The Archive

Below are most of the columns I've written since 2007. As of mid-2014 I stopped adding items to this list; you can find my more recent stuff at the American Prospect and the Washington Post's Plum Line blog.

It isn't that you won't realize it's not human, it's that you won't care.
July 21, 2014

This is where the battles will be waged.
June 30, 2014

She's the candidate of the head, not the heart.
June 16, 2014

The danger of doctrines.
June 2, 2014

What do Tea Partiers do when the drama is over?
May 19, 2014

Lots of shouting and dancing, but not much substance.
May 5, 2014

Sometimes, willfully ignoring the facts makes a kind of sense.
April 21, 2014

You don't need bribes to distort the political system.
April 7, 2014

Lee Atwater was right. Sort of.
March 24, 2014

Food and health care are for losers, conservatives assure the poor.
March 10, 2014

Religious conservatives try to transform the First Amendment.
February 24, 2014

Want to screw your workers and avoid accountability? Blame Obamacare.
February 10, 2014

Will Republicans ever realize that deifying business owners is bad politics?
February 3, 2014

Before long, it may become impossible to be anonymous.
January 21, 2014

Learning lessons from the umbrage police.
January 6, 2014

Why conservatives always lose arguments over exemplars.
December 23, 2013

All the data you could want.
December 12, 2013

Are their complaints legitimate?
December 9, 2013

Media outlets race to attract the wonkiest and geekiest.
November 25, 2013

The mistake was treating it like any other government project.
October 28, 2o13

Charts on young people and health insurance.
October 24, 2013

They can't solve their problems if they can't understand them.
October 15, 2013

It's a giant kludge, built on top of an even bigger kludge.
September 30, 2013

Answers to all your questions.
September 19, 2013

Coming to terms with our superiority complex.
September 16, 2013

Billie Jean King's legacy, 40 years after the Battle of the Sexes
September 3, 2013

We know it's early, but we just can't help ourselves.
August 19, 2013

Why is America the world leader in locking its citizens up?
August 15, 2013

Obama's campaign manager goes to work for the Tories.
August 5, 2012

What it means to be the racial default setting.
July 22, 2013

Turns out you need more than dark insinuation.
July 8, 2013

Our broadband is getting faster, but we're paying through the nose for it.
June 24, 2013

What happens when a story doesn't satisfy our need for justice to prevail.
June 10, 2013

He's actually building an admirable record on diversity.
May 31, 2013

How assumptions about faith are changing.
May 27, 2013

Once that train gets going, it's awfully hard to stop.
May 13, 2013

Fisker may be teetering, but the administration's record is pretty good.
April 29, 2013

Reasons to be happy about April 15.
April 15, 2013

Why the economic culture war fizzled.
April 1, 2013

What if Rob Portman's son weren't gay?
March 18, 2013

Ten years later, looking back at the Iraq War.
March 5, 2013

The 2016 Democratic contenders are moving left.
February 19, 2013

The cultural resentments never fade.
February 4, 2013

In his second term, he'll likely be a tougher president.
January 21, 2013

The proposals we're seeing won't make more than a dent in the problem.
January 9, 2013

Republicans are already preparing.
January 2, 2013

A guide to the debate.
December 15, 2012

Reality television comes to West Virginia.
December 11, 2012

Politics is increasingly invading the workplace.
November 26, 2012

Republicans blame the moochers for their lost election.
November 12, 2012

What we know and don't know about Obama and Romney.
October 29, 2012

Unfortunately, we won't be able to peer into their hearts.
October 22, 2012

What we can learn from debates past.
October 15, 2012

The explosion of spending from the candidates themselves.
October 12, 2012

A chance to be more important than most
October 11, 2012

Why the town hall debate could trip Mitt up.
October 8, 2012

Game changers? Not usually.
September 27, 2012

Conservatives turn on Romney.
September 25, 2012

Which economic indicators matter most in an election?
September 20, 2012

What role will religion play in November?
September 13, 2012

Have liberals won?
September 10, 2012

The best and worst speeches of conventions past.
September 6, 2012

A look at convention biography videos.
August 30, 2012

When Republicans look at Obama, they see themselves.
August 27, 2012

What's in store on election day 2012.
August 23, 2012

Sorting out the candidates' competing claims
August 16, 2012

It's the thing about him that will endure.
August 14, 2012

A guide to what the program is and isn't.
August 10, 2012

A guide to the marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot.
August 3, 2012

