Part 2—Banalities never die: In this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks explains what it’s like to speak with primary voters.
In the process, he draws back the curtain on the power of the modern “press corps.”
Where do voters get their ideas? The gent makes a wry observation:
BROOKS (1/17/12): [T]he best part [of covering presidential primaries] is meeting the people who come to the rallies. It’s best to get to the events an hour early and treat the waiting crowd like a cocktail party. First, you ask people about the local economy. Then you ask them about their lives (about which they are always interesting). Then you ask them about what they think of the issues and candidates (they generally repeat the banalities they have heard one of us pundits utter on TV the day before).What do primary voters thinks about the issues? What do they think about the candidates? According to Brooks, these voters “generally repeat the banalities they have heard one of us pundits utter on TV the day before.”
Is that where voters get their ideas? If so, they have many banalities to choose from!
As Thomas Patterson explained in his 1993 book, Out of Order, the press corps began to play the leading role in White House elections after the reforms of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those reforms took candidate selection out of the traditional smoke-filled rooms. Increasingly, the role once played by party elites would now be played by the voters themselves, through our burgeoning system of primaries.
As Patterson explained, this change in procedure gave the “press corps” a great deal of power—the power to define the terms on which our White House elections are waged. And good God! In Sunday morning’s Washington Post, the utterly fatuous Dana Milbank reminded the world of where those “reforms” have left us.
Milbank has never been emptier! First, he described the problem with Candidate Romney; Romney is “authentically inauthentic,” the fatuous columnist said. And then—good lord! The fatuous fellow unloosed a string of the banalities which ruled our world during a recent campaign:
MILBANK (1/15/12): Romney is the political reincarnation of Al Gore, whose campaign I covered with an equal amount of cringing a dozen years ago.In this column, Milbank doesn’t say a word about the policy views of Romney or Gore. His cringing begins when he sees Romney in Gap jeans, laughing at his own jokes.
To see Romney, in his Gap jeans, laughing awkwardly at his own jokes and making patently disingenuous claims, brings back all those bad memories of 2000: “Love Story.” Inventing the Internet. Earth tones. Three-button suits. The alpha male in cowboy boots. The iced-tea defense. The Buddhist temple. The sighing during the debate.
It’s familiar, as well, to Michael Feldman, a longtime Gore aide who watched his boss get undone by the inauthentic label. “When an impression like that hardens, you’re communicating into a stiff wind,” he told me. “These caricatures can form impressions that are really hard to turn around.”
Poor Milbank! This brought back all the bad memories! At this point, he rattled a string of banalities from the recent past—the banalities with which his guild spent two years waging war against Candidate Gore.
Go ahead. Gaze on the memories the empty-souled "journalist" unashamedly shares. All his memories are stupid, dumb—banal. But good lord! He even typed this:
Three-button suits! Even that!
We’ll admit it. At that point, the thought crossed our mind that Milbank has been following our own recent work, including Chapter 5 of our companion site, How He Got There. How else would the fatuous fellow recall the brief part of Campaign 2000 in which his colleagues chased Gore around town, insisting you could see how phony and/or weird he was because of his three-button suits?
(Three-button suits were completely conventional at the time, a fact which is easy to document.)
Gore's three-button suits showed he was a fake! This was a remarkable part of Campaign 2000—but its life-span was brief. We described this particular mega-banality in Chapter 5 (just click here). How else could Milbank recall it?
(Examples of the banality: Chris Matthews insisted that Gore was wearing three-button suits as a way to attract female voters—and he gave this weird speculation his usual smutty twist. Apparently needing to top all the rest, Arianna Huffington slithered onto Rivera Live and added a button to Gore’s troubling suits. “What is fascinating is that the way he's now dressing makes a lot of people feel disconnected from him,” she pathetically said. “...And buttons—all four buttons! You know, it's not just—it's just not the way most American males dress.”
(This was a small but astonishing part of the war which was waged against Gore’s clothes. George W. Bush ended up in the White House. Are you happy with how that turned out?)
Thinking back on Campaign 2000, Milbank recalled a list of things which made him cringe. But please note: In line with Brooks’ remark today, each of Milbank’s recollections involves some form of banality. His thoughts drift back to the cowboy boots and the earth tones—and to an unexplained phrase, “alpha male.” By now, almost everyone knows that Gore didn’t say he invented the Internet. But so what? This pundit’s disordered mind compelled him to rattle that too.
Does our “press corps” fill the heads of the public with strings of banalities? That’s what Brooks suggests today—and Milbank seemed determined to prove the point in Sunday’s column. And once again, please note: At no point did Milbank say a word about Gore or Romney’s policy views. He recalls the vastly overblown “sighing” of Candidate Gore during the first Bush-Gore debate. But his tiny, overpaid brain doesn’t recall what Gore was sighing about! He doesn't cringe about matters like that, matters which wouldn't be banal.
Milbank, an utterly fatuous fellow, was crying out for help in this column. He won’t get it from the career liberal world, which has tolerated this intellectual/moral breakdown for lo, these several decades.
Coming soon: Rachel and Krugman
Time to share living history: The “press corps” waged its war against Candidate Gore’s troubling clothes during the fall of 1999. They were troubled by his boots; his suits; his polo shirts; by the number of buttons on his suits.
They were mightily troubled by that brown suit! For us, this patently phony war produced a brush with greatness.
Sometime around December 20 of that year, we attended one of the Gores’ cattle-call Christmas parties. Incomparably, we approached the candidate with a wry salutation:
“Hey! [We] see you’re wearing one of your three-button suits!”
The candidate didn’t miss a beat. “Oh—you mean my strategy for winning the black vote?” he wryly and mordantly said.
The candidate understood the gong-show which was unfolding around him. On this occasion, he even explained the strange (scripted) putdown of his wife which was lodged in this New York Times news report, a putdown which had us baffled. Hint: Al Franken had hosted the event in question, though the spittle-flecked, banal Katharine “Kit” Seelye “forgot” to tell readers. As usual!
Just for the historical record, the candidate did understand the banal gong-show which was unfolding around him. But when the “press corps” agrees to play such games as a group, there is no way to make them stop. More on that obvious point tomorrow, with reference to Milbank’s column.