Sunday, June 22, 2008

Big Pundits agree! (And agree, and agree)

Melchizedek, the David Broder of the Book of Genesis

We have a bill about to be enacted (the FISA update) that takes another big whack at the Constitution and the rule of law. We also had a horse-race issue last week when Obama decided not to take public financing for his general election campaign.

Of course, the Big Pundits focused their attention on the FISA issue. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!

Sorry. I have to amuse myself with these silly thoughts every now and then.

Now, it doesn't particularly bother me one way or another that Obama opted out of public funding. The system allows the candidates to choose one or the other. Obama's fundraising has allowed him to build an impressive Internet base of small donors which he judged would provide better funding for the general election than public financing. He's also demanded that pro-Obama 527 groups not run independent campaigns, while McCain piously pretends he doesn't like the Republican 527's but yawns that he can't do anything about them. Meanwhile, the bold Maverick is, according to the Republican head of the Federal Election Commission, breaking the law in the way he's handled public financing.

Obama is surely aware, as well, that one big problem John Kerry had in 2004 was that by opting in to public financing, he was limited in the amount he could spend in the summer when the Swift Boat Liars for Bush opened their publicity campaign against him. With the Republicans' worst barracudas going after him (see Dave Neiwert, The Obama Smear Merchants Keep On Smearin’ Firedoglake blog 06/18/08), Obama decided not to take the chance of a repeat of that experience.

So on the PBS Newshour - "quality" television - the liberal pundit Mark Shields and the conservative pundit David Brooks discussed Obama's fundraising decision first up (Shields, Brooks Discuss Obama's Fundraising Shift, McCain's Energy Proposal 06/20/08).

One of them said:

He became the first presidential nominee since Richard Nixon in 1972 to state that his campaign will be funded totally by private donations with no limits on spending.

It was a flip-flop of epic proportions. It was one that he could not rationalize or justify. His video was unconvincing. He looked like someone who was being kept as a hostage somewhere he was so absolutely unconvincing in it. It could not have passed a polygraph test.

I mean, coming up with this bogus argument the Republicans have so much more money - the Republicans don't have so much more money. He's raised three times as much as John McCain has.

He has every possible committee, except Republican National Committee, Democrats at the Senate level, congressional level have this lopsided edge over Republicans. They spent three times as much, did Democratic leaning 527s, in the last election as did Republicans.

So what Obama didn't admit was, up until February of this year, when he told Tim Russert that not only would he aggressively seek an agreement on public financing, that he personally would sit down with John McCain and work it out, then, all of a sudden, they realized that all these small contributions were coming in and he was going to have a financial advantage in the fall against the Republican, and they grabbed it.
The other said:

He treated it as if some noble decision to finalize democracy. It was ludicrous.

I do think it's the low point of the Obama candidacy, and I think it for this reason. His entire career he has put political reform at the center of it. In the Illinois legislature, in the Senate, political reform has been the essence of who he has been. And so for him to betray this, to sell out this issue, what won't he sell out?

And it really reveals something about his conscience. It reveals that he has this idealistic side, which is a serious policy side, but he also has a tough Machiavellian side, a political hack side, and he wants to win.

And so, in some ways, this is terrible because it's epic hypocrisy. In some ways, if you want a tough SOB to be your president, he's shown he is a tough S.O.B.
It was "epic" hypocrisy, the gentlemen agreed. (If it matters, "liberal" Shields was the first, conservative Brooks the second.)

Brooks peered into Obama's soul and told us what it revealed about Obama's conscience. It showed Obama was an S.O.B., Brooks explained, "a political hack" who made a "terrible" decision. Worst of all, it shows that Obama "wants to win"! This, of course, is taken to be a grievous sin on the part of a Democratic Presidential candidate.