Why Mitt Romney will be sticking with "You didn't build that."
July 31, 2012

The presidency is not a technocratic position.
July 17, 2012

Centrist Democrats meet extremist Republicans.
July 3, 2012

If Obama is going to win, he needs both.
June 18, 2012

It's not about race, it's about power.
June 4, 2012

Still hoping to uncover Barack Obama's deep dark secret.
May21, 2012

Picking the next president necessitates it.
May 3, 2012

The Obama campaign isn't even fighting on guns.
April 23, 2012

Will religion disappear in the general election?
April 9, 2012

The challenges facing the secular movement.
March 27, 2012

It's extremely hard to unseat an incumbent president.
March 13, 2012

Now I know how my Republican friends felt.
February 27, 2012

A profile of Thom Hartmann
February 16, 2012

What real tax reform would look like.
January 30, 2012

Mitt Romney stumbles into a new discussion on the economy.
January 17, 2011

Mommy, What's a Caucus?
An explainer about the Iowa silliness.
January 2, 2011

Why ideologues are the only ones who should care about flip-flopping.
December 21, 2011

This year's primary really is different.
December 5, 2011

They may be fading away.
November 21, 2011

Can Democrats take back the House in 2012?
October 27, 2011

Even the Gipper thought the rich should pay their fair share.
October 18, 2011

As silly as debates are, they're still the best thing about presidential campaigns.
October 10, 2011

Isn't it time to get rid of the Electoral College?
September 27, 2011

Social Security isn't a Ponzi scheme, and it isn't in crisis.
September 22, 2011

It doesn't help you to obsess over whether you're driving your opponents crazy.
September 13, 2011

The GOP's backward-looking radicalism.
September 7, 2011

I read Dick Cheney's book so you don't have to.
September 2, 2011

Rick Perry is almost a real cowboy. And that's the problem.
August 23, 2011

Dispelling some myths about taxes
August 18, 2011

How the 2008 primaries perfectly predicted the kind of president Barack Obama would be
August 11, 2011

His fatal mistake: believing Republicans would be responsible.
July 28, 2011

On the 100th anniversary of Marshall McLuhan's birth, the medium is the message more than ever.
July 21, 2011

When ordinary people get to ask the questions, they do a better job than journalists.
July 12, 2011

For some DC journos, the worst crime is caring about policy.
July 5, 2011

Can fear and disgust get people to quit smoking?
June 23, 2011

The GOP frontrunners: Christian superstars
June 14, 2011

She's more formidable than she looks.
June 7, 2011

How the GOP's Medicare plan is like the Underpants Gnomes.
May 31, 2011

How groupthink will shape the GOP presidential primary.
May 24, 2011

"American exceptionalism" is the 2012 watchword.
May 17, 2011

Our final image of bin Laden should be of him in defeat.
May 4, 2011

Are journalists treating these town halls the way they did the ones in 2009?
May 3, 2011

A hostage crisis unfolds.
April 25, 2011

Does it take satire to hold a lying politician accountable?
April 18, 2011

Why Obama won't stop the budget-cutting.
April 11, 2011

The GOP candidates' Pledge problem.
April 5, 2011

It's not whether you're elite, it's whom you're fighting for.
March 29, 2011

How and why we vilify the other side.
March 22, 2011

How the GOP goes after institutions.
March 15, 2011

Why political compromise is harder than ever.
March 8, 2011

The important question is: How will it end?
March 1, 2011

The insanity of electing judges.
February 22, 2011

Adventures in running and online magazine.
February 15, 2011

The continuing value of public libraries.
February 8, 2011

Has Obama really moved anywhere?
February 1, 2011

On the virtues of a long presidential campaign cycle.
January 25, 2011

Unintended consequences of the president's religious talk.
January 18, 2011

Let's be honest about extreme political rhetoric.
January 11, 2011

"Change" usually means we just want the pendulum to swing our way.
January 4, 2011

