Tag Archives: Beltway

The buncombe of ‘bipartisanship’

For certain bluebloods in the Beltway commentariat, a government should be as coherent, organized, and commonsensical as a Sunday column. Hence the appeal of bipartisanship. W.H. Auden, as we say, had their number. “A society which was really like a good poem, embodying the aesthetic virtues of beauty, order, economy and subordination of detail to the whole, would be a nightmare of horror,” he wrote, “for…such a society could only come into being through selective breeding, extermination of the physically and mentally unfit, absolute obedience to its Director, and a large slave kept out of sight in cellars.” More dangerous than ablutions for the sake of a false god, more toxic than a pathogen, bipartisanship exerts an influence on feeble minds who may not realize how it results in a paralysis that in turn produces the cynicism that rewards the GOP in midterm elections. If both parties suck, better to reward the party that didn’t play by the rules. Continue reading

On the perils of aspirationalism

The trouble with political aspirationalism: if you are, say, Joe Biden, you’ve spent decades climbing ever closer to the center of power. You have little incentive to question much less dismantle this ladder. You accept the assumptions because without those assumptions your ascension wouldn’t have happened. This phenomenon works doubly so for minorities. Continue reading

How to fix political journalism

The invaluable Dam Froomkin, the best unofficial public editor in the biz, admonishes colleagues for #bothsides reporting, a plague crippling the Beltway for at least four decades but reached a new peak during the Obama years and 2016 election. We allow solons to frame stories around two parties. “Two-party framing limits us to covering what the leaders of those two sides consider in their interests,” Froomkin writes. Continue reading

Objectivity and reporting: The naiveté of Chuck Todd

I hope what remains of journalism programs will issue autopsies on the skills they’ve taught their graduates. “Objectivity,” confused with fairness, still shines like the North Star. Fairness requires a reporter covering a city hall scandal, for example, to interview the state attorney’s office, whoever represents the department in question, and the accused, among others; fairness does not require the reporter to devolve into a typist, printing these remarks without context or correction. Continue reading

From the annals of Beltway journalism

With coronavirus cases up eleven thousand in twenty-four hours and climate change accelerating, it remains a comfort to know Maggie Haberman’s stenographic skills sharpen publication after publication:

In the meantime, Mr. Trump has spent his days toggling between his White House residence and the Oval Office, watching television coverage about the final weeks of his presidency. His mood is often bleak, advisers say, though he is not raising his voice in anger, despite the impression left by his tweets, which are often in capital letters.

Two or three dozen times since 2016 Haberman has cobbled letters into words arranging themselves into sentences that illustrate An Angry President; a Cornered President; a President Surrounded by Enemies. The following sentence is journalistic malpractice: “By dominating the story of his exit from the White House, he hopes to keep his millions of supporters energized and engaged for whatever comes next.” Repeating rumors by thwarted White House aides without attribution in November 2020! We accuse Trump of never learning. How can we be disappointed when the press corps serve as models?

Watch this space in two months….

Marc Caputo and Ryan Lizza’s nightly POLITICO newsletter includes a bit so obvious that it’s a wonder they understand its implications. Should Joe Biden win the presidency, he will, like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, inherit an economy in flames. What will the GOP do?

We know what happens to the Republican opposition in Washington under those circumstances: They become obsessed with austerity, they withdraw support from legislation they might have embraced under a Republican president, and they focus on crippling the agenda of the new Democratic president as a means of winning the midterm elections.

We also know what happens at the Republican grassroots under these circumstances: Money from well-funded libertarians like the Kochs flows into whatever the next version of the Tea Party is, conspiratorial scandals about the new president — often based on a germ of truth but radically exaggerated — metastasize, and the federal government becomes the main political boogeyman if not an outright enemy.

We saw all of this in 1993 and 1994 with Clinton and again in 2009 and 2010 with Obama. And you could usually see it coming. All of these currents stirred on the right in the 2008 campaign, at the end when it looked like Republicans would lose, and especially at rallies for Sarah Palin.

Well, gosh. Does this mean POLITICO and their brethren will not themselves revert to AUSTERITY and debt ceilings and THINK ABOUT OUR CHILDREN?

Chris Matthews — RIP

Not really. But!

“His main motivation has always been ensuring that Chris Matthews is on television and taken seriously. He represents, perhaps, in some small way, the intersection of the elite media and the progressive media — his debate freak-out combined the Beltway obsession with the ephemeral and stylistic with a sort of progressive tendency to be operatically disappointed in the president — but that makes him even more of a sui generis figure,” Alex Pareene wrote in 2013 about Chris Matthews, whose departure got Steve Kornacki to choke up on air minutes ago.

