Politics & Media
Jun 02, 2008, 07:13AM

It'll Take a Thief

Liberals and their media compatriots are crossing their fingers that 2008 isn’t a re-run of the past two presidential elections.

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Garrison Keillor

As the 2008 presidential campaign rolls along, becoming nastier or more conciliatory depending on the day, one thing is clear: liberal Democrats are scared shitless—with little reason, in my opinion—that once again they’ll be denied on Election Day in November. Remember the spate of news articles and op-ed columns in late-2004 (and not just confined to The New York Times), after the laconic John Kerry was narrowly defeated by George Bush, about the large number of affluent New Yorkers and Californians who were so depressed at the result that they couldn’t speak or eat, and sought refuge—or maybe doubled up their time—with a psychiatrist?

Just last week, actress Susan Sarandon (who, unlike her longtime companion Tim Robbins, is terrific on-screen) vowed a move to Italy or Canada if John McCain is elected. Hollywood celebrities are only the most prominent Americans who promise to leave the country if their preferred candidate fails; the population would take a nose-dive if these narcissists stuck to their word.

In the unlikely event that McCain tops Barack Obama this fall, it’s hard to imagine what the reaction will be from those investing so much of their time and psychic energy on electing a man who will relieve the United States from the Constitution-shredding, global warming flat-earthers and corporate lackeys who comprise the Bush administration.

I don’t suspect there will be a rash of skyscraper jumpers—that’s too 1929—but watch out for the reports of devastated voters snuffing themselves, either on purpose or accidentally, with a mixture of top-shelf vodka and Ambien. Rep. Patrick Kennedy might run a hotline describing the proper procedure.

It’s a given that Garrison Keillor—the man considered by some a “national treasure” for his hokey “Prairie Home Companion” and principled political views that can rival luminaries such as Bill Moyers and the still-kicking Walter Cronkite—won’t move. There’s too much money to be made by staying put. Keillor’s syndicated column, however, is a fine (if nearly as unctuous and self-righteous as the blabbering of Keith Olbermann) primer that explains the worrywart mindset. Keillor’s prose appears unflappable—his certitude rock-steady—but I’m betting if someone mentioned the words “Florida recount” before he put quill to paper, the projectile of rat-a-tat-tat slurs against any and all Republicans would turn the “yellow press” of a long-ago era to pure white.

Keillor, who calls Bush “The Current Occupant” in his columns, was just warming up on March 28 when he questioned the intelligence of young adults (rampant misspelling, as if that lamentable malady is confined to any specific generation) as a bridge to, once again, bolster his own sense of superiority. He writes: “People accuse us liberals of permissiveness—no, no, no, no, no. We liberals are oppressive, not permissive, working day and night to take your guns away and make you apply for a permit every time you spit. In my heart, I belong to the Correctness Party, the party of good spellers, of people who pay attention to details. The Current Occupant is not one of us… Intellectually, he has been a charity case all his life. He is one of those men who are lucky that their fathers were born before they were.”

Two months later, after Memorial Day, Keillor wrote about being in Washington, D.C. (how much time does this millionaire spend by the hearth, anyway?) and having his senses assaulted by a parade of bikers who converged upon the city for a rally purporting to show support for the U.S. Military while honoring those lost in this country’s many wars. This rubbed Keillor the wrong way: “You don’t quite see the connection between [a proper observance at cemeteries] and these fat men with ponytails on Harleys. After hearing a few thousand bikes go by, you think maybe we could airlift these gentlemen to Baghdad to show their support of the troops in a more tangible way.”

Fat Men With Ponytails On Harleys. Blame it on Bush, just like the cranes that fell in Manhattan last week.
Now, consider the following proclamation from Josh Marshall—the well-regarded and successful creator of the partisan, but generally smart, Talking Points Memo—after Bush gave his now-notorious (at least among Democrats) speech at the Knesset last month, in which he warned that negotiating with terrorists was similar to European appeasement in the 1930s as Hitler gallivanted across the continent. Needless to say, conservative blogs and publications and websites had a field day mocking Marshall, and they were right.

Marshall said: “In case you hadn’t heard yet, the president attacked Sen. Obama [Bush named no specific Democrats] as a terrorist coddler on the order of the late 30s Nazi-appeasers in a speech before the Israeli Knesset. As the president who’s probably done more to damage to the country than any in 150 years, I can’t say I’m exactly surprised that he’d do this. But it really was disgusting, even for him.”