The Affordable Care Act won't feel like a government program.
December 21, 2010

Why Democrats should propose real tax reform.
December 14, 2010

Has the President gone too far in compromising?
December 7, 2010

There is no such thing as "the American people."
November 30, 2010

Just how far will Republicans go?
November 23, 2010

You'll be hearing it soon.
November 16, 2010

Can Democrats get specific enough to prevail?
November 9, 2010

Why we can survive a Republican Congress.
November 2, 2010

Just how much will corporate money matter?
October 26, 2010

And why it's going to get worse.
October 19, 2010

How misunderstandings about politics benefit the right.
October 12, 2010

Simple rules for candidates.
October 5, 2010

Why federal spending never goes down.
September 28, 2010

They're just Republicans.
September 21, 2010

Is there really a chance the ACA will be repealed?
September 14, 2010

Like all raucous celebrations, the Tea Party will wind down.
September 7, 2010

Anti-Intellectualism rears its head.
August 31, 2010

Interview with Shahid Buttar.
August 27, 2010

Our current political leadership just isn't all that funny.
August 24, 2010

Are Democrats screwed?
August 17, 2010

Can they stop straddling?
August 10, 2010

Defending the Bush tax cuts.
August 3, 2010

It's not racism, it's race-baiting.
July 27, 2010

Progressives are getting gloomy.
July 20, 2010

Keeping hold of your identity in a technologically shifting world.
July 13, 2010

Can Obama shift the rhetoric?
June 6, 2010

History isn't always the best guide.
June 29, 2010

The case against marriage equality is all about straight people.
June 22, 2010

Do CEOs really make good politicians?
June 15, 2010

An interview with filmmaker Jeffrey Blitz.
June 11, 2010

The madness of the California initiative process.
June 8, 2010

The ban on gays in the military approaches its end.
June 1, 2010

There's no talking to some people.
May 25, 2010

Democrats may be stronger than they look.
May 18, 2010

Sacrificing our values won't make democracy any easier.
May 11, 2010

Do violent video games harm children?
May 4, 2010

James Madison wouldn't know what to do about "crush videos."
April 27, 2010

Why you can ignore Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
April 20, 2010

It's all about who's one of us, and who's the enemy.
April 13, 2010

Why it's so hard to assess presidential ideology.
April 6, 2010

How Obama looks past the day-to-day
March 30, 2010

At long last, the battle is over.
March 20, 2010

Can Republicans do more than talk?
March 16, 2010

Let's give some love to the Postal Service.
March 9, 2010

Why "tort reform" is bad medicine.
March 2, 2010

What's going on at DARPA
February 26, 2010

The rise of Founding Father fetishism.
February 23, 2010

The GOP understands that it's all about what you can get away with.
February 16, 2010

Why we're doing al-Qaeda recruiters a favor.
February 9, 2010

The future of American cities.
February 4, 2010

How conservatives undermined their own arguments.
February 2, 2010

The problem with Obama's State of the Union.
January 28, 2010

They're not doomed, unless they act like it.
January 26, 2010

There's a way to pass health care reform.
January 19, 2010

Probably not.
January 12, 2010

Why we only fear terrorism at the airport.
January 5, 2010

It's not about abortion.
December 29, 2009

The Health Care Ultimatum
Why the "kill the bill" forces are wrong.
December 22, 2009

A Eulogy for the Public Option
There must be room to improve health care reform
December 15, 2009

The Spending Wars
Wars cost money. So why don't we treat them like they do?
December 8, 2009

The Persecution Complex of Sarah Palin
We all define ourselves by our enemies in politics, but it can be taken too far.
December 1, 2009

The Mammogram Mess
Can we have a reasonable discussion about health care?
November 24, 2009

When Hope Meets Reality
The prose of governing.
November 17, 2009

Looking Back, Moving Forward
All that matters is results.
November 10, 2009

Twilight of the Op-Ed Columnist
Are syndicated opinion writers a dying breed?
November 9, 2009

