Part 4—Politely accepting the pattern: Back in September, we fell in love with Aberdeen, South Dakota.
Never mind how it happened! We were there to participate in a two-week set of workshops for a group of federal managers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Our workshop concerned the way the press corps covers elections.
We discussed the growing tendency to cover nothing but insults and polls. At one point, we cited our curiosity about what Candidate Clinton had said.
She'd made her remarks in early September. This is what she'd said:
CLINTON (9/7/16): You know and I know classified material is designated. It is marked...Say what? In effect, Clinton had rejected the repeated claim that she dealt with classified material on her personal email.
What we have here is the use of an unclassified system by hundreds of people in our government to send information that was not marked, there were no headers, there was no statement, top secret, secret, or confidential.
I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate system. I took it very seriously. When I traveled, I went into one of those little tents that I’m sure you’ve seen around the world because we didn’t want there to be any potential for someone to have embedded a camera to try to see whatever it is that I was seeing that was designated, marked, and headed as classified.
So I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously, always have, always will.
At NBC's high-profile Commander in Chief Forum, she had said she dealt with such material "on a wholly separate system." She described the precautions she took when she traveled the world.
"I did exactly what I should have done," the candidate eventually said.
In those statements, Candidate Clinton seemed to reject the aggressive, highly irregular claims of James B. Comey, who's commonly known as Comey the God. She seemed to do so quite explicitly.
But how odd! In the three weeks which had passed, we'd seen no one repeat, cite or evaluate these things which Clinton had said. Her statements had simply disappeared, like Fred Kaplan's July 6 report at Slate, a report which had challenged the infallible judgments of Comey.
We mention Aberdeen for a reason. One participant, now a lawyer, had served in the military way back when. He said he'd once supervised Vice President Quayle when, on a foreign trip, Quayle made use of those same "little tents that I’m sure you’ve seen around the world because we didn’t want there to be any potential for someone to have embedded a camera to try to see whatever it is that I was seeing."
This participant wasn't vouching for Clinton; we weren't vouching for her either. He was saying that he had seen those same precautions in action. We were saying this:
In the weeks which had passed since Clinton's statement in that high-profile forum, no one had made the slightest attempt to evaluate what she had said. Indeed, no one had even noted what Candidate Clinton had said.
The press, if that's what we still want to call them, had returned to their focus on insults and polls. Clinton's claim that she "did exactly what [she] should have done" with respect to classified material had disappeared into thin air, just like Kaplan's July 6 report.
In that same workshop, we mentioned our seat-of-the-pants reaction to Kaplan's report. Our seat-of-the-pants, first-blush reaction was this:
Based on the small number of emails about which Comey had cited; based on Kaplan's rather convincing claim that Comey's assertions were bunk; based on Comey's apparent dissembling about those "marked" emails; we had provisionally changed our minds about the email kerflubble:
We had provisionally come to suspect that Clinton actually hadn't been careless with classified material. That said, our judgment remained provisional, for an unfortunate reason:
In the months since Comey launched his attacks, we'd seen no one make a real attempt to evaluate Kaplan's rebuttal. Kaplan's rebuttal had disappeared; all that was left were the nightly presentations in which respectful pseudo-journalists gave Comey's claims the extremely wide berth his divine status conferred.
After Kaplan's report disappeared, no one challenged or analyzed what Comey the God had said. This brings us back to the gruesome conduct of our own corporate tool, Rachel Maddow. It also raises a basic fact:
Comey's attack didn't come out of the blue. He followed a line of previous Comeys—people who played a role in our modern history you will never hear discussed by corporate-fueled stars like Maddow.
Why did Comey do what he did this summer and fall? His conduct was extremely irregular. Why did he do what he did?
We can't answer that question. We can tell you what Maddow won't—Comey is the latest in a line of morally upright Republican figures who have intruded on the normal course of our governance and our elections.
There was nothing new about Comey the God's intrusion on this campaign. He followed in the wake of the morally upright "Judge Starr," who got appointed by Judge David Sentelle, a Jesse Helms hack, to wage war on the Clintons in 1994.