Several years ago, I met Josh and had an engaging conversation for an hour or so, and he struck me as a really good guy. Still is, I’m sure, but he’s clearly become unglued. Bush will not be regarded as a top-tier president by historians—although the verdict, I believe, won’t be as severe as is currently bandied about—but think about the lunacy of Marshall’s condemnation. Bush has “probably” done more damage to the United States since any president since 1858? So James Buchanan, who ignored the imminent Civil War, was a better president? Woodrow Wilson, a moralistic man who violently violated the Bill of Rights by jailing journalists who spoke out against the United States’ involvement in World War I, and stoked anti-immigrant fervor with his support of Prohibition, did less “damage” to U.S. democracy than Bush? I find it hard to fathom that Marshall, and his ilk, can rank the current president below Herbert Hoover, on whose watch, of course, the most devastating depression in U.S. history began.

Harry Truman, now a Democratic saint, was of course shunned for years by party members, derided as a man who was “stubborn” and a bumbler in hock to the Missouri political machine, who also gave the order to bomb Japan, sent armed forces to their death in the Korean War, and did little to stop the rise of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Maybe it’s not fair to burden Truman with the rise of McCarthyism—Dwight Eisenhower wasn’t much better—but I’d venture to say, without fear of contradiction, that the blacklisting and paranoia and ruin of careers of decent men and women that McCarthy was largely responsible for trumps any of Bush’s mistakes. As for the economy—the current unemployment rate is five percent, although it’ll most likely tick up in the next year—is Bush worse than Jimmy Carter (who, by the way, did some bumbling himself in dealing with Iran), when credit rates were sky-high, inflation was in double-digit figures and the average rate of unemployment during his four ignominious years as president was 7.7 percent?

At least Marshall doesn’t lard his commentary with purple prose; the same can’t be said for sportswriter/political provocateur Charles P. Pierce, the onetime buddy of John McCain who apparently considers his writing to be a combination of H.L. Mencken, Murray Kempton and I.F. Stone. Pierce, who in truth isn’t too bad on NPR’s Saturday program “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!,” swung for the bleachers with his horribly contrived Esquire (June issue) article “The Cynic and Senator Obama.” Since Pierce is more worldly, well-read and skeptical than the rest of us—especially the millions who’ve embraced Obama’s candidacy—he’s not about to get fooled again. Writing in the third person as “the cynic,” Pierce followed the Illinois senator on the campaign hustings this spring and while he concedes Obama is tough, shrewd and smart, his closing plea (Pierce faults the de facto Democratic nominee for not calling for Bush’s impeachment, among other sins) is “Convince me. Convince me. Convince me.”

Although Pierce doesn’t go back into history as far as Marshall, it’s his contention that the United States hasn’t been a “great” country since LBJ shepherded civil rights legislation through Congress more than four decades ago. Since then, “The people of the United States have been accessorial in the murder of their country.” Now, maybe it’s just me that’s being cynical, but if recollection serves correctly Democrats in 2000 were whining that Bill Clinton wasn’t eligible to run for a third term, a travesty in their opinion since he restored the country to greatness and was hardly complicit in its “murder.”

In the course of Pierce’s article he repeats this mantra five times about the present condition of the United States: “Someone will have to measure the wreckage. Someone will have to walk through the ruins. Someone will have to count the cost.” This really is the work of an unhinged man. Yes, it’s a conceit Pierce employs to express his doubt that Obama will be anything more than a normal politician, although one who speaks magnificently, but even though most liberals are eager to enumerate the list of Bush’s incompetent decisions, I haven’t come across anyone in those circles who draws such an apocalyptic, Guernica-like description of the United States today. Reading Pierce, you’d think he’d just toured Dresden at the conclusion of World War II.

Last Friday, in a comment on professional liberal Eric Alterman’s “Altercation” blog, Pierce blew a kiss to the producers of HBO’s Recount, saying it was “so good that it’s over-the-top infuriating… The emotional wallop of the film, of course, has less to do with the actual production, and far more to do with the seven-year Festival of Fruitcakes that ensued after the events depicted therein occurred.” Pierce has an ally in Alterman, who made this inexplicable statement in his May 29 Nation column about the perceived back-stabbing of Sen. Joe Lieberman: “So how is that this dove-turned-hawk, Democrat-turned-Republican apologist for anti-Semitism has become the hero of the Kristol/Podhoretz/Wall Street Journal/Weekly Standard/New Republic/Slate neocons/liberal hawk crowd?” That’s a mouthful, but The New Republic and Slate, while more circumspect and less hyperbolic than The Nation, are hardly allies of conservatives.

