Wednesday, September 26

And If Only The Vietnamese Had Worn Bright Red Coats And Formed Infantry Squares

Ross Douthat, "Obama Without Romney". September 25

OKAY, I haven't heard a plausible explanation of what's wrong with The Atlantic, but the Times has obviously felt for some time that its position as the leading source of Librul Bias demanded a "conservative" columnist on staff. Then, when they couldn't find one half so amusing nor one-third as mendacious as Bill Safir(e), they decided to try two. And with Bill Kristol they pegged the mendacity meter, but he didn't work out otherwise.

Douthat must've looked like a strong candidate: Hahvahd, a religious maniac at just the moment Bill Keller had decided that magically lambent shots of church interiors would grace the front page once a week as a sort of religious outreach program, and, most importantly, in an era where the internets were picking newspapers' pockets, Ross knew how to do that linky thing all the kids liked.

That was three years ago, and the only memorable thing Douthat has said in that time concerned Reese Witherspoon and avoirdupois. Or was it Renée Zellweger? I get those two confused. Which one scrunches up her nose all the time?

So please. Douthat's gone from no-wunderkind with a bad teenage beard to a middle-aged lump with an inexcusable headshot. With nothing to show. At least David Brooks has a function, trying to make "conservatism" sound partly sane, with the contrivance of Even the Liberal Times. If there was ever a point to Douthat it's passed. The Times is never going to need a source inside the Huckabee administration.

Anyway, today he turned out a think piece on how the polls would be very different if instead of an election, with it's unreasonable expectation that the Republican party nominate someone who says things, this was just a referendum on the things Douthat and the rest of his email group don't like about Barack Obama.
Imagine that both the Republican challenger and his party were completely invisible on the campaign trail, that the press was only allowed to cover the incumbent, and that on Nov. 6 the choice was whether to vote "up" or "down" on President Obama's performance.
Okay. Meanwhile, why don't you imagine your party being half as repugnant, 80% less venal, and 100% more honest in public?

 How would the last three weeks have played out for the president?
Not necessarily all that well. They started with Obama's lackluster convention speech, which seemed to put a ceiling on the bounce that the rest of the Democratic Convention had created for him. They continued with another mediocre jobs report, followed by the Federal Reserve's announcement that it would make a third attempt to stimulate the still-stagnant economy with massive bond purchases - a decision that boosted stocks and consumer confidence but also served as an implicit indictment of this administration's economic stewardship.

Then came a week's worth of grim news from the Middle East and North Africa, during which time the White House - whose Libya policy has been sold with evasions and dishonesties from the beginning - alternately stonewalled and dissembled on what exactly happened at the American embassy in Benghazi. This unrest in the Arab world coincided with the official end of the Obama-ordered American surge of forces in Afghanistan, which attracted little press coverage but probably deserved more: The surge was one of the president's biggest foreign policy gambles, and it produced few obvious benefits at a high cost in lives.

Finally the president took to the airwaves for a pair of interviews - with Univision and 60 Minutes - that included a number of awkward moments: a weird attempt to distance himself from his own negative ads; a weirder suggestion that he's learned as president that "you can't change Washington from the inside"; and a too-casual dismissal of Middle Eastern unrest and American deaths as mere "bumps in the road."

The last, especially, was Douthat's schtick at The Atlantic: repeating Redstate talking points, minus the obscenity and grammatical errors, which immediately made them Serious. I'm not sure how long this is supposed to fly at the Times. Y'know, if you're writing under a byline, sooner or later you have to start looking for yourself. And when you do, you really are required to figure out that the President saying "you can't change Washington from the inside" is not something which is going to lead to riots and burning effigies in our major cities.

Every time I see one of these right-wing outrages I try to put myself in their place. What if George W. Bush said it? Or the opposite? And, y'know, if Bush said "you can't change Washington from the inside", or if he said, "You can't

Wait a fucking minute. You fuckers ran as Washington Outsiders for thirty-five years. You're still doing it.

Okay, so if he'd said "You can't change Washington from the inside," or "the outside" or "You can only change Washington from a combination of the inside and the outside" I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have given a fuck. The only thing I can figure is that the President sounds like he might be on to you. Finally.
But instead the story of the last few weeks has been all about Mitt Romney - his campaign's infighting, his weakening swing-state numbers, his muddled message, his dismissal of 47 percent of Americans as pathetic supporting characters in an Ayn Rand melodrama.

Well, first, "melodrama" is what Rand aspired to as a novelist, not what she accomplished, and if you, Hahvahd boy, have to dismiss it that way you might have the sand to do so right to Paul Ryan's face. Your people think Rand wrote philosophy.

Second, Ross, Romney's got no record, or little more than Sarah Palin, and a big part of that--at his campaign's insistence--is his business genius, so how he handles his campaign--something which is always news--is of no small interest. He's been a flipper and a flopper and a panderer for the last seven years. He was not exactly every Republican's dream candidate. He's a gaffe machine of near-Dubya page-per-minute ratings, most of those underlining the fact that he's farther out of touch with real Americans than most Americans believe possible.  Which…

Didn't you fucks used to claim to be the party of real Americans?

Uh, he's a horrible campaigner, charisma challenged, and after managing to win the Republican nomination by sheer dint of every other candidate being a fucking moron, he's "taken the race to Obama" by refusing to be attached to any specifics, anywhere, despite the fact that he's now spent more time doing Jim Rockford 180s on policy than he spent as governor of Massachusetts. That 47% thing was not only Pure Distillation of Mitt (does he believe something that stupid? Is he saying it to curry favor with his only natural constituency? It's an endless salad bar of shallow) but also the sort of thing no one with seven years on the campaign trail would have muttered to himself in a dark closet, except your party is insane, Ross.

