Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Political Aristocracy

Glenn Greenwald posted a good piece back on 12/3/08 on "Nepotistic succession in the political class." Digby linked it and two of her older posts on the subject, "Populist Monarchs and Subjects" and "Noble Neocons." Do check them out.

I'll add an overdue follow-up to my similarly-themed "Cokie's World," on social mores inside the Beltway and kinship ties. I had been wondering about Cokie Roberts' relationship with Al Gore, given their similar Beltway pedigrees and the press savaging of Gore during his presidential campaign for 2000. Naturally enough, Bob Somerby's covered the subject, including Cokie Roberts perpetuating a misleading account of Al Gore and Love Story, and Roberts falsely accusing Gore of distorting Bill Bradley's record.

My favorite, though, is a segment from October 2000 on ABC's This Week. As Somerby writes, "In this segment, Cokie starts by reciting the Standard Press Theme: Al Gore doesn’t know who he is. The requisite mockery about Dingell-Norwood followed close behind." Here's the relevant transcript (via Somerby, with his emphasis):

DONALDSON (10/22/00): Cokie, who's the real Gore?

ROBERTS: Well, who knows? And I'm not sure he does, and that's the other problem is that not only is he—was he—did he come across as unlikable in the debates, which was a problem—you say, a messenger problem, it's that his message can't get through because of the messenger. But it's also that he did come across as sort of changeable and all of that so that people couldn't—couldn't figure out who he was. And—and I think that—that in the long run, it's clear that they heard him, even though everybody says he won them, that—that in the long run, that he was heard. But George is right. Bush sits at our poll, for instance, right at 48. Every day he's at 48 percent.


ROBERTS: And Gore's numbers go up and down, up and down, up and down. Now maybe at some point, he goes over that 48 and wins.

DONALDSON: Well, you talk about the message. I mean, remember during the last debate, Gore kept talking about “the Dingell/Norwood bill, the Dingell/Norwood bill?” And we thought, as a public service, we'd just show you who Dingell and Norwood are. Let us tell you about them.

Representatives Dingell and Norwood introduced the Patients' Bill of Rights favored by Gore in the House of Representatives. John Dingell, from Michigan, is the longest-serving Democrat in the House. His father, who was a House member before him, was a sponsor of Social Security in the '30s, and pioneered the idea of national health insurance back in 1943. Charlie Norwood from Georgia, a Republican, is a dentist. He served in Vietnam and was first elected to the House in 1994 as part of the Republican revolution. So that's who Dingell and Norwood are. Now I'll tell you—

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the important—

ROBERTS: Yeah, but—

DONALDSON: But there's a guy named Greg Ganske who's also on the bill. It's actually the Dingell/Norwood/Ganske bill.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the important—the important point—

DONALDSON: But I don't have time to start telling you about him.

ROBERTS: He's from Iowa.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The important point there is that George Bush didn't answer the question about the Dingell/Norwood bill, which is a Patients' Bill of Rights that allows people to—the right to sue.

ROBERTS: Actually, I don't think that is the important point there.


ROBERTS: Because that's not what comes across when you're watching the debate. What comes across when you're watching the debate is this guy from Washington doing Washington-speak.


ROBERTS: And you know, it's having an effect not just at the presidential level, but at the congressional level as well. Because the Republicans did a very smart thing, which is that they voted for their version of a Patients' Bill of Rights, and they voted for their version of prescription drug coverage. So they get to go out and tout all these issues, and then the Democrats are left saying, “But you didn't do Dingell and Norwood.”

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, then they—but what gets lost there—wait a second, what gets lost there is that George Bush did oppose a Patients' Bill of Rights in the state of Texas. And he did—and he's not for the Dingell/Norwood bill.

ROBERTS: It was lost, because Al Gore didn't say it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, well, he did say it, actually, in the course of the debate.

DONALDSON: This is very cerebral. George Will, you are, but it doesn't be—helping Gore.

WILL: It's not helping Gore in part because people find him overbearing and off-putting and all the rest. But also the fact—I think the issues are beginning to break, finally, for George W. Bush...

It's no surprise as to which style of "journalism" triumphed and still dominates. (Facts, policies and competency versus psycho-babble and marketing spin? Please!) Cokie Roberts' attitude toward Gore suggests that pedigree and kinship ties alone don't always lead to Beltway acceptance. However, as looked at in the earlier post, that may be a special case due to so many Beltway insiders being scandalized by Bill Clinton's affair, and determined to punish Gore for it until he denounced Clinton. It's an ongoing struggle to make our system more of a meritocracy. And as it currently stands, of all the rules of the game, the appearance of propriety still seems to reign supreme.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

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