Can Reason Win the Drug War?
Things are moving in the right direction.
November 3, 2009

Fox and Foes
The fact that they're on television shouldn't give them special rights.
October 27, 2009

Their Own Worst Enemy

The health insurers stop pretending they support reform.
October 20, 2009

A Case for Empathy
Conservatives are going to have to learn about it.
October 13, 2009

The Second Coming of Sarah Palin

Could she be the savior of the religious right?
October 6, 2009

Hurry Up and Wait
If health reform passes, it'll be a while before anyone sees the benefits.
September 29, 2009

Glenn Beck's Party
Why he became the leader of the GOP.
September 22, 2009

Stuff Some White People Don't Like
You can't escape the racial element in the opposition to Obama
September 15, 2009

The Three Audiences Obama Has to Please
And the public isn't one of them.
September 8, 2009

Health Care's Lowest Foes
The cynicism is blinding.
September 1, 2009

Last Chance for the Public Option?
Reports of its demise could be premature.
August 25, 2009

Insurance Fraud
The insurance lobby is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
August 18, 2009

All the Rage Over Health Care Reform
It's not really about health care.
August 11, 2009

Health Care's Public Perception Malady
Successful reform won't change antipathy toward government.
August 4, 2009

The 10 Dumbest Arguments Against Health Care Reform
Get 'em while they're hot.
July 28, 2009

Going Strong on the Wrong Message
The GOP's message unity bites them back.
July 21, 2009

We'll Always Have Wasilla
Sarah Palin, I just can't quit you.
July 14, 2009

Health Care's True Price
The missing piece in the reform debate: security.
July 7, 2009

The Fretting Over Health Care Reform
Is health care history repeating itself? Not quite.
June 30, 2009

Health Care Reform Villians
It's time to identify the bad guys.
June 23, 2009

The Left and the Living Dead
June 16, 2008

The Numbers Game
The tyranny of fuzzy math.
June 9, 2009

Judicial Abstraction
Why Republicans can't say what they mean on judges.
June 2, 2009

It's Gingrich Time
Why we're seeing more of Newt.
May 27, 2009

The Health Care Time Warp
Republicans are dusting off the old rhetorical playbook.
May 19, 2009

Not Even Chuck Norris Can Save the GOP
Is it any wonder Republicans are directionless?
May 12, 2009

A Taxing Argument
Taxation isn't the problem Republicans imagine.
May 5, 2009

Trickle-Down Politics
How partisan elites influence the rest of the population.
April 28, 2009

It's the End of the World As They Know It
The American right appears to be going insane.
April 21, 2009

We've Already Won the Battle Over Gay Marriage
It's conservatives who are ceding ground.
April 14, 2009

The President's Aesthetic Goes Global
Obama's fonts and colors conquer the world.
April 7, 2009

Who's Afraid of New Media?
The old media, that's who.
March 31, 2009

Can a Click Replace a Glance?
What we'll miss about newspapers.
March 24, 2009

So Long, Alex P. Keaton
What the Obama generation will mean for the future of politics.
March 17, 2009

The Tiny Battles of a Has-Been Candidate
Why do we still care what John McCain thinks?
March 10, 2009

Believe It Or Not, He's Walking On Air
Obama is looking more and more like a liberal Reagan.
March 3, 2009

There Is No Social Security Crisis
Get it through your head.
February 24, 2009

The Tyranny of the Centrists
If they're in charge, we're all in trouble.
February 17, 2009

Good Work, If You Can Get It
"Jobs," like everything else, are in the eye of the beholder.
February 10, 2009

Limbaugh vs. Obama
The President knows just what he's doing.
February 3, 2009

With God On Our Side?
Will the administration re-separate church and state?
January 27, 2009

What We Talk About When We Talk About Obama
Now we'll find out what kind of president we're getting.
January 20, 2009

The Bush Legacy Takes Shape
Time to look back.
January 13, 2009

What Will the Next Republican Coalition Look Like?
"The unpoor, the unblack and the unyoung" won't cut it anymore.
January 6, 2009

The Public Option and the Hope of Health Care Reform
This is where the real debate is.
December 23, 2008