So blame the Press.
Is this focus just a case of media bias, as many conservatives have alleged? Yes, in the sense that the White House has been getting too free a pass on its absentee domestic policy and shifting foreign policy narratives.

So did the Bush II administration.
As Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post noted this week, Obama is campaigning for re-election "without having to seriously and substantively defend his first-term failed promises or shortcomings, and without having to say much, if anything, about what, if anything, he might do substantially differently if he is fortunate enough to win again." Yes, too, in the sense that the horse race coverage has sometimes helped ratify the sense that 8 percent unemployment and trillion dollar deficits are a new normal for which the current president doesn't actually bear that much responsibility.

But no, in the sense that Romney could have avoided almost all of his current difficulties, media bias or no, through the simple expedient of running a modestly more competent and creative campaign.
This is your man. He is precisely the Republican Republicans who now blast his "campaign style" wanted, lest the party nominate a real Republican. He's not bright, because your party's been Santorumized, and he's had to become a Right to Lifer, which ought to please you, but, you know, tends to make for a candidate no one believes when he opens his mouth. The only thing he knows about foreign policy is that Israel has God's stamp of approval.

You're all bubble boys. Y'all imagined that Mitt Romney: He'll Run the Country Just Like He Screwed Those Widows and Orphans! was a sure-fire electoral winner. How long have people been calling you on this shit? How long have you simply ignored it? How long has the Republican party been the party of corporate interests, and fuck everyone else? You can say it directly to each other; hell, Romney got a bounce among Republicans when that video surfaced. But you've spent the last three decades pretending in public you don't mean it. How d'ya get to be thirty-two years old, let alone Brooks' fifty, without understanding that personal dishonesty isn't really a very good plan, unless all you want is money and don't care how you get it?

And fuck if this isn't precisely the sort of campaign coverage you used to celebrate. Hell, wallow in. From the Gipper to Lee Atwater, from Mike Dukakis in a tank to John Kerry on a surfboard. Now our campaigns aren't about substance? Go ahead. You start.


synykyl said...

For all his failings, real and imagined, Obama comes off as a fairly reasonable, forthright, and caring fellow. If the Republicans really wanted to defeat him, they should have chosen a candidate who could fake at least one of those qualities.

Anonymous said...

It's six weeks until Election Day and the conservative "we'd be winning if only ..." excuse-making has already hit the unprecedented "we'd be winning if only we didn't have to have a candidate" level.

Li'l Innocent said...

What Anonymous and you, M. Riley, said...

And if Ross can't grasp the intense, even preposterous, degree of party-wide failure inherent in the premise of this column, he's got no business writing a politics column. Not even in the NYTimes.

Kathy said...

Visualize the repug party as existing inside a carnival like Something Wicked This Way Comes, complete with insane mirror-maze and light-speed-backwards-carousel, plus a dunking stool for various repug pols to climb up on and dare the world to knock 'em down. Its OK! the "water" is actually 200 proof gin/Holy Water.

Anonymous said...

Let's see -- According to Douthat, Obama's failures included a convention speech that seemed so-so because the former pres blew the roof off the place, the Fed's efforts at CPR because the other party rejects any real jobs plan, violence in the Mideast because that never happened before, and the president uttered a banal phrase about the public pressure it takes to spur the capital to action. Look, conservatives are by nature contemptible, but their best sure used to bullshit more effectively.

Anonymous said...

"...after managing to win the Republican nomination by sheer dint of every other candidate being a fucking moron..."
I dunno why everyone forgets Huntsman. I can remember when I actually feared him: living in a conservative dreamworld, yes, but seemingly smart and articulate. Alas, he believed in science and thought Cantonese was something to be proud of. Aimed way, way over the heads of the party faithful without knowing it. But having worked for the Obama administration made him a non-starter. So we get another 4 years of Accommodation Boy, the Eisenhower Democrat. Could--oh could it ever!--be worse. For my part I'm really interested in what new tricks the Rethuglican crowd will pull in the next 4 years.

Kathy said...

Maybe, if we clap our hands real loud, Obama will Take The Gloves Off this time. And tell the rethugs to go look up a rope.

Rugosa said...

media bias or no

Here is a super-religious super-conservative given a prime spot in the most liberal-of-liberal (ok, in the right's estimation) media outlets, and he can write that with a straight face? I suggest the "or no" part of that phrase may be the more operative.

Brian M said...

Good points, all...except for one:

"during which time the White House - whose Libya policy has been sold with evasions and dishonesties from the beginning -:" pretty much nails it. Of course, the exact same thing (only with more outright lies and opportunism) is true of the W Adminsistration as well, but said admin exists in the far outer reaches of time, and has nothing to doa t all with today.

Anonymous said...

This one is going to leave a mark! Ole Ross will be in the sitz bath for the next two weeks...and the best part, imho, is that you have nailed it. Doughboy has run out of ideas (as though he had any in the first place) and the NYT had damned well better be thinking about replacing the little twerp with a real writer who has his/her OWN ideas.

Anonymous said...

the only memorable thing Douthat has said in that time concerned Reese Witherspoon and avoirdupois

Fouthat is just Jonah Goldberg without the Cheeto stains on his finers.

Anonymous said...

Er, make that "Douthat is just Jonah Goldberg without the Cheeto stains on his fingers."