Friday, July 20, 2007

Politics, Sitcom-style

by Gene Lyons

(For some reason, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette chose not to publish Gene's column this week, so he passed it on to Moose & Squirrel to post. I'm reproducing it here as a back-up.)

It's rare that this column defends Robert Novak, so listen up. After his disgrace-ful conduct in the Plame affair, how the self-styled "Prince of Darkness" appears on TV without a bag over his head I cannot imagine. But Novak's getting heat from people pretending outrage at something he said on "Meet the Press" they'd rather not think about.

"Republicans are very pessimistic about 2008," Novak said. "When you talk to them off the record, they don't see how they can win this thing. And then they think for a minute, and only the Democratic Party...would say that, 'OK, this is the year either to have a woman or an African-American to break precedent, to do things the country has never done before.' And it gives the Republicans hope."

The normally excellent website jumped all over host Tim Russert for not taking issue. But Novak merely stated the obvious. Any Democrat who doesn't realize that nominating Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama (or both) will start a political free-for-all of epic, near-psychotic proportions, must live in an imaginary United States not connected to the North American continent.

Winning that battle could be crucial to bringing the nation back to its democratic (with a small "d") senses. Deluding oneself that it'll be easy, however, is the surest way to fail. Pollsters know that many more people will claim to support minority candidates than actually do. Something Novak only implies is also true: the GOP holds losing cards on every major issue from Iraq to health care. Demonizing the Democratic nominee as unfit for office may provide their only chance of winning.

On cue, GOP sleaze merchant Floyd Brown and "Citizens United" have emerged from the shadows. He and embittered political consultant Dick Morris are collaborating on "Hillary: The Movie." ("Hillary: the DVD" is probably more like it.) David Bossie's involved too. A recent newspaper profile stressed that contrary to Democrats, Brown doesn't actually have horns, "is relaxed and quick to laugh, the deep, rich laugh of a full-grown kid."

Yeah, well, in 1992 Brown playfully transformed the 1977 suicide of a fine young woman into a lurid accusation against Bill Clinton because she'd once taken a law school class he taught. (Also a literature course I taught.) In the process, CBS News documented, Brown and Bossie harassed her family, peered into people's windows, invaded hospital rooms, and misrepresented their own motives and identity. Years later, Bossie got fired as a congressional aide for distributing doctored audiotapes smearing Hillary Clinton to reporters. They're a couple of real cutups.

Peddling lurid videos to yokels, however, isn't the worst of it. Citizen United's real triumph in 1992 was hand-feeding the bogus "Whitewater" scandal to the establish-ment press. The fool thing has a half-life like radioactive waste, even in the most exalted precincts. Elizabeth Kolbert's review of two new Hillary biographies in the New Yorker, for example, makes a big deal of her lost-and-found billing records. Kolbert is a fine reporter; I admire her book "Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change" enormously.

Yet she manages to re-tell the billing records story without mentioning how it ended: when found, Clinton's records vindicated everything she'd said about her legal work for the ill-starred Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan. Kenneth Starr's wet dreams about indicting her went for naught. Elsewhere, Kolbert praises her one-time New York Times colleague Jeff Gerth's Whitewater "diligence," then suggests that Hillary's unnaturally secretive because trying to interview her about personal topics "was like talking to someone through several layers of Plexiglas."

Gee, I can't imagine why. Here she was representing the same newspaper that kept an imaginary scandal on the front page for years using precisely the same methods - hiding the Treasury Department's 1995 Pillsbury Report clearing both Clintons of Whitewater misdeeds, for example - and Kolbert wanted to play girlfriends?

It's much the same with Jennifer Senior's "Sex in the City"-style review of the same books in the New York Times. Along with ludicrous asides about genteel Arkansas women and their "quaint ladies luncheons," Senior turns a dubious tale about Hillary's political ambitions completely inside out. (Yo, Jennifer, heard of Lucinda Williams? Now there's an Arkansas woman.)

So did Hillary contemplate running for Arkansas governor in 1990 out of "pent-up frustration...and injured pride" over her husband's alleged affair? No. Carl Bernstein's book makes clear the scheme was Bill Clinton's. They abandoned it after pollsters learned Arkansas voters would compare them unfavorably to George and Lurleen Wallace. (As they surely would have.)

Feigned incomprehension at the post-Lewinsky survival of the Clinton marriage will clearly be a major media theme in 2008. For Hillary to talk about it to anybody holding a notebook would be like Barrack Obama confiding his feelings about the word "nigger" to Citizens United.

Better be thought a cold fish than proven a fool.

July 18, 2007