Nobody Here But Us Post-Partisans

Does it matter if Obama doesn't call his policies progressive?
December 16, 2008

Government is Back

The age of Obama begins.
December 9, 2008

Obama and Liberals' Fears
The election was defined as much b y what didn't happen as what did.
December 2, 2008

Let the Conservative Whining Begin
It's going to be a long four years
November 25, 2008

Can Obama Make Hacks and Wonks Work Together?
Restoring balance to the federal government.
November 18, 2008

Goodbye and Good Riddance
And don't let the door hit you on the way out, George.
November 11, 2008

Why We Vote
What election day really means
November 4, 2008

The Real October Surprise
Could Democrats benefit from reminders of terrorism?
October 28, 2008

One Cool Customer
Obama's key character trait.
October 21, 2008

The Permanent (Smear) Campaign
What will happen if Obama wins
October 14, 2008

Will the November Surprise Be Disenfranchised Voters?
Things have gotten worse, not better
October 7, 2008

The Coming Conservative Crackup

What the economic crisis is doing to the right
September 30, 2008

The Ideology Gap
Why McCain can't solve the financial crisis
September 23, 2008

How to Win a Presidential Debate
It's all about what the press thinks
September 16, 2008

The Politics of Contempt
The Republicans declare war
September 9, 2008

Character Study
What Obama did right in his convention speech
September 2, 2008

The Speech Progressives Have Been Waiting For?
What Obama should say
August 27, 2008

It's Not About the Medals
Why the Olympics should really make us proud
August 19, 2008

I'm Sigmund Freud, and I Approve This Message
Beware candidates bearing tire gauges
August 12, 2008

Why Obama Should Name His Cabinet Now

How to reassure everyone
August 5, 2008

Playing His Own Game
Shockingly, Democrats actually have the upper hand
July 29, 2008

It's the Economists, Stupid
The real problem with Phil Gramm
July 15, 2008

The McCain Rules
The press' favorite candidate
July 8, 2008

McCain: Noun, Verb, Terrorism
Does he have anything else to talk about?
July 1, 2008

Smearing Michelle
Angry Black Woman alert!
June 25, 2008

McCain's Desperate Debate Gambit
Presidents don't govern by town hall.
June 17, 2008

The Soft Art
Barack Obama, Judoku
June 11, 2008

The POW Dodge
Despite what he says, John McCain is all too happy to exploit his Vietnam story for political ends
May 27, 2008

The Backlash That Wasn't
Why gay marriage won't be a big deal this year
May 20, 2008

McCain's Judicial Hypocrisy
The ridiculous "judicial activism" charge.
May 13, 2008

How Deep Is Your Love?
Do we need a patriotism-off?
May 6, 2008

How Democrats Can Beat McCain
Worry not, progressives
April 29, 2008

Pay No Attention to the Media Behind the Curtain

The faux scandals don't fall from the sky.
April 22, 2008

How Blue Is Your Collar?
Media millionaires posing as regular guys.
April 15, 2008

Is America a Center-Right Nation?
Despite what conservatives would have you believe, the answer is no.
April 8, 2008

Toward a More Nutritious Election
The problem isn't coverage of character.
April 1, 2008

Conservatives' Hate-Based Campaign Against Obama
Yeah, it's about race.
March 25, 2008

Political Theatre of the Absurd
How Code Pink and their like hurt progressivism
March 18, 2008

More Bellicose Than Bush?
Does McCain really have "credibility" on foreign policy?
March 11, 2008

The Contours of the Campaign to Come

We're getting a taste of what Republicans have in store.
March 4, 2008

Will the Next President Lift the Ban on Gays in the Military?
Is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" headed for the scrap heap?
February 26, 2008.

