Sunday, November 02, 2008

Broderism after the election

When you vote, remember the stakes

The boys and girls of the punditocracy are so convinced of an Obama win - they always want to look like they're on top of the "horse race" - that they've been concentrating their narratives on what happens after an Obama victory, not on what a McCain victory would mean. Jilted fans but eager to forgive, they are waiting for the election to be over to rehabilitate their beloved Maverick. Because with him on the campaign trail, spewing wild invective and acting like the mean, hostile old authoritarian he is, it's hard for even our press corps to talk about him as the noble hero who puts honor above all. (Or is it country above all?)

"Biapartisanship" (Republican style) is one of the touchstones of the wisdom of High Broderism. I started heckling like a teenaged sports fan this morning on Meet the Press when Tom Brokaw earnestly demanded that Obama appoint Republicans to his Cabinet - and his guest John Kerry quickly agreed! I know Obama is still making noises about considering Republicans for his Cabinet, which is may or may not be good for wooing undecideds in these last few days, although the conventional wisdom would say that it's a good idea. But it's certainly not an idea I would want to encourage. How many Democrats did Dick Cheney and George Bush put in their Cabinet?

One exception that I would likely be enthusiastic for would be if Obama were to pick Patrick Fitzgerald as Attorney General.


Fitzgerald has a real reputation for fairness and honesty. And given the fact that a significant number of crimes were committed by high-level Bush administration officials, having a Republican in the position that would have chief responsibility for prosecuting them might really be a good idea. If Obama floats his name as a possibility, hopefully Democratic-leaning groups will vet him more thoroughly from that perspective. What worked well in the prosecution of the outing of Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA officer might not work so well as Attorney General. But he did show he was willing to go after Dick Cheney, who warmly endorsed John McCain on Saturday.

Broder himself was on Tom Brokaw's Meet the Press panel of pundits. Brokaw even made the remark, which I took to be not entirely friendly, that Broder had been covering Presidential campaigns since Theodore Roosevelt. His pre-election Washington Post offering, The Amazing Race 11/02/08, rushes to rehabilitate the Great American McCain. Did you realize that the McCain-Palin campaign did not use any kind of race-baiting tactics? Well, that's what The Dean Of All The Pundits says, speaking of "the continuing tension over the unspoken issue of Obama's race", the unspoken issue about which the press corps has been speaking incessantly:

It had flared in the primaries, in part because of Bill Clinton's campaigning and in part because the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's Chicago minister and an important mentor for 20 years, was revealed to hold incendiary anti-white views. Obama delivered a personal, historically sophisticated address on race , as stirring as any such speech I had heard since the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In the end, he broke completely with his minister and, thanks in large part to McCain's personal aversion to any suggestion of racial campaigning, the issue never fully emerged in a negative way this fall, sparing the country what could have been a divisive experience. [my emphasis]
In the world of High Broderism, it was those endlessly vile Clintons and Obama's scary, scary black preacher who introduced race into the campaign. The honorable Great American Maverick was too high-minded to do any such thing.

Not only that. The Cheneyized Republican Party nominated McCain because ... he's a Maverick!

As for McCain, his barriers seemed insurmountable. His angry tirade against the right-wing preachers who had backed Bush in 2000 had alienated him from that wing of the party. He had become the chief cheerleader for an unpopular war in Iraq and the chief GOP spokesman for an immigration bill that most of his party despised. There were younger, more attractive alternatives, including Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Huckabee.

But the voters - bless 'em - ignored the oddsmakers. They were determined to do their own thing - set the nation on a new course, sharply different from that of George W. Bush. It did not matter much to them that McCain was too old, by conventional standards, to be running or that Obama's mixed-race background broke the historic color line on the presidency.
About the first time that some foreign leader says something nasty about the United States after Obama is (hopefully!) inaugurated, Broder and his fellow pundits can be expected to wring their hands and furrow their brows and reflect on how the immensely honorable Maverick McCain would have been so much more reassuring in the White House.

In the panel discussion on Meet the Press, before they dived into the "horse-race" scoring, they held a painfully lame discussion of race in American politics. Brokaw started it off with the Broder quote from above, and asked the Dean to start the discussion. You can imagine how that went. Here was the comment by NBC's political director, Chuck Todd, apparently culled out of his own imagination:

I kind of think it's, it's not just--you, you talk about it as far as generational. I actually think there's going to be a regional aspect to this, too. I think we'll see it more in the North and in the industrial Midwest pop up, in an Ohio and Pennsylvania. Less, I think, in the South. The South has openly dealt with race for much longer than the North ever did, and so I think you're going to see Obama overperform potentially among white voters in, in some of these Southern states. But, you know, we'll see race pop up in those industrial states. [my emphasis]
Yes, George Wallace and Ross Barnett were "openly" dealing with race 40+ years ago. In the real world, in states like Alabama and Mississippi, voting has been heavily polarized along racial lines, with large majorities of black voters favoring Democrats and an overwhelming majority of white voters favoring Republicans. I would love to see a surge for Obama among white voters in Alabama and Mississippi. But what Todd was basing his odd and foggy prediction on, I have no idea.