At the time, Judge Starr was an upright Republican figure, an earlier version of Comey the God. On many scorecards, he was next in line for a Supreme Court seat at the time he was picked to launch these attacks.
As it turned out, Judge Starr managed to bungle badly, as he recently did in the course of getting himself removed as president of Baylor. (He was removed as part of a rape cover-up scandal so serious that it even caused Baylor to fire a winning football coach.) But Starr was an establishment god when he was picked to chase the Clintons. Through his overwrought conduct, he intruded on our normal governance over the next five years.
The morally upright Judge Starr stepped down in 1999. In March 1999, Al Gore made his first campaign-related trip to New Hampshire and the war against Gore was launched.
Sure enough, it happened again! A string of Republican prosecutors kept recommend a federal probe of his alleged misconduct.
At this time, FBI director Louis Freeh was a morally upright Republican figure out of the standard establishment mold. Later, Bill Clinton would call Freeh his worst appointment ever.
But in 1999 and 2000, Freeh helped blow smoke across the countryside about the reprehensible conduct of Gore. The leading authority on this matter summarizes it as shown below. In this passage, we move from Freeh to Robert Conrad:
WIKIPEDIA: President Clinton's FBI Director Louis Freeh wrote in a 22-page memorandum to then Attorney General Janet Reno in November 1997 that "It is difficult to imagine a more compelling situation for appointing an independent counsel."In June 2000, by some miracle, Conrad's recommendation to Reno somehow leaked to the press. Reno declined his recommendation, but the caterwauling during this period was endless.
In July 1998, the Justice Department's campaign finance task force head, Charles La Bella, sent a report to Janet Reno also recommending she seek an independent counsel to investigate alleged fund-raising abuses by Democratic party officials. The media reported that La Bella believed there was clearly an appearance of a conflict of interest by Reno...
Robert Conrad, Jr., who later became head of the task force, called on Reno in spring 2000 to appoint an independent counsel to look into the fund-raising practices of Vice President Gore.
Janet Reno declined all requests.
The history of this era has been fairly clear. If your name was Clinton, Clinton or Gore, there were always morally upright Republican figures thrashing about the countryside in search of your misconduct, especially while you were running for office.
The script tended to be the same. Conrad's recommendation, which was mysteriously leaked, occasioned front-page reports like this report from the Christian Science Monitor:
KIEFER (6/26/00): Since 1996, allegations of questionable fundraising have dogged Al Gore. Now they've surfaced once again, weighing down his campaign just as he is trying to revive it.For what it's worth, "the closeness of the race" turned out to be extreme that fall. Meanwhile, substitute "Clinton" for "Gore," then substitute "emails" for "Buddhist temple." With Comey subbing for Conrad and Freeh, we all got to watch this same film this summer and fall.
Whether these renewed charges will harm Mr. Gore's presidential bid will depend in part on the closeness of the race this fall, and more important, if Attorney General Janet Reno appoints a special counsel to investigate him—as a Justice Department prosecutor recently urged.
Still, most analysts agree that the prosecutor's recommendation is one more distraction for the vice president, and once again raises questions about his integrity in a campaign in which character is key.
"This is bad for the vice president," says Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst here. "Anytime this is in the headlines, it elbows out other stories."
Indeed, the question of Gore's truthfulness was bandied about on television talk shows Sunday, and may continue to grab headlines when Ms. Reno testifies on Capitol Hill tomorrow.
(For the record, the disinformation and misinformation about the Buddhist temple was endless. Timorous liberals ran from this, just as corporate liberals on corporate cable took a dive on the basic facts concerning Clinton's emails.)
Back to that earlier episode in this episodic drama: Is it fair to attribute political motives to figures like Freeh, LaBella and Conrad? Except in the beloved realms of story and narrative, it's always hard to establish people's motives.
That said, Judge Sentelle was a Jesse Helms hack. Judge Starr, his appointee, was an insider Republican god in line for future greatness.