Can our top political commentators really be this dumb? "Liberal" Shields went on to explain that Obama had thereby gone back on the central mission of his campaign, which presumably was to do what Mark Shields and David Brooks wanted him to do so that John McCain could coast to the White House and the pundits wouldn't have to rearrange their scripts too seriously come November. Shields did manage to note in passing that:

John McCain is no plaster saint on this issue. McCain opted into public financing to get a bank loan, private bank loan for his campaign during the primaries, and then, as soon as money started to come in, he pulled out of public financing.
Somehow, the illegality of McCain's gaming of public financing never came up. Brooks then quickly jumped in to show that this issue, while it was a "terrible" blight on Obama's character and revealed the sorry state of his conscience, McCain's breaking the campaign financial laws illustrated the Maverick's saintly "character":

But McCain wouldn't have done this. When the chips are down and McCain faced the crucial issue of his career, which was backing the surge, he backed the surge thinking it would cost him the presidency.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Troops in Iraq.

DAVID BROOKS: On a core issue of character, I do not believe McCain will bend. He'll bend on all this other stuff he doesn't care about, but Obama did bend on a core issue of his conscience. (my emphasis)
Does that make any sense at all? No. But Big Pundits are operating on a higher level of enlightenment. Shields then chimed in with a mild shot at our greatest living saint:

You tell me what the core issues of character, what they bend on. I mean, John has been quite flexible. And I do think John McCain has got a lot more political capital fighting for campaign finance reform than the Democrats have, because their constituency is far more disposed to it than is John McCain's.
McCain "has been quite flexible". Shields had been in high dudgeon a moment before about the awful scandal of Obama's lying, irrational, unjustifiable, unconvincing actions, a negative mark of "epic proportions". But by now, he could only mutter something about "John" being "quite flexible" on issues that may or may not have been "core issues of character". He then went on to explain how McCain, the man who's actually breaking the campaign finance laws (as opposed to just making a funding decision of which Big Punidts disapproved) has more "political capital" on campaign reform because McCain's own Party is against it.

Only in the world of High Broderism do such things make sense, pronounced by visionary pundits with deep insight into "core issues of character" and into the candidates' consciences. And our Pundit Lightbringers know that McCain is a Maverick of deep "character", while Obama is a very troubling and strange person. Why, Obama has a clearly defective conscience because - cover the children's ears - "he wants to win"! McCain breaks the campaign finance laws, and this shows he's a person of deep integrity and of greater credibility on ... campaign finance laws.

Yes, even the cream of our punditocracy is really this kooky.

Oh, that little operation to gut the Constitution? Conservative Brooks declared:

On FISA, I think it's quite a good compromise. I don't think -- if you're a phone company executive, the government comes to you and asks you to do stuff, I think you should be protected. And then there are these series of gestures.

So I think, actually, it was pretty good week for Congress.
Taking the "liberal" side, Lightbringer Shields explained:

Well, I think Barack Obama, if he hasn't already - I was told today - is going to endorse what passed the House. So I think that will probably solidify Democrats and encourage Senate Democrats. Maybe it will discourage Republicans from supporting the FISA.
That was our "liberal" Big Pundit's rousing defense of the Constitution and the rule of law.

Brooks explained Obama's troubling "character" deficiencies in his Friday New York Times column, The Two Obamas 06/20/08:

But as recent weeks have made clear, Barack Obama is the most split-personality politician in the country today. On the one hand, there is Dr. Barack, the high-minded, Niebuhr-quoting speechifier who spent this past winter thrilling the Scarlett Johansson set and feeling the fierce urgency of now. But then on the other side, there’s Fast Eddie Obama, the promise-breaking, tough-minded Chicago pol who’d throw you under the truck for votes.

This guy is the whole Chicago package: an idealistic, lakefront liberal fronting a sharp-elbowed machine operator. He’s the only politician of our lifetime who is underestimated because he’s too intelligent. He speaks so calmly and polysyllabically that people fail to appreciate the Machiavellian ambition inside. (my emphasis)
Yes, this oh-so-troubling person "wants to win".

This also shows that Lightbringer Brooks is not only full of spiritual insight into character and conscience, but an intuitive psychiatrist, as well, discerning that Obama is a "split-personality politician". Do Times editors ever ask simple question like, "What the [Cheney] does that even mean?" But, admittedly, it's truly shocking that a Presidential candidate might make a campaign funding decision based on its advantages in helping him win. Shocking! Just shocking!

