For the fifth time, Maureen Dowd recycled an inapt literary analogy comparing Bill and Hillary Clinton to the characters Tom and Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby in her July 31 New York Times column.
The comparison has its origins in the phony Whitewater scandal in the mid-1990s, a period when much of the Washington press corps, including the Times, fell prey to an anti-Clinton fever that began with the Clintons' political enemies in the right-wing. Numerous independent investigations, several helmed by Republicans, found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Clintons related to the decades-old land deal, yet the faulty characterization, which originated with columnist Joe Klein, author of a fictional anti-Clinton book, lives on at the Times 18 years later.
Klein's August 6, 1995, column for Newsweek focused on the Senate's Whitewater hearings, which he described as a "scavenger hunt through a sewer" that exposed "the perverse ways of this administration." He concluded with a description of "the most disturbing Whitewater 'revelation'":
It is about the character of the Clintons. They are the Tom and Daisy Buchanan of the Baby Boom Political Elite. The Buchanans, you may recall, were E Scott Fitzgerald's brilliant crystallization of flapper fecklessness in "The Great Gatsby." They were "careless" people. They smashed up lives and didn't notice. After two years, it's become difficult to avoid a distinguishing characteristic of this administration: the body count. Too many lives and reputations have been ruined by carelessness, too many decent people have been forced to walk the plank for trivialities, appearances, changes of mind. Whitewater has been the worst of it.
Four days later, Dowd would pick up the analogy in her Times column:
As with Presidents Nixon and Reagan, the landscape is littered with aides taking the fall. As Joe Klein wrote of the Clintons in Newsweek: "They are the Tom and Daisy Buchanan of the Baby Boom Political Elite. . . . They smashed up lives and didn't notice. . . . How could the First Lady allow her chief of staff to spend $140,000 on legal fees? Why hasn't she come forward and said . . . 'I'll testify.' "
Media outlets including NPR and Fox News are targeting federal disability benefits programs through a campaign deceptively portraying these programs as wasteful and unsustainable. In reality, these programs have low fraud rates and help the rising number of Americans with severe disabilities survive when they are unable to work.
This is not unimportant. Kristol lies very close to the throbbing heart of the Fox News sensibility. And I've heard, from more than a couple of conservative sources, that prominent Republicans have approached Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes about the potential embarrassment that the paranoid-messianic rodeo clown may bring upon their brand. The speculation is that Beck is on thin ice. His ratings are dropping, too--which, in the end, is a good part of what this is all about. But I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a mirror-Olbermann situation soon.
Time's Joe Klein does a commendable job pointing out some of the flaws in Fred Barnes' Wall Street Journal column yesterday. Alas, Barnes' foolishness proved too much for one person to catalogue, so some loose ends remain.
Barnes central premise is that President Obama wants, or should want, Republicans to gain control of Congress, because that will make it easier to cut spending and thus waltz to re-election.
That's silly because, as Klein notes, "The Republicans have shown no--I mean, zero--interest in cutting the budget in the past. They didn't do it under Reagan; they didn't do it under Bush Junior. Quite the opposite, they exploded the budget deficit with wars and tax cuts." Klein also points out that Barnes' focus on domestic discretionary spending is "chump change" in the context of what Barnes describes as a "debt crisis."
But there's another fundamental flaw with Barnes' argument: His repeated suggestion that trimming domestic spending would pave the way for Obama's reelection:
If Mr. Obama wants to avert a fiscal crisis and win re-election in 2012, he needs House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be removed from her powerful post. A GOP takeover may be the only way.
Over the past 50 years, it should be no surprise which president has the best record for holding down discretionary spending. It was President Reagan. But who was second best? President Clinton, a Democrat. His record of frugality was better than Presidents Nixon, Ford and both Bushes. Mr. Clinton couldn't have done it if Republicans hadn't won the House and Senate in the 1994 election. They insisted on substantial cuts, he went along and then whistled his way to an easy re-election in 1996.
Mr. Obama's re-election to a second term is heavily dependent on his ability to deal effectively with the fiscal mess.
Incredibly, Barnes never once makes any mention of the economy's effect on Obama's reelection prospects, or the effect it had on Clinton's in 1996. Didn't mention unemployment, either. In Barnes' telling, the nation's fiscal condition is key to a president's re-election and cutting spending is the way to win. But in actual electoral history, voters' finances are more important than the government's finances. Clinton's 1996 victory, for example, came after the unemployment rate, which ranged from 6.5 to 7.3 percent for his first year in office, had fallen to the mid-5s for two full years.
Having ignored the fact that voters tend to vote based on their financial condition, not the government's, Barnes apparently felt free to ignore the effect his proposed spending cuts would have on the economy. Just completely ignored it. (Number of mentions of the words "jobs," "employment," "unemployment" in Barnes column: 0.) Given the tendency of economists to argue that cutting government spending is not exactly the best way to kick-start the economy, Barnes' advice would seem to make for bad policy as well as bad politics.