Who will we miss when the nights get long? This Chris Matthews, interviewing Democratic National Committee chair and former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean in September 2007?:

MATTHEWS: Why do Democrats keep running these weird presidential candidates, who always seem — ever since Jack Kennedy and maybe, well, Bill Clinton, they always lose the personality question. They always seem geekier, nerdier than the Republican guy. Why is that the case?

DEAN: How do you really feel about that, Chris?

MATTHEWS: Well, it’s true. It’s an objective assessment. Look at Dukakis in the tank. That’s an objective reality. I mean, Mondale.

DEAN: Let me tell you — let me tell you what we have to do.

MATTHEWS: Jesus, a good guy, but unacceptable on television.

The Republicans, they get the charm school. They got Reagan. They have got this guy George W. Bush. You know, they seem to run charming people.

DEAN: What Democrats have to do is talk about their vales. People vote on values. They don’t vote on position papers.

MATTHEWS: No, they vote on personalities.

Speaking of personalities, here’s Chris Matthews on George W. Bush, the man he admitted he voted for:

“There are some things you can’t fake,” he explained breathlessly. “Either you can throw a strike from sixty feet or you can’t. Either you can rise to the occasion on the mound at Yankee Stadium with 56,000 people watching or you can’t. On Tuesday night, George W. Bush hit the strike zone in the House that Ruth Built…. This is about knowing what to do at the moment you have to do it–and then doing it. It’s about that ‘grace under pressure’ that Hemingway gave as his very definition of courage.”

There is a truism in American public life: the higher the number of sports analogies, the greater the fraudulence of the person making them. See: Mike Barnicle. Another truism: when a Beltway satrap cites a good American novelist, the chances are high that he has not read him — always a “him,” for in Chris Matthews’ life the “hers” stood for objects he shouted over or, feeling as generous as a Turkish pasha, hit on female journalists.

As damaging to the state of our political discourse is the groundless notion advanced by Matthews, former chief of staff to Tip O’Neill, that there is no compromise Democrats and Republicans couldn’t cut for the sake of eviscerating the middle class and the poor in which party leaders couldn’t find, to use a phrase he mumbled like Bernadette did the Hail Mary over rosary beads, common ground. In Matthews we see the propagation of the Tip ‘n’ Ronnie myth which gripped DC like malaria during the Obama years — if only Barack ‘n’ Mitch could’ve had a drink and settled problems (It provoked one of Obama’s more waspish rejoinders). He was a terrible writer, or, worse, couldn’t find decent amanuenses. On air he bullied guests. He made unlettered and ahistoric claims that set back the party he claimed to love on its heels. He will land a commentator role on FOX News by next month and earn many more millions; that’s how amoral I think he is.

How to survive media sophistry about Iowa

I don’t have a good feel for how many readers watch cable news. I peek at “Morning” Joe and “Mika”‘s children’s entertainment hour a couple times a week to learn which way the winds of conventional wisdom will blow (this Monday’s CW: Bernie Sanders will win, Chris Matthews will choke on the word “McGovern”). Saner people nursed post-Superbowl hangovers and discussed Jennifer Lopez-Shakira instead of worrying what thousands of white people in Iowa will do. Continue reading

The politics of civility

Hours after her swearing-in as the new representative of Michigan’s 13th congressional district, Rashida Tlaib said the following to a crowd at a MoveOn event:

And when you’re son looks at you and says ‘mama, look you won, bullies don’t win.’ And I say ‘baby, they don’t’ because we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherfucker.”

No sooner had these remarks gone viral that the Beltway pundit class’ brains oozed into their smoothies.  Continue reading

In praise of demerits: Ross Douthat

In today’s New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat pecked characters on a keyboard that after hours of cogitation first turned into sentences then cohered into paragraphs. Someone called it “Why We Miss the WASPs.” Let’s look at it together.

The nostalgia flowing since the passing of George H.W. Bush has many wellsprings: admiration for the World War II generation and its dying breed of warrior-politicians, the usual belated media affection for moderate Republicans, the contrast between the elder Bush’s foreign policy successes and the failures of his son, and the contrast between any honorable politician and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

The only people from whom nostalgia is flowing are the permanent occupiers of seats in cable talk show green rooms. The rest of us wondered why the hell a war with Iraq over Kuwait mattered and loathed George Bush’s AIDS policy, a generous word for an irritated improvisation. 

Also in The Atlantic, Franklin Foer described “the subtext” of Bush nostalgia as a “fondness for a bygone institution known as the Establishment, hardened in the cold of New England boarding schools, acculturated by the late-night rituals of Skull and Bones, sent off to the world with a sense of noblesse oblige. For more than a century, this Establishment resided at the top of the American caste system. Now it is gone, and apparently people wish it weren’t.”

Ah, the nut graf. We live in an America increasingly dominated by minorities and one of Douthat’s paladin acquaintances implicitly admits he wishes it ain’t so.