He proceeds to list various instances in which Brooks thinks Obama threw somebody or something "under the truck". He elaborates on the cosmic nature of Obama campaign financing decision:

And Fast Eddie Obama didn’t just sell out the primary cause of his life. He did it with style. He did it with a video so risibly insincere that somewhere down in the shadow world, Lee Atwater is gaping and applauding. Obama blamed the (so far marginal) Republican 527s. He claimed that private donations are really public financing. He made a cut-throat political calculation seem like Mother Teresa's final steps to sainthood. (my emphasis)
But Brooks' metaphysical insights obviously desert him when he writes, "The media and the activists won’t care (they were only interested in campaign-finance reform only when the Republicans had more money)." (my emphasis) Clearly, "the media" care deeply about this disturbing insight into Obama's character, conscience and psychiatric condition.

McCain breaking campaign finance laws? More evidence of his solid "character" and Maverickness.

And, to Brooks, it seems that worrying about Republican 527s is obviously a phony concern. Surely, the Republicans won't try another Swift Boat Liars campaign this year, even though it worked for them so well in 2004. Even though his own paper just reported on how the notorious Floyd Brown is doing just that already. (It was a poor report, so maybe Brooks just isn't aware of what's going on.)

Tim Russert is no longer with us. But Meet the Press is. His fellow member of the Irish-Catholic MSNBC news mafia, Brian Williams, sat in for him on Sunday. They didn't get around to analyzing the FISA revision and telecom amnesty. Why worry about such boring nonsense when there are horse-race issues to bat around? Besides, a whole weekend and more of mourning Tim Russert clearly weren't enough. They had to devote the last 15 minutes of the show to yet another tribute to Russert's legendary greatness. I didn't watch it. So I don't know if they discussed Russert's failures as a journalist around the Iraq War. I did hear from the other room that part of their reminiscence was accompanied by a sappy version of "Over the Rainbow". So, I'll make a wild guess without having read that part of the transcript and say they didn't get into much evaluation of his failures as a journalist.

But Over the Rainbow is clearly the realm in which our Big Pundits typically operate. Only from such heavenly perspective could Obama's compliance with campaign finance laws be a sign of his deeply flawed "character" while McCain's breaking them shows his sterling "character".

The Meet the Press transcript and podcast for 06/22/08 are available. You can see that Brian Williams started off with the urgent issue of Obama's scandalously bad-"character" decision about financing his general election campaign. His guests the first half-hour were Democratic Sen. Joe Biden and Republican Sen. Lindsey "Huckleberry" Graham.

Biden actually made a credible case. And to the minds of a less-evolved being like me, he pretty much chewed Huckleberry up in the debate. Biden said, yes, Obama changed his mind on public financing. He elaborated on the issue:

SEN. BIDEN: Look, I've been a strong supporter of public financing my, my whole career. I'm the first guy to introduce a public financing bill to the United States Senate in 1973. And the purpose was to get big money out of the politics. The irony is, although he has changed his position - I'm not going to color that, he's changed his position - the fact of the matter is he has 1,400,000 contributors, the vast majority of whom contribute less than a hundred bucks a piece. So the effect of campaign financing is in place, but it's not campaign financing.

MR. WILLIAMS: So this is, all because of the structure of the Obama campaign, the support, the support levels they're finding they have on the Internet, a pragmatic decision.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, yes. But it's also a substantive decision in that no one major influence can affect Obama. He has 1,400,000 contributors. Not one of them could say, "If I don't - if you don't change your mind, I'm withdrawing my support." Whereas with campaigns, the reason I was so - I am so supportive of campaign financing, major interests that are able to accumulate hundreds of thousands, in this case, millions of dollars can say, "Hey, look, you don't change your mind, I leave." So in terms of the downside of his not accepting it in terms of influence and big money, there is no influence or big money in his campaign. In terms of undermining the public financing idea for everyone, it doesn't help.
How is it that the "liberal" Big Pundit Mark Shields couldn't be bothered to even mention that point on the PBS Newshour? Much less the role of Republican 527 Swiftboat campaign in 2004?

