Man Without Qualities

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Earth To Howard Fineman: Collect Call For You

Howard Fineman, writes in Newsweek about the infatuation of the left with anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan as an example of how the Democratic Beltway has parted ways with the Democratic Blogosphere:

Beltway Democrats avoided her like the plague; the Blogosphere embraced her as a heroine of the grass roots. It wasn’t so much the content of what she said; she was, after all, claiming mostly to be asking questions. It was the WAY she came to prominence—quickly, virally, seemingly from out of nowhere—and her stubbornly confrontational tone.
Cindy Sheehan "was, after all, claiming mostly to be asking questions?" Does Howard Fineman actually live on Earth? How could he? As fulsomely reported by the media, Ms. Sheehan gained national attention in early August 2005 when she camped out down the road from President Bush's Crawford Ranch, demanding a second meeting with the President and an "explanation" of the "unjust" Iraq war. She came to Texas claiming to do anything but "ask questions." On August 20, 2005 Ms. Sheehan published an article, "Hypocrites and Liars," describing what in her mind "Camp Casey is all about:"
I just read an article posted today on by artist Robert Shetterly who painted my portrait. The article reminded me of something I said at the Veteran's for Peace Convention the night before I set out to Bush's ranch in my probable futile quest for the truth. This is what I said:

"I got an e-mail the other day and it said, 'Cindy if you didn't use so much profanity '. There's people on the fence that get offended.'

And you know what I said? 'You know what? You know what, god damn it? How in the world is anybody still sitting on that fence?'

"If you fall on the side that is pro-George and pro-war, you get your ass over to Iraq, and take the place of somebody who wants to come home. And if you fall on the side that is against this war and against George Bush, stand up and speak out."

This is what the Camp Casey miracle is all about.
Cindy Sheehan had obviously stopped "asking questions" and started "giving orders" many months before she rose to prominence at Crawford. For example (and there are hundreds of such examples), on July 4, 2005 she told a paper in Fort Lewis, Washington, that her meeting with President Bush was "one of the most disgusting experiences I ever had and it took me almost a year to even talk about it" and described President Bush as "detached from humanity." On October 4, 2004 she stated that her son's death had compelled her to speak out against the "unjust" war in Iraq, to "bring the troops home" and "hold politicians accountable." Her trips ever further into the political ozone layer have been well documented.

The liberal and left-Blogosphere infatuation with Ms. Sheehan is (and from the very beginning of her rise to prominence, has always been), based exactly on "the content of what she said." Of course, the content of what she said has proved to be highly embarrassing - especially to anyone actually trying to win an election in this country. She's almost always nutty. Sometimes antisemitic. Increasingly extreme. It is easy to see why anyone would want some distance from that "content of what she said." But the fact is that the left embraced the "content of what she said," contrary to what Mr. Fineman says. That's a fact obvious to anyone actually of this Earth.

Mr. Fineman's entire analysis of the growing rift between the "Beltway" and "Blogosphere" factions of the Democratic Party is as unsound and shallow as his understanding of the Cindy Sheehan phenomenon he deploys as an example. Mr. Fineman presents the theories of the apparently gormless Simon Rosenberg (with minimal distancing ticks such as "if Mr. Rosenberg is right" and the like) that the rift is one of "tone" and differing "narratives." But what Mr. Rosenberg (and Mr. Fineman) says is simply wrong. For example, Hillary Clinton's eccentric support of the Iraq invasion is not a matter of "tone," "narrative" or "vocabulary." She voted more than once for a war that her core constituencies detest and consider a central issue. Senator Clinton's strategy has relied heavily on her core constituencies understanding that her faux-moderate positions were just political dodges on tangential and non-essential issues designed to put her in the White House. But the Iraq War has become too big an issue for those constituencies to see her position as an acceptable faux-moderate political expediency. Put another way: By bearing down on the Iraq War as a (or the) central issue, Democrats are causing Senator Clinton's former strategy to come unglued. After all, if (as the Democratic establishment has been intoning) Iraq is the important issue, a politician who treats it as a minor point to be finessed is not smart and realistic, she's a traitor. So Hillary Clinton's left-wing core constituencies are acting up. And she's scared because if she openly accommodates them very much, she probably cannot win the general election. That's not political "narrative." That's standard political "content."

Senator Clinton is hardly the first would-be candidate to face the problem of having to appease restless activists in her own party at the cost of damaging her national electability. For example, in 1992 George H.W. Bush, who had neglected the conservative activists in his own party, found himself obligated to give them great play at the Republican Convention. The result was a set of high profile appearances by people without general political appeal - including the notorious Pat Buchanan speech - that seriously damaged Mr. Bush's efforts in the general election. That Senator Clinton is now facing the same problem as a result of her faux "moderate" positioning only demonstrates that irony is cheap and plentiful in politics.

Here's how Mr. Fineman gussies up what is, in fact, a very common (but difficult) problem:
The consensus, among the insiders and in the early national polls, is that the 2008 nomination is hers to lose. .... I am waiting to see which, if any, of the crop of likely Democratic challengers tries to make himself the avatar of the “emerging activist class.” Dean did it without even knowing he was doing it. I don’t think Cindy Sheehan is running. Who will it be? Unless somehow it turns out to be Hillary—who voted for the prewar resolution on Iraq and in other ways has tried to burnish her “moderate” credentials.

But if Rosenberg is right, the key is not ideological purity but combativeness, and an appreciation of the power and tone of the Internet. Hillary must adapt—she has to “join the Resistance”—and her history has shown that she is nothing if not adaptable.
So for Mr. Fineman ( or is it Mr. Rosenberg, who is "worth listening to?"), the winning "adaptation" for Senator Clinton is doing by calculation something like what Howard Dean did by instinct? Howard Dean is now supposed to be the "success" model - not Bill Clinton? Whatever you say, Mr. Rosenberg or Fineman or whoever is talking.

It is a curious and recurring fact that the inclusion of anything related to the internet (including the Blogoshpere) often completely disorients mainstream media types such as Mr. Fineman, causing them to perceive very standard problems as unprecedented. In this case, the banal problem of how one tacks towards the party activists to win the nomination without appearing too "extreme" for the general election is presented as the fresh and new "Beltway v Blogosphere." But "Beltway v Blogosphere" is not the essential variable here. Nor is "narrative."

And Howard Dean, who has reportedly been as big a disaster for Democratic National Committee fund raising as he was a presidential candidate, is no role model - not even a little bit. That's another point that should be obvious to anyone not frequenting the Plutonic surface.

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I have a balad iraq site/blog. It pretty much covers all Iraq related stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time :-)
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