Also in The Atlantic, Franklin Foer described “the subtext” of Bush nostalgia as a “fondness for a bygone institution known as the Establishment, hardened in the cold of New England boarding schools, acculturated by the late-night rituals of Skull and Bones, sent off to the world with a sense of noblesse oblige. For more than a century, this Establishment resided at the top of the American caste system. Now it is gone, and apparently people wish it weren’t.”

“What IS it about social media, the Freedom of Information Act, and Afghanistan and Iraq that makes these brown people so pushy?”

Put simply, Americans miss Bush because we miss the WASPs — because we feel, at some level, that their more meritocratic and diverse and secular successors rule us neither as wisely nor as well.

“We in Washington hate you.”

However, one of the lessons of the age of meritocracy is that building a more democratic and inclusive ruling class is harder than it looks, and even perhaps a contradiction in terms. You can get rid of the social registers and let women into your secret societies and privilege SATs over recommendations from the rector of Justin and the headmaster of Saint Grottlesex … and you still end up with something that is clearly a self-replicating upper class, a powerful elite, filling your schools and running your public institutions.

In the previous paragraph, he quotes Foer on Henry Adams, whom I suspect Foer has read and Douthat has not; in this one, he alludes to the late minor novelist Louis Auchincloss, who spent a half century painstakingly writing about the incestuous stupidity of the WASP culture revered by Douthat. At any rate, his insight: put women, blacks, gays, and your Mexican housekeeper in Andover and they might be as nearsighted as the Bushes.

So it’s possible to imagine adaptation rather than surrender as a different WASP strategy across the 1960s and 1970s. In such a world the establishment would have still admitted more blacks, Jews, Catholics and Hispanics (and more women) to its ranks … but it would have done so as a self-consciously elite-crafting strategy, rather than under the pseudo-democratic auspices of the SAT and the high school resume and the dubious ideal of “merit.” At the same time it would have retained both its historic religious faith (instead of exchanging Protestant rigor for a post-Christian Social Gospel and a soft pantheism) and its more self-denying culture (instead of letting all that wash away in the flood of boomer-era emotivism).

Something something hippies, something something unwashed atheists, mmm delicious word stew.

It’s de rigueur for liberals to lament the decline of the Rockefeller Republicans, or the compromises that a moderate northeastern WASP like George H.W. Bush made with Sunbelt populism.

De rigeur yourself, pal.

But a WASP establishment that couldn’t muster the self-confidence to hold on to Yale and Harvard was never likely to maintain its hold on a mass political organization like the G.O.P. Whereas an establishment that still believed in its mission within its own ivied bastions might have been seen as more politically imposing in the wider world — instead of seeing its last paladin, a war hero and statesman in a grand American tradition, dismissed in the boomer era as a “wimp.”

Cogitation, words, sentences, paragraphs.

The point of this counterfactual is not to just join the nostalgic chorus around Bush’s departure for the Great Kennebunkport in the Skies. Rather it’s to look forward, and to suggest that our current elite might someday be reformed — or simply replaced — through the imitation of the old establishment’s more pious and aristocratic spirit.

Imitating a pious and aristocratic spirit that hid essential truths from the American public and ruled as if, to cite a forgotten WASP scion, “the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law.”

An excerpt from a boring defense of meritocracy follows. I can quote too, from P.G. Wodehouse’s The Imitable Jeeves: “You must meet old Rowbotham, Bertie. A delightful chap. Wants to massacre the bourgeoisie, sack Park Lane and disembowel the hereditary aristocracy. Well, nothing could be fairer than that, what?”

Axios: make people dumber faster

A few weeks ago I shared with students a couple of journal articles published in the 1980s lamenting the damage that USA Today would cause to journalism. Its sharp cheerful primary colors, reliance on graphics, and avoidance of long articles represented a bowdlerization of news — a rebuke to the intelligence of readers, according to these Serious Men. Continue reading

2018’s first worst political clichés

The ending of a political cycle doesn’t mean that reporters and pundits have retired the old clothes they’ve worn for two years and longer. At the cost of my health I exposed myself to four hours straight of cable news television because I’m compulsive about blogging as MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki is about correctly pronouncing county names.

Here are five of the worst political clichés this season:

1. Soccer moms

2. “Alienating women.” Because women get alienated. Men get…angry?

3. “Not appealing to the middle.” Voters’ positions are a sour mishmash because unlike politicians they can’t pay the rent and for a focus group out of one check.

4. “Race to the bottom”

5. The quiet mourning of pundits, mostly white, for the death of the rural white Democratic voter. White voters will not leave Trump, and we should stop hoping so because they’re racists and our coalition doesn’t need them. Plus, they’re old and will die of emphysema and eating processed cheese. Fuck’em. I mean, why on earth would you want them leaving Trump? You think the separation will stop their racism? Many those racists voted for Obama. They were still racists.