Huckleberry sat there pretty much the whole time with a smarmy smirk on his face, saying things like:

MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Graham, does this mean it's broken forever?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): It means his word's broken forever on this issue. I think that's what it means more than anything else. You tell people you're going to change this country, you're going to bring about change that people yearn to, to embrace. Senator McCain supported campaign finance reform at his detriment with Senator Feingold on our side. It did not go over well, but John did it anyway. He took a beating to try to change the campaign finance system. Senator Obama looked in cameras all over the country, literally signed his name, "I will accept public financing," and now, for whatever reason, he has broken his word. And is it 1.4 million donors that allows you to break your word? This is reinforcing everything that's wrong with politics. This is a game changer in terms of the general election. This will not go unnoticed by the American people...

SEN. BIDEN: But he did say...

SEN. GRAHAM: ... and it will not be soon forgotten. (my emphasis)
Yes, Huckleberry Graham, hardline supporter of the Iraq War and The Surge, who went along with the prewar fake evidence about WMDs and Saddam's (nonexistent) Al Qa'ida ties, is very, very, very concerned about honesty and consistency and integrity in politics. You have to see his expressions and hear his voice inflections to get the full effect of how deeply, deeply disappointed Huckleberry is that Obama is falling short of his great promise as a political leader.

Perhaps inspired by the latest insights of Lightbringer Brooks, Huckleberry said:

The public financing system that we all are touting here today as great has been abandoned by one candidate, and that wasn't John McCain. [Actually, Huckleberry was the only one on the program who mentioned the current system as being "great".] It's been abandoned because of political expediency. He's a calculating politician. The bottom line about, about Barack Obama, whatever the position, whether it be Iraq, campaign finance reform, public financing, he's going to take a tack that allows him to win. He wants to win beyond anything else, even more than keeping his word. (my emphasis)
Lordy, how will the Democrats save their endangered souls with the Party headed by a Presidential candidate who "wants to win"? Never has an American political party faced such an awful dilemma.

Later in the program, MSNBC report Andrea Mitchell (wife of the conservative former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan) trotted out another line I've been hearing from our distinguished press corps: polls that show Obama ahead are good for the Republicans because Obama should be much farther ahead. As she put it:

[E]arlier polls from the week before and from two weeks ago, our own poll, ... showed less of a balance for Obama than you would have expected because we have all of this anger against the Republicans, we have all these headwinds against John McCain. It should not be as tight a race as the earlier polls were indicating. (my emphasis)
Mrs. Greenspan did not explain just who the "you" were that "would have expected" Obama to be doing even better than the polls that show him beating McCain. Though clearly someone in our exotic press tribe must have been expecting such a thing.

John Harwood echoed the views of his "friend" and New York Times colleague David Brooks in this weird way:

We have seen many tone changes from Barack Obama since he wrapped up the nomination--on taxes, said he might cut corporate taxes, might delay some tax hike; says he's a "free trader"; he made the decision on campaign finance. Look at this terror deal that went through the Congress and is going to be passed. That's a way of taking an issue off the table, and in the pragmatism that Barack Obama is displaying here, Democrats love the, the split personality that David Brooks...


MR. HARWOOD: friend wrote about in his column. Liberals love that, and they're seeing, potentially, in Barack Obama, somebody, as your rock hero and Tim Russert's might say, was "born to run" in this campaign. (my emphasis)
They just make it up according to their scripts. It's astounding, even when someone is aware that it's the way they operate. Is there any evidence that the Democratic base in general admires Obama's appallingly bad position on the FISA bill and the accompanying telecom amnesty? Is any living, breathing Democrat saying, "Sure, we think Barack Obama is a schizophrenic, split-personality Black Panther Muslim who hates America and we love him for it?" Uh, no. Not in the real world, anyway.

Let's give Harwood a tiny bit of credit, though. He did manage to at least mention the FISA bill in passing, before they passed on to the far more consequential horse-race speculations about Vice Presidential picks. And if you wanted to stretch and be really generous, you might even twist some recognition out of his words that's there's nothing especially unusual about a Presidential candidate wanting to, you know, win the election.

But Over the Rainbow, the Lightbringers can create their own reality. With generous help from Republican friends like Mrs. Greenspan's husband, for instance.

Yes, our press corps is this broken. It ain't a pretty sight.