The Triumph of Narrative
Why is Obama ahead? Because he's told the better story.
February 19, 2008

The Maverick Myth

Is that really what McCain is?
February 12, 2008

A Question of Ideology
What would the Democratic candidates do for the progressive movement?
February 5, 2008

The Colossus
We do indeed have a military empire
January 31, 2008

The Republican Democrat
Why Hillary Clinton is fighting like a Republican
January 23, 2008

The Huckabee/Obama Challenge
Both candidates are highlighting generational divides
January 16, 2008

Why Conservatives' Crush on Obama Is Doomed
Don't count on the affection continuing
January 9, 2008

The Unease Factor
Hillary Clinton is trying to make voters feel unsettled.
January 3, 2008

Who Will Get the VP Nod?
Let's start the speculation.
December 19, 2007

The Plutocrats v. The Theocrats
The showdown over the future of the GOP.
December 13, 2007

Woe is the American Worker

Workers are paying the price for our productivity-focused, growth-at-any-cost business world.
December 5, 2007

The Ideal Opponent
Whom do the candidates want to run against in the general election?
November 28, 2007

The Youth Vote, the Culture Wars, and Barack Obama
What younger voters' opinions tell us about the future.
November 21, 2007

Loving Pat Robertson
Rudy Giuliani's new best friend is, quite frankly, a lunatic.
November 14, 2007

Something New Under the Sun
Berkeley's new solar power plan could be a model for cities around the country.
November 7, 2007

Tim Russert: Stop the Inanity
Is he Washington's worst interviewer?
October 31, 2007

Haunted by the Hippie
A specter is haunting the 2008 presidential campaign...
October 24, 2007

Al Gore and the Gaffe Wars
Gore's Nobel Prize was well-deserved, and a stark reminder of how far into trivia the presidential race has fallen
October 17, 2007

The Dems' Big Business Opportunity
Health care reform gives Democrats the chance to convince the corporate world that Republicans aren't good for business.
October 10, 2007

The Myth of the Rational Iowa Voter
Do the supposedly wise and deliberative citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire take their responsibilities seriously?
October 3, 2007

Whither the Conservative Culture War?
The absence of the Republican front runners at last week's Values Voter Debate raises the question of whether the religious right's power is on the wane.
September 27, 2007

Voting for Strategy Over Policy
Why voters need to know how the Democrats plan to get their health care proposals enacted
September 19, 2007

Why Health Care is a Losing Issue for the GOP
How the Democrats can take advantage of GOP free market fundamentalism
September 12, 2007

Trapped in the Political Closet
More than a few politicians feel the need to carve out a private self.
September 5, 2007

A Guide To Media Manipulation, Republican Style
Why Democrats need to watch what they say.
August 29, 2007

The Utter Uselessness of the Petraeus Report
Don't think it will be anything other than a validation of "the surge."
August 22, 2007

GOP Candidates Alienate Latino Voters
They're going to regret their current anti-immigrant campaign.
August 15, 2007

The Failure of Antigovernment Conservatism
Sometimes, government is not the problem, it's the solution.
August 8, 2007

Show-Off Nation
Why we think that our own consumer choices are authentic, while people we don't like are just showing off.
August 1, 2007

Seventeen Candidates In Search Of a Story

Part II - Which '08 candidates have managed to create a compelling narrative around their candidacies.
July 25, 2007

The Power of the Campaign Narrative
Part I - All successful candidates tell a story about their campaigns, while the losers tell bad stories - or no story at all.
July 18, 2007

GOP Candidates Cross the Line in the Culture War
Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson get in trouble with their base - and as usual, it's about sex.
July 11, 2007

Bush's Loyal Mess
The Bush years have shown us the downside of loyalty.
June 27, 2007

The Party of No Ideas
Even by the low standards of contemporary campaigns, the quest for the GOP nomination has been remarkably free of substance.
June 20, 2007

Religion and the Threat Effect
How the religious makeup of your community affects your political decisions.
June 13, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

Bernard Shaw and the Sorry State of Political Journalism

Cross-posted at TAPPED

Over at the Politico, Roger Simon takes us on a little trip down memory lane back to 1988, when Bernard Shaw dealt a crushing blow to the Dukakis candidacy by asking the Massachusetts governor, with the opening question of his final debate with George H. W. Bush, “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for her killer?” Simon paints Shaw’s question as evidence that Shaw succeeded in his self-proclaimed goal to be the Edward R. Murrow of his time. “Bernard Shaw was one tough customer,” Simon tells us. “‘As reporters, we were not doing our jobs if we don't ask the toughest question possible,’ Shaw said.” What a crock.

