Monday, September 5, 2016

The Wolf Who Whispered Boy

Update: Hi, Mike's readers! Thanks always, Batocchio!

Image by MaryLou11Ans via Blingee.
Liberal Bothsiderist New York Times columnist Frank Bruni on Thursday, working out a way to blame Democrats for the Trump phenomenon, in concert with well-known illiberal observer and totally not concern troll Jonah Goldberg of the National Review:

Did Democrats cry wolf so many times before Trump that no one hears or heeds them now?
That’s a question being asked with increasing frequency, though mostly in conservative circles and publications. An essay by Jonah Goldberg in National Review in late July had this headline: “How the Media’s History of Smearing Republicans Now Helps Trump.”
Bruni is saddened by the way Democrats demonized decent and god-fearing John McCain and Willard Mitt Romney in previous elections, which may have had horrible consequences for our nation, because the voting population, having seen how deeply unfair Democrats were to McCain and Romney, must think the Trump is no more dishonorable than those men were:

In Commentary, Noah Rothman has repeatedly examined this subject. He wrote back in March that when “honorable and decent men” like McCain and Romney “are reflexively dubbed racists simply for opposing Democratic policies, the result is a G.O.P. electorate that doesn’t listen to admonitions when the genuine article is in their midst.”
Could you refresh my memory on that, when the Obama campaigns and the DNC and "the media" used to reflexively dub McCain and Romney racists just because McCain and Romney respectively opposed Democratic policies? Because I really can't recall it, and I was definitely reading the papers in those days. I was certainly a little taken aback when Romney told the NAACP "your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy—more free stuff" and the R-word could possibly have crossed my lips at that time with reference to the dogwhistle language. Etc. But I can't think of any times when either "the media" or the party let it cross theirs.

If the Democrats were crying wolf in 2008 and 2012, there's no way of absolutely telling, because both McCain and Romney lost. You can't be certain they weren't real, dangerous wolves. I myself thought either one of them would have been a truly dreadful president, and probably said so, and I've seen no reason to change my mind. Certainly not just because I also think a President Trump could be an order or two of magnitude worse.

One frequently Democrat-demonized name that doesn't show up anywhere in Bruni's column is that of former president George W. Bush, who didn't lose, and might therefore provide a useful test of the wolf-crying hypothesis. It's funny, too, because Bruni used to know him pretty well, back when he was a political reporter himself, 16 years ago on the 2000 campaign trail, expressing how pleased he was that candidate George W. Bush had suddenly decided to let the journalists on the plane (as Hillary Clinton has done today) and become a little more like, well, John McCain:
The Texas governor has long received insufficient credit for being accessible, in part because Mr. McCain, his chief Republican rival in the primaries, set the bar for constant contact so high.
For more than nine months, Mr. Bush has held news conferences almost every day he is on the road. He has let a few reporters accompany him on his three-mile runs and let a few others have lunch with him at the governor's mansion in Austin.
It did seem to take the Straight Talk Express, a perpetual group interview on wheels, to nudge Mr. Bush onto the same airplane as reporters. (Mr. Bush never opened up his bus in a similar fashion.)
But now that Mr. Bush is among his shadows, he gives every appearance of enjoying being there.
He not only slaps reporters' backs but also rubs the tops of their heads and, in a few instances, pinches their cheeks. It is the tactile equivalent of the nicknames he doles out to many of them and belongs to a teasing style of interpersonal relations that undoubtedly harks back to his fraternity days.
Last week, he turned to a reporter who grew up in the arid expanse of Australia's most famous rural region with a mock suggestion.
''Outback woman!'' he said. ''One of the things I'd like to do sometime is have dinner with you at the Outback steakhouse. That way, we'd have the Outback woman at the Outback steakhouse.''
The wit!

Unlike that old sourpuss Al Gore, who could spend two months without doing a press conference and never in his life gave anybody a cute nickname like "Outback Woman" or, for that matter, "Turdblossom". No wonder Gore lost, or rather won inadequately, giving Justice Rehnquist a chance to award Bush the palm and thereby facilitate the destruction of Iraq and New Orleans and several other places, obtain a nuclear arsenal for North Korea, and shepherd our nation to the brink of financial catastrophe from which we have only just begun to recover, thanks to the efforts of that press-averse, ferally shy president Barack Obama (currently running at 1.7 press conferences per month, as opposed to 2.18 for George W., or a smashing 0.48 for the Great Communicator Ronald Reagan), in spite of his refusal to give the press the access they need to perform their essential function of asking him important questions like, "Are you concerned about your approval ratings?" and "Why are you failing at everything?"

So it's all Gore's fault! Why couldn't he be more like George W.?

Seriously, Bush's delightful openness and availability as a candidate did not enable the press to come to any kind of judgment about what kind of president Bush was likely to be. Bush lied to the press, about the imaginary single-mom waitress who would benefit from his tax cut proposals, about his opposition to allowing a military mission to turn into a nation-building exercise, about his record as  a "reformer" Texas governor (the New York Times managed to call him out gently on that one) and about his own personal past, and the boys and girls in the plane lapped it up like kittens. Scott McLellan, who was on the plane too, as Bush's traveling press secretary, felt guilty enough to write a book about it.

Bruni's column is really about that, I think, in a supremely weaselly way. Bush was the wolf who was really there, vain, incurious, incapable, greedy, with all of Trump's qualities in a quieter, less jarring key, and the press, instead of crying him out, got itself suckered in, onto the plane, to enjoy the swag and the ridiculous nicknames. Bush was the wolf who whispered, "Psst, journalist, looking for a good time?"

I wouldn't say the press is responsible for the Trump phenomenon—that's simply the ideological bankruptcy of the Republican party, which is no longer able to put together a sustainable coalition between its patrician money and its yahoo votes, leaving the big tent open to a repo man like Trump to move in. But it's the press's job to give the people enough honest information to work on so that we can defend ourselves, and it's been shirking the job, enervated and stuck in its bothsiderist funk. This continual self-serving excuse-making—it's Democrats' fault for being so partisan, it's Hillary's fault for not having a press conference—is bullshit. And until they acknowledge what they did wrong in the first Clinton and second Bush administrations they'll never be able to do it right.

Update: Forgot to say this train of thought is partly inspired by Dr. Krugman's great column today.

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