You can explain Louis Freeh for yourselves. As for Conrad, his views about Sister Helen Prejean surfaced just once in American newspapers at that juncture, according to the Nexis archive. Deep in a Washington Post profile, David Vise mentioned this:
VISE (6/30/00): Conrad's only reported political contribution is to the [Jesse] Helms campaign, and Mullen—an appointee of President Bush who said he also contributed to Helms before becoming a judge—said Conrad is not politically active.That doesn't mean that Conrad had political motives. It does mean that he expressed himself in the most hackish possible ways when he discussed political matters.
Conrad, who declined to be interviewed for this article, is a death penalty advocate who sent a letter to Catholic Dossier magazine last year after reading the book and seeing the movie "Dead Man Walking."
"As a Catholic and a federal prosecutor who has successfully argued for the imposition of the death penalty, I was searching for a cogent treatment of the issue," Conrad wrote. "I found only liberal drivel. . . . This surprisingly shallow book wallows in worn-out liberal shibboleths and dated anecdotes."
Comey the God behaved in an irregular manner this year, but he had predecessors. That said, expecting Maddow to enter such waters is like expecting the sun to rise in the west.
Figures on Fox would never duck the appearance of anti-GOP bias. By way of contrast, Maddow constantly plays it safe.
She hands us worthless drivel each night—drivel which makes us liberals feel good. She tells us how laughable Rick Lazio was when he ran against Hillary Clinton in 2000. (Rick Lazio!) She stays away from the more dangerous themes and events from those earlier Clinton/Gore years.
For twenty-five years, liberal voters have suffered under the reign of "liberal" figures like this. Lack of fight is their calling card, self-dealing their closest friend.
Maddow mocks figures like Lazio, runs in fear from establishment power. As liberals, we can't see her do this. She is a skillful seller of cars. We liberals think Rachel's our friend.
All through the summer, then into the fall, Rachel Maddow ran and hid from the claims and conduct of Comey the God. Comey is a potent establishment figure; Maddow is an inveterate seller of self, an inveterate self-dealer.
She drums on her desk; she mugs and she clowns. She pursues figures like Christie and Snyder, clowning with facts as she does.
She commands an endless string of entertainments and distractions. And she never mentioned Comey's name until October 28, when she lightened things up with more of her wonderfully amusing "Boner" (Boehner) jokes.
All year long, Maddow avoided the complexity and the danger of Clinton's emails, just as she once ran and hid as the upright McCain, who she loves to praise, invented the phantasmagoric kill shot called Benghazi. In the fall of 2012, she sat in silence for two solid months as Susan Rice was thrown under the bus. Four years later, she played the same game with respect to Candidate Clinton.
We got to hear that Lazio got clobbered. She pleased us with pointless videotape of Nixon going out the door.
We got our Weiner and Boner jokes. Also our President Trump.
In late September, there we were, in a meeting room in South Dakota. Kaplan's analysis had disappeared without further review, we accurately said.
Clinton's statements at that forum had also been ignored. People like Maddow were handing us the latest polls and pleasing us with pointless tribal porridge.
The score of this TV show seemed fairly clear. "I want to be Comey's girl," we kept hearing one major star sing.
The people, yes: The first thing we noticed in Aberdeen was the massive silence. As a result, that passage from Lincoln: The Prairie Years just wouldn't exit our heads.
When we got home, we looked it up. Sure enough, there it was, though the allusion was more specific than we would have thought.
As she said goodbye to him for the last time, Lincoln's beloved stepmother, Sally Bush Lincoln, knew "his heart would go roaming back often," that even as he rode in parades, with thousands cheering, he "might just as like be thinking of her in the old log farmhouse out in Coles County, Illinois." Or so Sandburg said.
Among other manifestations around her, "there would be the silence after snowstorms with white drifts piled against the fences, barns and trees." To our ear, Sandburg was picturing Lincoln's greatness emerging from the massive silence which had caused him to live within himself during his formative years.
How strange! We instantly thought we heard that silence when we left the airport in Aberdeen, a place we instantly loved. We tried to walk to our hotel, but sure enough! The first car which came along stopped!