Part 4—Repulsed by the lesser evil: By her own embarrassed admission, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post is “a fan of Hillary Clinton.”
Over at the New York Times, Frank Bruni pretty much isn’t. Last Sunday, this contrast produced a bit of instruction about the way the insider press corps works.
Here’s the learning we took away from the insiders’ columns:
You can have a schoolgirl crush on Clinton, or you can be a borderline hater. None of this will have any effect on what you end up writing!
How odd! Marcus, with the schoolgirl crush, wrote at least her fifth column in the past year about the “piggishness and gluttony” of the woman she so admires. For our background report, click here.
Bruni, the borderline hater, wrote the exact same column!
Is FIFA a weirdly secretive guild with weirdly hidden procedures? So is our insider “press corps!” By rather obvious rule of law, there are certain things they must all do and say. And when their reasoning goes to Qatar, we aren’t supposed to notice!
In his exasperated column, Bruni told the same old story about the Clintons’ rapacious ways in the realm of filthy lucre. As he started, he set the stage for some very weak reasoning with some vague remarks:
BRUNI (5/24/15): Say anything critical about a person or an organization and brace for this pushback: At least he, she or it isn’t as bad as someone or something else.According to the leading authority, Elysium “is a conception of the afterlife that...was maintained by certain Greek religious and philosophical sects and cults.” In fairness, Bruni should know all about the way members of a sect can maintain group stories!
Sure, the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t done right by women. But those Mormons have more to answer for!
Yes, there are college presidents with excessive salaries. But next to the football and basketball coaches on many campuses, they’re practically monks!
Set the bar low enough and all blame is deflected, all shame expunged. Choose the right points of reference and behold the alchemy: naughty deeds into humdrum conformity. Excess into restraint. Sinners into saints.
Arkansas into Elysium.
At any rate, poor Bruni! No matter who he criticizes, some alchemist will quickly declare that somebody else is worse!
So far, Bruni had given no specific examples. Now he did—although, just for the record, we’d have to say he slightly miscast the point of his villain’s remark:
BRUNI (continuing directly): I mention Arkansas because of a classic bit of deflection performed last month by one of its senators, Tom Cotton. He was rationalizing a so-called religious freedom bill that would have permitted the state’s merchants to deny services to people based on their sexual orientation. And he said that it was important to “have a sense of perspective.”You can set the bar anywhere you want? Once again, we’d have to say that Bruni should know about that!
“In Iran,” he noted, “they hang you for the crime of being gay.”
I see. If you’re not hauling homosexuals to the gallows or stoning them, you’re ahead of the game, and maybe even in the running for a humanitarian medal.
Like I said, you can set the bar anywhere you want.
And you can justify almost anything by pointing fingers at people who are acting likewise or less nobly.
Beyond that, we’d have to say that Bruni was miscasting and overstating the point of Cotton’s remark just a bit. You can read the CNN transcript yourself, by just clicking here.
Whatever! Fairly or otherwise, Bruni had offered a dramatic example of the kind of moral reasoning he had in mind. And sure enough! In his very next sentence, the basic rules of his own “sect or cult” kicked in:
“Naturally, this brings us to the current presidential campaign.”
“Naturally,” Bruni said, Cotton’s squalid-seeming remarks made him think of our new endless campaign. But as he continued, you can see whose moral squalor he actually had in mind:
BRUNI (continuing directly): Earlier this month Hillary Clinton not only made peace with the “super PACs” that will be panhandling on her behalf, but also signaled that she’d do her vigorous part to round up donations for one of them, Priorities USA.We’d finally reached Bruni’s central focus, the actual point of his column. “Naturally,” a heinous comment by Senator Cotton made him think of Hillary Clinton and the people panhandling on her behalf!
She did this despite much high-minded talk previously about taming the influence of money in politics.
She did this without the public hand-wringing of Barack Obama when he reluctantly embraced his super PAC, which happened at a later point in his 2012 re-election effort.
She did this because Jeb Bush and other potential Republican rivals were either doing or poised to do this.
