THE BLOG

The Punditocracy vs. History

08/10/2006 02:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's 1972 all over again or so Cokie, Broder, Marty, Jacob, Bill, Bob, Joe, Mike, and Mile are telling us. The Democrats blew it by endorsing a left wing "elitist" antiwar candidate who hated Middle America back then, and now are getting read to do the same. Here's the thing, being a pundit makes you stupid. All these pundits supported the war, natch, and understand at some subliminal level, that they too are being rejected by the voters who blame Lieberman for trusting Bush and getting us into this horrific war. They reach for the nearest historical analogy they can find to bolster their argument and settle on 1972. Thing is, they understand very little of history, most of them having stopped reading anything but one another in college.

I wrote this in The Nation a while back, but it speaks to historical background of today's situation, I think:

"At a recent conference on the Clinton Administration at Hofstra University, ex-press secretary Jake Siewart made a point that had previously eluded me: It was during the early days of Clinton's presidency that the democratization of instant information made the insider press corps obsolete. To retain their importance and self-regard, these journalists had to invent a new function for themselves, and they did: interpreting, not reporting, the news. But instead of doing the hard work of researching the historical, economic, sociological and political contexts of a given story and then finding a way to explain these in lay terms, they preferred to rely on what came most easily to them: cocktail party gossip, green room small talk, semiofficial leaks and unconfirmed rumor, almost always offered up as if the source had no interest in pushing a point of view.

It soon became clear that the insider press corps had developed a set of values almost completely antithetical to those of the majority of the American people. This disjunction is frequently misinterpreted--often deliberately--as one of snooty liberal elitists versus God-fearing, Darwin-disbelieving, upright common folk. It's almost impossible to find reliable evidence for this characterization, either in what the press corps believes or what the public does. Ironically, the media elite are attacking themselves when they embrace this myth, which is purposely stoked by the far right..."

Back to today. The punditocracy argument about 1972, while dead wrong about McGovern himself, who was a brave, patriotic World War II hero from South Dakota, has some validity, given whom he was perceived by voters to represent. The first serious historical research I ever did was when I was researching my honors thesis as an undergraduate. I wanted to study the origins of neoconservatism, the Six Day War, and Vietnam--this was back in 1981--and my adviser, Walter LaFeber--insisted that I learn a little context first by examining the attitudes of the entire country to the war and the antiwar movement. I poured over the polling data and found to my surprise, that in many ways, the antiwar movement was counterproductive. Many Americans didn't like the war but they really hated the counterculture. If supporting Nixon was a way to get back at the hippies and protesters and rioters, they were willing to do it, even if it meant extending a war they thought to be already lost.

Now look at today. In the first place, as I keep saying, remember this is Connecticut. It's blue, antiwar state. It's not the whole damn country. But second, look at the context for God's sake. There's no antiwar movement to speak of, no riots, no marches, no one is burning their draft cards, preaching free love, wiping themselves with the flag, bussing your kids to ghetto schools or vice-versa, taking away your jobs, raising your taxes to give the money to rioting race-baiting Black Panthers, etc. Our Lady of the Magic Dolphin, insists that the people who originally inspired the Lamont campaign, "The Kos crowd is viewed by most people outside that crowd as hate-fueled, bitter and stupid--the devil's flying monkeys making their "Eeek! Eeek!" sounds." Methinks Peggy's been nipping at the sherry a mite too frequently. The only Abbie Hoffman/Jerry Rubin types are on the right and when they're not hosting Fox News programs, they are being called "brilliant" by Chris Matthews on MSNBC. So the upshot we are left with is that Connecticut Democrats picked a candidate whose positions are consistent with the majority and rejected one whose are not. And yet that, we are told is somehow the "elitist" position that will destroy the Democrats with a public that largely agrees with them. In other words, the analogy fails completely upon the slightest scrutiny.