(One last problem with Barnes' contention that a GOP takeover of Congress would be good for Obama: Republicans are already clamoring for investigations of complete non-scandals, and the last time we had a Republican Congress and a Democrat in the White House, the GOP handed out subpoenas like they were lollipops, even going so far as to investigate the White House cat. Arguing that a GOP congress would be good for Obama without noting the likelihood of frivolous, partisan investigations is like arguing that BP has been good for the Gulf of Mexico without noting all that oil in the water.)
UPDATE: Brendan Nyhan drops some science on Barnes.
From the April 18 edition of the NBC-syndicated The Chris Matthews Show:
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From the April 18 edition of NBC's The Chris Matthews Show:
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From the February 1 edition of Fox News' O'Reilly Factor:
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From the September 13 broadcast of the syndicated Chris Matthews Show:
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Time's Joe Klein rips a new fundraising email that begins with the false claim that "More American women are going to die of breast cancer if you and I surrender to President Obama's nationalized healthcare onslaught" and goes on to make a variety of false claims about health care reform.
Needless to say, there is no plan to nationalize or socialize health care. This letter, therefore, is a disgraceful scam, intended to scare the living hell out of already frightened and militantly uninformed people--Fox News viewers who think the sky is falling because a Muslim-Socialist-furriner is in the White House. I'd like to see the leaders of the Republican Party disown this poisonous swill. But they won't--because the real leaders of the Republican Party (Fox, Rush and Drudge) are spreading it.
Klein never mentions who the email is from, though. It's signed by Michelle Bernard of the Independent Women's Forum. Bernard is a frequent guest on MSNBC, particularly Chris Matthews' Hardball.
Joe Klein has expressed a fair amount of outrage in recent weeks about the lies that are being spread about health care. But he seems not to have internalized one very important fact: The problem is not limited to "Fox, Rush and Drudge."
In this case, MSNBC gives a platform to the author of the "disgraceful scam, intended to scare the lving hell out of already frightened and militantly uninformed people." MSNBC, not Fox. MSNBC, not Rush. MSNBC.
The other thing Joe Klein would do well to realize is that Fox News doesn't give a damn whether Joe Klein criticizes them. Neither does Rush Limbaugh, or Matt Drudge. But if Joe Klein, longtime fixture of Polite DC Society, were to turn his ire on people like Chris Matthews for giving people like Michelle Bernard a platform, he might actually do some good. Matthews and Andrea Mitchell and Norah O'Donnell and David Shuster might actually care what he has to say. He might actually be able to shame them.
From Lisa de Moraes' July 29 Washington Post column:
Sadly, TV critics mostly wanted to talk about Lou Dobbs, host of the news network's "I'm Lou Dobbs and You're Not," and his ongoing gasbagging about President Obama not coughing up his birth certificate.
Dobbs thinks that Obama should produce it to put to rest rantings and rumors that he's not actually a natural-born U.S. citizen and therefore not eligible to be president. Not producing the birth certificate looks pretty fishy, Dobbs has insinuated.
"There are two strands to this story," CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein began to explain patiently to the critics. "There are the facts and then there is the flap. What Lou, and everybody else at CNN, has done is very clearly report and run down the facts."
There is no doubt, Klein acknowledged, that Obama was born in Hawaii. "And Lou Dobbs has reported that over and over again."
Separate from that, Klein said, is the issue of people who believe it anyway. Dobbs, Klein explained, is merely "exploring those flaps."
"But it's a dead issue," he added.
Why give so much airtime to a dead issue? Glad you asked. TV critics did, too. More accurately, one asked: Why is so much airtime being devoted to "giving voice to this sort of idiocy on your network?"
Klein argued that CNN had spent a lot more time on health care, Afghanistan and Iraq, "but the spirit of your question is, why we devote any time," Klein said. (These news-network chiefs can be pretty patronizing.)
CNN viewers expect it to "do the reporting, present the facts and present a range of points of views" and then "viewers want to make up their own minds," Klein explained.
Which explains their upcoming documentary: "The World: Flat. We Report -- You Decide." Okay, we made that one up.
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In his Time column, Joe Klein claimed that Sen. Barack Obama is aware of the "potential problem" of his "patriotism," as "patriotism replaced hope as a theme of his [March 4] concession speech [in Texas]." As evidence, Klein wrote that Obama "echoed John McCain in citing Abraham Lincoln, and called America 'the last best hope on Earth.' " Klein then falsely claimed: "That was the only 'hope' he mentioned -- a fascinating calibration." In fact, Obama mentioned "hope" at other points in the speech, and he has repeatedly used Lincoln's "the last best hope on Earth" line during his presidential campaign.
On CNN, Anderson Cooper asked Joe Klein: "You actually -- you hear fear in Hillary Clinton's voice?" Klein responded: "Well, it's interesting. Earlier in the year when she was doing really well, she was speaking more slowly and from, like, her diaphragm. Now, she's speaking much more quickly again and through her nose. It's interesting."
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