Should McCain win in November, as a charitable man, I do hope that Pierce’s friends keep him away from sharp objects and the medicine and liquor cabinets.

An earlier version of this article appeared on nypress.com

  • What fears exactly were put to rest by this article? 8 years of this idiot in office and no major media outlet has ever really challenged anything his administration has done. That joke of an interview on Yahoo/Politico last month was a perfect example. And conservatives like this writer still want to accuse the media of a liberal bias because, gasp!, Garrison Fucking Keillor is an annoyingly avowed liberal. Can we put the "liberal media" claim to rest please?

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  • One thing that is often overlooked is how much Israel likes Bush. When he spoke at the Knesset, Israelis couldn't have cared less about unjust associations and whether or not he was alluding to Obama. Bush has been a staunch supporter and protector of Israel, which may not be outside the norm of any recent past president, and they are thankful of the relationship. But this also seems to illustrate how single-issued factions can be. Can and should Israel be outraged by Bush's economic blunders or derailed foreign policy? They don't have to be. All I can say is that if I hear one more person tell me that they are fiscally conservative but theyre against the war and they feel concerned by the results of the past eight years and they don't know what to do...I might turn to violence. Foreign Policy overlaps with economy which affects financing education and so on and so forth. It's all connected.

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  • Also, I absolutely love that McCain's Iraq exit strategy would conclude one year after his term, if he were elected. You know cause then we can just pass it off to someone else. Kind of like hot potato.

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  • Hey, Gabriel, you're from a tough neighborhood growing up. You should shake those wimpy fiscal conservatives, knock 'em in the jaw and stuff an Obama bumpersticker down their throats. Obama wins big, unless he caves to pressure and picks Hillary as veep. Then all bets are off.

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  • Re: McCain's exit strategy. Isn't that what Clinton did with bin Laden back in the 90s. Ignore the problem and let his successor deal with it?

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  • That breaks my heart, Dan.

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  • I wouldn't be too worried about proclaiming that your fiscal views are generally conservative. Most people don't get upset at someone's broadly generalized views. It's the specifics that get people fired up. Lowering taxes for the wealthy? Supporting that would make me mad. But if you mean fiscally conservative as in spending the amount of money you make, well that right there is reason to vote for Obama this fall. Republicans have shredded their reputation for fiscal responsibility under Bush. If you want to talk about one president handing things over to the next, Clinton left Bush with a substantial budget surplus. Now that's been squandered without even taking into account the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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  • Let's remember that Clinton also left Bush with an economy on the brink of recession--after the Tech bust--so who knows if that surplus would've remained under a, shudder, President Al Gore. I doubt it.

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  • i don't know anything about politics, but i HATE garrison keillor. i hope mccain wins because my dad said we would have more money to spend and my sweet sixteen is just around the corner.

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  • Yamster, are you going to apply for "My Super Sweet Sixteen?"

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  • I'm 30, so give an old guy a break. Just what the hell is "My Super Sweet Sixteen?" Some reality show about spoiled New York teenagers?

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  • Grab all the 10-1 bets you can get now and put your money on Hillary, after a non-withdrawal hiatus, wresting the nomination from Barack after some "scandal" of dubious origins. I couldn't vote in 2000, and was hooked on Zelda rather than the FL recount, but I will be pissed if the Clintons find a way to get her on the ticket, either for the top or second spot.

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  • I'm voting for McCain in November. Obama isn't up to the job, and we don't need him meeting with Hugo Chavez.

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  • Oh, please, Ruffy. Obama isn't up to the job? Like Bush was? You're right that Chavez is a dangerous nut, but I hope Obama does meet with Raul Castro and end this stupid embargo. Man, I want to go to Cuba with no restrictions.

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  • I'm not taking any bets on this election. The media's fixated on it more than ever before—cheaper than long-term investigative stories or foreign bureaus—so I wouldn't be surprised if by September there are rumors that Obama and McCain once played footsie in a bathroom stall.

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