And she did this, no doubt, because of the Koch brothers and their political network’s stated goal of raising and spending nearly $1 billion on behalf of Republicans during this election cycle. For Democrats, “the Koch brothers” is at once a wholly legitimate motivation and an all-purpose exoneration, a boogeyman both real and handy, permitting all manner of mischief by everybody else. True, I’m vacuuming up money like an Electrolux on Adderall. But in a Koch-ian context, I’m a sputtering Dustbuster.
Can we talk? You can be an embarrassed fan; you can be a borderline hater. But within the sect of Marcus and Bruni, all roads seem to lead to this one destination!
By some undisclosed “natural” force, it lies in the order of things! Within this modern upper-end sect, every kind of squalid remark produces thoughts of Clinton!
Because the children will get upset, let’s explore the internal structure of this particular column:
A cynic might say that Bruni positioned himself a tad with his cite of Cotton’s remark. Cotton is a Republican. This might seem to provide the column with a bipartisan feel.
Beyond that, Cotton was pictured being wanton with respect to the treatment of gays. Bruni’s objection to the remark gave him a liberal-ish feel.
In our view, the bipartisan feel this column may have is illusory. Cotton is a first-term, back-bench Republican—a minor figure who is often regarded as comically fringe. By way of contrast, Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee for the White House next year, at least as matters now stand.
As is often the case in such columns, Bruni sprinkles some GOP names about, even some major GOP names. But by a vast preponderance of the insults, his emphasis is on the hypocrisy of Clinton, and even of Obama before her.
According to Bruni, Clinton had offered “much high-minded talk” about money in politics. But she then proceeded to behave in the same way Cotton did! For Bruni, it’s Clinton’s conduct which Cotton’s remark brought to mind!
Indeed, as is required inside Bruni’s sect, the problem of money in our politics seems to end up being the Clintons’ fault! Our giant money-in-politics problem seems to start with their “rapacious” conduct and “assiduous enrichment” inside their “messy world.”
Warning! Mind-reading ahead:
BRUNI (continuing directly): Democrats tell themselves that they have a ways to go before they sink as low as Republicans do. Republicans tell themselves that none of their machinations rival the venal braid of conflicting interests and overlapping agendas in the Clintons’ messy world.You have to feel sorry for those unnamed “other politicians!” When they see the Clintons at the trough, they think they need lucre too!
The Clintons tell themselves that their assiduous enrichment since the end of Bill’s presidency still doesn’t put them in a league with the fat cats whom they’ve met and mingled with, and that they earned their wealth rather than inheriting or shortchanging shareholders for it.
Other politicians tell themselves that if the Clintons are lapping at the trough so rapaciously, surely they’re entitled to some love and lucre of their own.
Let’s be clear. The rules of this modern sect do allow for disparate judgment by members. If you’re a fan of Hillary Clinton, you talk about her “gluttony” and compare her to a “pig.”
If you’re a borderline hater, you speak of her “rapacious” ways, although you too may mention a trough.
Marcus and Bruni were telling several same old stories in these Sunday columns. Hillary Clinton is a pig at a trough, both columnists have now said. Beyond that, Bruni seemed to point at a type of hypocrisy, a story that was dumped on Candidate Gore when he proposed campaign finance reform in Campaign 2000.
Can we talk? As far as we know, Hillary Clinton hasn’t said that it’s OK for her to do something wrong because someone else is doing it worse. She has said that she will play by existing campaign finance rules, even as she proposes changing those rules in the future.
As almost anyone can see, that position makes perfect sense. It also made perfect sense in Campaign 2000, when Gore reporters at Bruni’s newspaper kept suggesting that Candidate Gore was a raging hypocrite because he’d adopted such a puzzling stand.
Bruni was telling some same old stories. “Naturally,” talk of hideous moral squalor made him think of you-know-who, the gluttonous person of whom Marcus is such an undisguised fan.
Sadly, the most destructive of the same old stories arose right away in comments. Some progressive readers were stampeding off, reciting a story from Campaign 2000 as they went.
People are dead all over the world because we bought this same old story that time. Liberals, please! Are we really planning to buy this same old story again?
Tomorrow: “The lesser of two evils”