A CHANGE IN THE WEATHER: Topic: “Hillary Clinton plays to the American center. Will she lose the outspoken left?” This formulation comes from the web site of the Chris Matthews Show; it represents the second topic discussed on last Sunday’s program. And yes, it’s a standard type of formulation for discussion of Dem White House hopefuls. Ever since the press lost its mind in pursuit of Bill Clinton’s troubling ways, TV pundits have responded robotically to claims that Big Dems are two-faced phonies. In Campaign 2000, Al Gore was constantly “reinventing himself” (even when he re-aired a biographical ad)—and four years later, Candidate Kerry was always said to be “flip-flopping.” In the TV pundit corps, people agreed to apply these themes in all situations. And if you watch Fox, it’s still like that today. Here was Dick Morris, laying it down on a recent Hannity & Colmes:
MORRIS (5/31/05): Hillary Clinton is one of the most competent and able politicians this country has produced. She's also one of the phoniest. But she has successfully persuaded people that she's a hawk—even though for eight years, when I knew her, she was a dove. That she's a conservative and a moderate—even though when I knew her, she was way over left. That she's not partisan, she gets along with the other side—even though she would authorize the death penalty for them when I knew her at the White House.
So, either this woman has had a genuine conversion, which I doubt, or she is proving Abraham Lincoln right. You can fool some of the people all of the time.
Speaking of fooling some of the people, Hannity quickly jumped into the fray. Morris had just recalled telling Hillary, back in the White House, that she had “become a Communist:”
HANNITY: This rewriting of Hillary's history is interesting. And it's funny and it's absurd. Only the hard-core left wingers believe it.
MORRIS: Or those who have had severe blows to the head. Took care of their memory.
HRC is a two-faced phony! The theme typified pundit assessment of Gore, then Kerry. It continues today on Fox.
But what a surprise we got this Sunday when Matthews gave his pundit panel a chance to run with this favorite old saw! When the discussion about Hillary’s “hopscotching toward the political center” began, Matthews threw to Kelly O’Donnell—and O’Donnell, more a reporter than a pundit, bored him silly with a fact-based reply which betrayed few interpretational themes. So Matthews turned to pundit Joe Klein. “What spooked Hillary?” he asked. “What made her worry about her very strong pro-abortion, pro-secularist sort of image?” For years, it’s been the perfect throw—a set-up every pundit ran with. But uh-oh! Klein played dumb today. He refused to give what was asked for:
MATTHEWS: What spooked Hillary? What made her worry about her very strong pro-abortion, pro-secularist sort of image?
KLEIN: Well, I think that has been consistent with her—“safe, legal and rare.” I don’t think there’s any change here at all. There was a change in her rhetoric in the speech she made in January, respecting people on the other side. But it’s real important to note there has not been a substantial change here...
Say what? For a decade, pundits always knew where to run with this throw—they always knew to have some fun pretending that Gore had “reinvented” again, or that Kerry was again flip-flop-flipping. But incredibly, Klein walked away from the past. “It’s real important to note there has not been a substantial change here,” he said. Surprised—perhaps a little bit hurt—Matthews now turned to Elisabeth Bumiller. “Most people go, this woman’s a big government liberal,” he said. “Isn’t that what she’s trying to change?” There—surely, the desired script was clear now! But Bumiller didn’t want to play either:
BUMILLER: Well, she’s been moving that way for a long, long time. It’s not just in the last six months or a year. I mean, you look at the New York Times editorials criticizing her on her position on welfare reform in the last few years. I mean, she’s been moving that way for the last few years. And I would agree with Joe, certainly, that her position on abortion is not that different. And it also conveniently happens to be where most of the country is right now. You know, she’s with the majority of the country on that position.
What the f*ck? Was Chris’ mike on? He tried, one more time, to make Bumiller see. “But the people you meet in Democratic Party headquarters...are all pro-choicers and pretty tough pro-secularists too,” the desperate host said. “Does she have those people now? She can move to the center because she’s got them locked?” There! Surely everyone knew what he wanted now! But Bumiller still wouldn’t go there:
BUMILLER: Well, she’s always had those people. And in terms of a secularist, Hillary is one person who can talk about religion as she did when she was in the White House.
What the “Al Gore doesn’t seem very American” f*ck? But the deadly Rule of Three had been met, and Matthews, a professional, limply surrendered. “Enough of this argument,” the defeated host said, although there hadn’t been much of an “argument.” Instead, everyone had simply ignored or rejected the tired old script he’d suggested.
Our long-suffering analysts were quite struck by this unusual discussion. When had it ever happened? they asked. When’s the last time a pundit panel passed on the chance to batter Big Dems for their phony, two-faced positions? First, the national press had made fools of themselves accusing Gore of “reinvention.” Then, with Kerry, they had more fun exploring his flip-flopping ways. (For old time’s sake, they even invented that fake NASCAR “quote,” as they’d done so often with Gore.) But suddenly, nobody wanted to say that Hillary was a big two-faced phony. Over on Fox, the script still plays. But the pundits brushed Matthews away.
Our interpretation of this odd moment: We’re wondering if a fever has broken. The two-year trashing of Candidate Gore resulted from the press corps’ war against Clinton; his ten blow jobs had driven them wild, and they took it out on his vile successor. No, they didn’t treat Kerry as badly, but they still were all too happy to adopt the RNC “flip-flop” framework. But here’s our guess: At long last, the mainstream press has noticed something: The Bush II reign has been a disaster. And this disaster has been so extreme that they’re even dropping their famous preference for a certain tired old script. To our ear, Matthews wanted to play an old game. But Klein and Bumiller just wouldn’t go, suggesting that a different day may be dawning for major Dem hopefuls. Unless McCain gets the Rep nod, of course.
FIRST GLIMMER: Back in March, Matthews began to observe this new morning. He chatted with Cokie Roberts:
MATTHEWS (3/3/05): Over 60 percent of the American people in every category, Cokie, in every category, men, women, left, right, center, believe—are convinced now that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic candidate for president.
ROBERTS: And she`s clearly the person to beat on the Democratic side. And I have noticed in the last couple of weeks, Chris, a new kind of Hillary popular wisdom going around here in Washington, which is that suddenly it`s not that she`s going to be bad for the party. She`s the obvious person for the party. And she`s moved to the center. And she`s tough. And she`s—
MATTHEWS: Witchcraft! There`s witchcraft going on.
MATTHEWS: Everybody`s brain is being turned in a matter of two weeks from “I hate that woman” to “wonderful woman.” Is this witchcraft, do you think?
ROBERTS: No, I don`t think it`s witchcraft.
Frankly, Matthews was puzzled. In his crowd, he was used to hearing, “I hate that woman” when the question of Clinton came up. Now he was hearing a different tune. Cokie assured him—no witchcraft was involved. So he played his second card. As is standard, he mocked Gore and Kerry:
MATTHEWS: Could it be that, standing next to Gore and Kerry, she looks delightful?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! He played a cable pander-card. If at first you don’t succeed, offer cheap laughs about Gore and Kerry.
Poor Chris! Remember what a great ride it’s been, sliming people like Kerry and Gore? Gore, who “didn’t seem very American, even?” Who “doesn’t even look like one of us?” On Sunday, this cheap, phony man may have met a new world—one that may be a bit more fair to people less worthless than Bush. http://www.dailyhowler.com/