Since this post is already an orgy of Establishment press wisdom, we might as well include the latest from the Dean Of All The Pundits, the Melchizedek of High Broderism, the man himself: Getting to Know Obama by David "he's the Dean" Broder Washington Post 06/22/08. The Dean declares:

Obama leads on domestic, economic and social issues, but McCain is a strong favorite on national security and terrorism. The former POW's personal appeal looms as the strongest barrier to the Democratic victory indicated by the towering majorities that disapprove of President Bush (68 percent) and that fear the country is headed seriously on the wrong track (84 percent).

Despite those fundamental weaknesses in the Republican position, McCain trails Obama in that same poll by only six points, hardly an impossible margin to overcome. What may be crucial in the end is whether people become comfortable with the prospect of Obama as their president. (my emphasis)
Give The Dean credit, too. He can compact several media scripts tightly together: the Republicans are always more trustworthy on national security (even when polls indicate differently); Obama should be much further ahead in the polls, for reasons known only to highly evolved Pundit Lightbringers; and, there's something about Obama that makes regular people uncomfortable, those regular "soddy buster" type people to whom Big Pundits give voice, something about him, something different, something strange and disturbing ...

Our greatest living saint is, of course, a man of unquestionable integrity and Maverickness. Says The Dean: "McCain benefits from a long-established reputation as a man who says what he believes. His shifts in position that have occurred in this campaign seem not to have damaged that aura."

Wow! McCain has an "aura", too! Translated into "soddy buster" speak, that would read, "McCain's shifts in his positions have not moved any of our pathetic excuse for a press corps to change our established script for him as the Straight Talking Maverick. No matter how little founded it reality it ever was, much less now". The Dean has spoken.

But that strange, exotic black man Democratic Presidential candidate has committed two great sins in the horse-race by the standards of High Broderism. Instead of agreeing unconditionally to the Maverick's proposal for a series of debates, Obama's campaign insists on negotiating about the details. The fact that every other campaign that ever held a series of debates also negotiated over them doesn't make this any less troubling a sign about Obama's deeply uncertain character. As on negotiations with Iran, I assume, the Straight Talker has taught his accolytes in the press that negotiation is a sign of wimpiness and surrender to Evil, while agreeing unconditionally to do what McCain demands is a sign of great virtue and solid character.

But The Dean almost outdoes himself on this next one. That's why he's The Dean:

At the same briefing, Gibbs and campaign counsel Bob Bauer defended Obama's decision to become the first presidential candidate since the Watergate reforms to decline public financing of his general election campaign.

Gibbs and Bauer in effect blamed McCain, saying repeatedly that he was "gaming the system" by pledging to accept public funds while saying he could not "referee" spending by outside independent groups if it occurred. In fact, McCain had been far more vocal in denouncing such groups on the GOP side than Obama was in criticizing their counterparts playing Democratic presidential politics - even though Obama has claimed the mantle of campaign finance reformer that McCain has long enjoyed. (my emphasis)
We less-evolved mortals naturally have a bit of difficulty assimilating such higher wisdom. McCain breaks the campaign financing laws and gives a transparently phony statement that he doesn't want 527's to run parallel campaigns. Obama actively demands that the 527's on the Democratic side cease separate operations and support the central campaign instead; plus, he's obeying the campaign finance laws. And all this is a sign of, once more, McCain's great virtue and sterling character and the very troubling state of Obama's conscience, character and psychiatric condition.

The Dean closes by reminding us how deeply strange and troubling Obama is:

By refusing to join McCain in these initiatives in order to protect his own interests, Obama raises an important question: Has he built sufficient trust so that his motives will be accepted by the voters who are only now starting to figure out what makes him tick? (my emphasis)
The Dean has spoken. There's something about Obama...

Even a veteran of the old East German TV news would surely be embarassed to say things in public like our Big Pundits regularly say without the slightest sign of embarassment.

And, let's not forget that in the Republican Bizarro World, the PBS Newshour, MSNBC, David Broder and the Washington Post are all pillars of the liberal press.

Future generations will study this time. And they will rightfully challenge their teachers and professors about whether their textbooks are accurate, because how could the press corps in the wealthiest and most militarily powerful country in the world ever have become this weirdly dysfunctional? I'm even hopeful that future generations of American students will get to study this and ask those questions. Yes, I'm a wild-eyed optimist somewhere deep down.

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"It is the logic of our times
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That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

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