempt for folks in small town America, how he’s elitist, well … no, it’s not because I think she’s either. I never have. But after seeing her hit unfairly with just the same stuff for years, it just encapsulates the last three-plus months of her campaign which I can only describe as a furious descent into nonsense and self-parody. Part of it makes me want to cry. But at this point all I can really do is laugh.

 

And even the salt-of-the-earth downtrodden Pennsylvanians, in this case the steelworkers in Pittsburgh, know nonsense and self-parody when they see it. See this, and the attached video clip:

 

“I understand my opponent came this morning and he spent a lot of his time attacking me,” she said, before being interrupted with several seconds of murmurs and groans from the crowd. “Well, you know, I know that many of you, like me were disappointed by recent remarks that he made.”

 

More groans and at least one “No” from the crowd.

 

“And I think it’s important that, you know, we give people the chance to really compare and contrast us,” Clinton continued. “You know, I am well aware that at a fundraiser in San Francisco, he said some things that many people in Pennsylvania and beyond Pennsylvania have found offensive.”

 

A few more “No”s.

 

They’ve had enough, even when she went on:

 

“He was explaining to a small group of his donors what people who live in small towns right here in Pennsylvania are like and why some of you aren’t voting for him,” she said. “But instead of looking at himself, he blamed them. He said that they cling to religion and guns and dislike people who are different from them. Well, I don’t believe that. I believe that people don’t cling to religion; they value their faith. You don’t cling to guns, you enjoy hunting or collecting or sport shooting. I don’t think he really gets it that people are looking for a president who stands up for you and not looks down on you.”

 

She’s lucky they didn’t walk out. Perhaps they’re looking for a president who can get things done, even if he is snooty.

 

How did it come to this? Ezra Klein, writing on Obama’s words at American Prospect, takes a stab at that. The problem might be the campaign reporting:

 

It’s not damaging because we think it foretells him doing something harmful to the country. It’s not damaging because it suggests his policy agenda is poorly conceived, or his priorities are awry. If you think of policy and politics as two circles in a Venn diagram, this is damage that only exists in the politics circle, and doesn’t even come close to the area of intersection.

 

We reporters have to cover it, of course, because it’s Really Important, and matters more than the housing plans of all the candidates put together. But it matters in a completely self-referential way, it matters only because it matters, not because it means anything about Obama, or illuminates anything about his potential presidency. It’s a hollow scandal.

 

And Klein seems, well, bitter:

 

Those housing plans, by contrast, don’t “matter” in a way that convinces the media to cover them, or to relentlessly hound McCain about the inadequacy of his proposal. They don’t “matter,” but they are meaningful. And this is why I don’t like writing about the campaign. It’s full of hollow scandals and ignored travesties. But you have to cover the hollow scandals, because they’re blown up until they’re definitional in the campaign. And that leaves me writing about high-profile non-events in a way that helps cement their importance, even if I’m writing to deride their legitimacy.

 

But that’s just the way things are done:

 

If you’re ever interested in really getting to the bottom of what’s wrong with political journalism, incidentally, spend some time thinking about the fact that most of its leading practitioners came up through campaign reporting, and writing about verbal gaffes and off-the-cuff comments is what they trained to do. The tone of political journalism is set by people who are thrilled – on a professional level – that Obama said this thing, and now we can cover this story.

 

That idea is going mainstream. Over at MSNBC, they finally dumped the often silly Tucker Carlson and gave the timeslot to a new show – Race to the White House, with David Gregory. The hyperactive Gregory runs a panel of sharp people, and one of them is Rachel Maddow:

 

To a certain extent, I think we’re really commenting on the caricature of his comments. If you look at what he said, what he said was not that these values of small town America, and rural America and working class white America are the product of economic hardships. He’s saying that those folks in America do not believe they’re going to get any economic help from Washington, so they don’t’ vote their economic interests when they vote, they instead vote these other things. It’s actually… we’re not actually taking this on as a political issue and debating whether or not that’s right or wrong. We’re debating the damage of the caricature of his comments. It’s this…become this meta-narrative about how he’s been described rather than actually taking on the meat of what he argued.

 

And that’s what makes people bitter. You might as well watch curling.

 

And the longer you try to follow this, the more nonsense you find, like this:

 

Republican Rep. Geoff Davis apologizing to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Monday after referring to him as “that boy.”

 

Addressing a Republican gathering Saturday night, the Kentucky lawmaker said, “That boy’s finger does not need to be on the button.” Davis was talking about political and national security issues at an annual GOP dinner.

 

No, his name is not Jefferson Davis – it’s Geoff Davis. There’s a difference. And he did apologize, although Marc Ambinder notes that Davis seemed to be apologizing for something else entirely:

 

My poor choice of words is regrettable and was in no way meant to impugn you or your integrity. I offer my sincere apology to you and ask for your forgiveness.

 

Though we may disagree on many issues, I know that we share the goal of a prosperous, secure future for our nation. My comment has detracted from the dialogue that we should all be having on legitimate policy differences and in no way reflects the personal and professional respect I have for you.

 

See Matthew Yglesias:

 

But nobody impugned Obama’s integrity here – the issue is that only racist white people refer to grown-up black men as “boy.” Obama and Davis are both in their forties so it’s not even as if some much older member of Congress engaged in the “poor choice of words” here.

 

… it’s very difficult to infer anything about a person’s motives or general sentiments from a single incident, but it’s certainly not reassuring that Davis seems unwilling to grasp what the nature of the problem is here. You would think that a decent person who accidentally stumbled into a problem here would be more genuinely contrite.