The Villagers already have their lines in place for an Obama victory on Tuesday. And their standards for Obama to fail. He must appoint Republicans to his Cabinet. He has to give up his health-care and other programs because of the bank bailout. He has to concentrate of balancing the budget so the next Republican President can blow out the surplus with tax cuts for the wealthy. "Pay-go" is the buzzword for the latter demand, i.e., "pay as you go" procedures that require Congress to identify new revenue or cuts for any new spending.

He can't assume that even a landslide vote for him with major Democratic gains in the House and Senate are some kind of "mandate" for him or for Democratic programs. Brokaw quoted LieberDem Bob Kerrey saying that! Here's Kerrey's Liebermanesque quote:

By my lights, the primary threat to the success of a President Obama will come from some Democrats who, emboldened by the size of their congressional majority, may try to kill trade agreements, raise taxes in ways that will destroy jobs, repeal the Patriot Act and spend and regulate to high heaven. ...

To build up the political capital for the kinds of changes needed in these difficult times, Obama will need to communicate the following to Congress, in no uncertain terms: The Democrats have not won a mandate for all their policies. Rather, the American people have resoundingly registered their frustration with a failed status quo, and the next president must chart a new, less partisan course. [my emphasis]
The primary threat to the success of the Democratic President will come from ... acting like a Democrat? It's hard to believe people can say stuff like this with a straight face. Well, unless you're a Big Pundit or a top-tier political journalist.

Just to say a couple of obvious things, what's the point of building up "political capital" if you're never going to use to achieve the goals you were elected to achieve? And isn't there some grounds to assume that voters who want Republican policies to continue will vote for, uh, Republicans? Why should people elected as Democrats be afraid to act like Democrats?

Tom Friedman, who is to Establishment "liberalism" what David Broder is to all-around pundit hackery, kinda-sorta endorses Barack Obama in Vote for ( ) New York Times 11/02/08. But he also insists that Obama has to dump his actual program:

Since the last debate, John McCain and Barack Obama have unveiled broad ideas about how to restore the nation’s financial health. But they continue to suggest that this will be largely pain-free. McCain says giving everyone a tax cut will save the day; Obama tells us only the rich will have to pay to help us out of this hole. Neither is true.
Friedman, whose wife is a billionaire, or at least was before the recent stock crash, is very concerned that the pain of saving the banks be spread equally among the public. And that there not be any of this Bolshevik class-warfare rhetoric: "We wasted a huge amount of time pretending that we could punish Wall Street without punishing Main Street - when, in fact, they are intricately intertwined."

Gosh, Dick Cheney and George Bush "wasted a huge amount of time" trying to "punish Wall Street"! These pundits just make up their own world. Bob Somerby is right: if we didn't have a press corps like this, you couldn't invent them. His theory that they are pod people from outer space looks more plausible all the time, too.

Bill McKibben recently wrote about why Tom Friedman is a useful bellwether of a certain variant of Establishment opinion: "Thomas Friedman is the prime leading indicator of the conventional wisdom, always positioned just far enough ahead of the curve to give readers the sense that they're in-the-know, but never far enough to cause deep mental unease." (Green Fantasia New York Review of Books 11/06/08 issue).

Chuck Todd on Meet the Press also gave us a preview of a likely press script. You have to picture him with a smarmy grin, or just watch the segment online, to fully appreciate the attitude:

But I tell you, I'm just concerned watching everything that's--we're going to see 10, maybe 10 new senators, 12 new senators, you know, mostly from the Democratic Party. Potentially 40 to 50 new House members. Folks that have--are really new to the system, not just new to Washington, new to politics, new to what they do. You know, when they--some of these folks that are going to win, when they announce, they really didn't think they were going to win, they were sort of trying this out for once to see if this was going to be... And so the learning curve, not just for the incoming president, but this new Congress. You know, there is--this first 60 days in--before these guys take the oath is going to be very critical because their problems are too big. [my emphasis]
You would think that a 21st century Andrew Jackson was coming to town with all his followers to leave their muddy bootprints around the place. And, we know what the Villagers think of that horror. As Dean Broder himself famously said of Bill Clinton, "He came in here and he trashed the place ... and it's not his place."

The boys and girls of the press corps will be much happier if their old love McCain somehow pulls this thing out on Tuesday.

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