In that regard, take a look at this from TP: "It's an unfortunate development, I think, from the standpoint of the Democratic Party, to see a man like Lieberman pushed aside because of his willingness to support an aggressive posture in terms of our national security strategy,'' said VP Cheney. Al-Qaida is "betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task." White House spokesman Tony Snow put it more succinctly, "A white flag [in Iraq] in short means a white flag in the war on terror." Josh does a good job on demonstrating how the mainstream media are repeating the right-wing McCarthyite talking points of the Bush Administration. What is so damn ironic about this of course, is the fact that the invasion of Iraq was a present to Al Qaeda, a never-ending recruitment video for them, to say nothing of the fact that the administration's obsessive focus on it is what allowed Bin Laden and his lieutenants to get away. Peter Wallerstein details these talking points in the L.A. Times,

"Republicans also sought to use the Lieberman loss as an opportunity to drive wedges in the Democratic base -- following White House advisor Karl Rove's strategy of energizing conservatives while trying to make certain Democratic voters question whether they should vote with their party. . . ."

"The Republican response Wednesday was highly coordinated, tightly matching a set of GOP talking points distributed to activists and strategists. The effort also paralleled an internal strategy memo, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, that laid out the party's intent to mobilize its base for the election by highlighting Bush's actions in Iraq and the notion that Democrats were weak in their approach to 'foreign threats.'"

Boehlert has more.

PS. I hear the British terrorists were going to call this off if Joe had won his primary, what with American showing its "strength" and all. Damn you, Connecticut primary voters....

Ever wondered how to get a gig as a high-powered political consultant in demand by the mainstream media?

Tim from THE ROAD TO SERFDOM explains:

"Here's some really bad news for Joe Lieberman's chances as an Independent Senate candidate: Dick Morris thinks he can win:

In the general election, Lieberman can paint Lamont (a former client of mine) as the rich, light-weight dilettante he is (heir to the fortune of J.P. Morgan's partner) and can focus on the broad range of his legislative agenda. After all, Lieberman has taken the lead on issues ranging from campaign-finance reform to tobacco regulation to corporate-governance reform to tough action against terrorism to the battle against global warming. He'll look better and better, while Lamont will look like a one-issue challenger who is out of his league.

Morris, in case you don't know, has a pretty bad record of prediction (Google it), though, as you'll see, he also has a pretty good record of prediction too. Depends on what day you read him.

For instance there was this one from a little while back about Lieberman's chances in the primary he just lost:

"[Lamont] need not be taken very seriously. Lieberman is not vulnerable and a primary will only make him that much stronger (assuming Ned even gets on the ballot)."

Bummer. But fear not, there was also this Morris prediction about Lieberman's chances, in which he does much better:

Senator and former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman will lose the Democratic primary in Connecticut, political strategist Dick Morris predicts.

The unfortunate thing about this was that at the same time, he also
said this about Lieberman:

...if Lieberman then runs in the general election as an independent, he will be "so crippled" by his defeat in the August 8 primary, and his Democratic opponent Ned Lamont "so empowered," that Lieberman will lose the general election as well and give up his seat in the Senate, says Morris.

Which bring us back to d'oh and the Morris prediction that I kicked off this post with." Coming soon from Hasbro: The WEISBERG/ PERETZ Perpetual Conventional Wisdom Machine... with interchangeable parts. [To be fair, I could have used Broder or Cokie or the Post editors or Kristol or Kagan, etc. Michael Barone would have been just as easy: "He writes that he Democratic Party wants to "stand aside" from the global struggle against "Islamofascist terrorism." He also uses the presence of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton by Lamont's side on Tuesday to suggest that the Democratic Party is "not necessarily on the side of Israel."]

Meanwhile, over at TomDispatch, MR. ENGELHARDT considers the Bush administration's urge to overcome, via anti-proliferation wars, the "nuclear taboo" that has, since August 10, 1945, restrained American presidents and the leaders of other powers in the "nuclear club" from turning such weapons into useable parts of their military arsenals. Since its Nuclear Posture Review of 2002, the Bush administration has been playing with the "nuclear option," most recently (as Seymour Hersh has reported) as a possible way to take out Iranian nuclear facilities. He concludes: "Nuclear weapons as anti-nuclear-proliferation devices; anti-proliferation wars as a way to end the 'nuclear taboo' and open the door to the ordinary use of such weaponry -- talk about diabolical. As in Lebanon, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, so in its nuclear policy, the only thing the Bush administration seems capable of doing is exporting ruins to the rest of the world. In this sense, it has offered the world a model drawn directly from the charnel house of nuclear policy which began on a clear day over Hiroshima sixty-one years ago and has never ended."

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