 

Yeah – whatever. Such things will happen, like this:

 

After addressing the journalists gathered at the annual Associated Press luncheon in Washington, D.C., today, Sen. Barack Obama took a few questions. The last one from the audience, delivered via AP chairman W. Dean Singleton was related our troops to Iraq and the threat posed by, as Singleton put it, “Obama bin Laden.”

 

Obama quickly corrected Singleton. “That’s Osama bin Laden,” he said. The crowd laughed a bit. “If I did that, I am so sorry,” Singleton replied.

 

Duncan Black:

 

Stupid stuff like this shouldn’t even matter, but if Obama’s the nominee a substantial chunk of Republican chuckleheads will believe, or pretend to believe, that Obama really is a terrorist who wants to destroy America.

 

It’s just a game, as in Judicial Watch Files Complaint Over Elton John’s Clinton Fundraiser:

 

Mr. John, a foreign national, cannot under federal law make any contribution to a federal, state or local election campaign. The group, in a letter from its president, Tom Fitton, described Mr. John’s appearance at the fund-raiser as an “in-kind contribution from a foreign national.”

 

The Clinton campaign could not be reached for comment.

 

That’s interesting, but then, so is this:

 

The consumer spending slump and tightening credit markets are unleashing a widening wave of bankruptcies in American retailing, prompting thousands of store closings that are expected to remake suburban malls and downtown shopping districts across the country.

 

Since last fall, eight mostly midsize chains – as diverse as the furniture store Levitz and the electronics seller Sharper Image – have filed for bankruptcy protection as they staggered under mounting debt and declining sales.

 

But the troubles are quickly spreading to bigger national companies, like Linens ‘n Things, the bedding and furniture retailer with 500 stores in 47 states. It may file for bankruptcy as early as this week, according to people briefed on the matter.

 

Even retailers that can avoid bankruptcy are shutting down stores to preserve cash through what could be a long economic downturn. Over the next year, Foot Locker said it would close 140 stores, Ann Taylor will start to shutter 117 and the jeweler Zales will close 100.

 

That might matter more than who’s an elitist.

 

But the game goes on. Monday, April 14, also brought another New York Times column from their new hire, William Kristol, the neoconservative guru who edits the Iran-is-next Weekly Standard. This one was appropriately wacky – Obama’s remarks about how people were bitter at their powerlessness on economic issues so they, by default, voted on religious issues, sounded just like that atheist devil Karl Marx saying religion was the opiate of the people.

 

At Think Progress you’ll find an audio clip from the Brian and the Judge show – Fox News’ senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano asking Senator Lieberman if Obama is “a Marxist as Bill Kristol says might be the case?” That goes like this:

 

NAPOLITANO: Hey Sen. Lieberman, you know Barack Obama, is he a Marxist as Bill Kristol says might be the case in today’s New York Times? Is he an elitist like your colleague Hillary Clinton says he is?

 

LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, I must say that’s a good question. I know him now for a little more than three years since he came into the Senate and he’s obviously very smart and he’s a good guy. I will tell ya that during this campaign, I’ve learned some things about him, about the kind of environment from which he came ideologically. And I wouldn’t…I’d hesitate to say he’s a Marxist, but he’s got some positions that are far to the left of me and I think mainstream America.

 

No wonder people are bitter. This is nonsense. But it is what we have.

 

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Putting It to Rest

  1. Rick (from Atlanta) says:

    American Prospect’s Ezra Klein, on having to report on the scandal over Barrack Obama’s words:

    “It’s not damaging because we think it foretells him doing something harmful to the country. It’s not damaging because it suggests his policy agenda is poorly conceived, or his priorities are awry. … We reporters have to cover it, of course, because it’s Really Important, and matters more than the housing plans of all the candidates put together. But it matters in a completely self-referential way, it matters only because it matters, not because it means anything about Obama, or illuminates anything about his potential presidency. It’s a hollow scandal.”

    Yes, but no.

    I would like to submit a seemingly-obvious, but rarely-if-ever-mentioned, nugget of truth about American politics:

    When we voters don’t like a candidate, we tend to look hard for bad things in him that may not even be there, but when we do like a candidate, we tend to overlook a lot of bad things that almost certainly are there.

    Even as an Obama supporter, I must admit that anyone looking for another reason not to like Barrack Obama sure hit pay-dirt with his God and guns comment — and also that they have the right to judge whether someone who thinks this way is the kind of person they want in the oval office.

    Me? I’m tempted to overlook it as a forgivable gaff, and choose instead to dwell on his pointing out that victims of the dark side of this economy aren’t real happy about it, and have a perfect right not to be.

    Housing policies? At the risk of sounding like John McCain, I wouldn’t know a good housing policy if it came up and bit me in the butt — and nor would most voters, and nor should they be expected to.

    It’s not that specific issues aren’t important, it’s just that they’re not as important as some wonky reporters with lots more time on their hands to think about these things than most of us have, think they are.

    What a candidate says he will do about something or other is, at best, just a demonstration of how that candidate thinks and where he plans on taking the country — at least insofar as we, the voters, can even make those judgments after listening to him ramble on about all of that stuff. If we like him, we’re impressed; if we don’t, we think he’s obviously just faking it.

    But as much as I don’t like seeing Obama in this current “scandal,” I’m also relieved to see that he’s apparently handling it all quite well.

    ———

    The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber, regarding Hillary’s riffs on Obama’s “bitter” comments:

    “She’s made herself look completely cynical, she’s once again reminded superdelegates of everything they hated about the Clinton era…”

    Especially compared to all the foolishness going on in this era, I must admit that I didn’t hate the Clinton era at all, and doubt very much that most other people living through it did, either!

    It’s just that, every time the Clintons open their mouths these days, I find myself wondering more and more if the Clintons had anything to do whatsoever with the Clinton era!

    Rick

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