In case you’re too young to remember, Dukakis was savaged in the press for the way he answered Shaw’s question. With a heavy sigh (Bush had been pummeling him over his opposition to the death penalty), Dukakis explained all the reasons why he opposed the death penalty. He did not raise his fists to sky and scream, “Kitty!!! No!!!” Nor did he say, “Well, now that you put it that way, I guess I’ll discard the principle I’ve held my entire time in public life. Fry the bastard!” Nor did he punch Shaw in the mouth, though he certainly would have been justified. Instead, he answered the question in a manner appropriate to someone who wanted to be president of the United States. Simon tells us what happened next:
In the press room, the murmurs over Shaw's question now turned to mutters over Dukakis' answer. “He's through.” “That's all she wrote.” “Get the hook!”

The reporters sensed it instantly. Even though the 90-minute debate was only seconds old, they felt it was already over for Dukakis. He had not been warm. He had not been likable. He had not shown emotion. He had merely shown principle.

Afterwards, his aides would try explain that he had been sick. He had seen two doctors before the debate. He had a fever, a virus. He wasn't himself.

But while he may have been sick, he was himself. That was the problem.

Journalists then proceeded to say to the public, guess what – just as we’ve been saying for months, Dukakis is too cold-blooded and passionless to be president. We were right all along. “A man who shows not the flicker of shock or anger at a truly brutal question about the hypothetical rape and murder of his wife,” wrote David Broder at the time, “is not a man who can convey the feelings he undoubtedly has about flag, country, or creator.”

But Shaw wasn’t trying to tease out the reasons Dukakis opposed the death penalty. His question was the worst kind of “gotcha,” something with no policy content whatsoever. Its goal, and what it achieved so spectacularly, was to provide the “decisive moment” that would cast into sharp relief the character flaw that reporters had already decided was Dukakis’ Achilles heel.

But according to Simon, here’s how Shaw described it afterward: “I was just doing my job, asking that question…I thought of Murrow taking on McCarthy. That was the essence of what I wanted to be: Fearless, not afraid of the scorching bite of public criticism. I'm not afraid of being disliked. I'm not afraid of being criticized. In that debate, I did the right thing. I know I did. I know it.”

Let’s clarify something. Edward R. Murrow took on powerful people who were doing wrong. Bernard Shaw came up with a zinger question to put a candidate in an uncomfortable position, one tiny step above “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Shaw wasn’t some kind of modern-day Murrow, he was a hack, the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with how presidential campaigns are covered.

There’s an unbroken line between Shaw, and Kit Seelye and Ceci Connolly making up lies Al Gore never told, and Jodi Wilgoren musing on John Kerry’s windsurfing, and Maureen Dowd writing about John Edwards’ haircut, and on and on and on into this campaign and the next and the next. It’s not about substance, and it isn’t even about “character.” It’s about finding what reporters think is the worst thing about a candidate, and picking and picking at it until their evident belief that it should disqualify him from the presidency becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s nothing to be proud of, and if Bernard Shaw thinks there’s some parallel between his brand of questioning and what Edward R. Murrow did, he’s truly deluded.

UPDATE: Via email, DavidNYC of Swing State Project reminds me of the relationship of this story to the Ed Muskie tears-in-the-snow incident. In 1972, Ed Muskie was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. He came under vicious attack from the far-right Manchester Union-Leader, up to and including an attack on his wife. Muskie went to Manchester and held a press conference outside the paper's offices denouncing them. As it was written, Muskie became so emotional during the press conference that tears began to run down his face. For his part, Muskie denied that he had cried, asserting instead that the snowfall was landing on his face and melting.

Whether there were tears or not, reporters took the incident as proof that Muskie was not quite right in the head, and couldn't be trusted with his finger on the nuclear trigger. His campaign was soon over.

But there's a back-story to this, one that some of the principal players involved later admitted. Let's remember that in 1972 the group of reporters who decided which candidates lived and died was even smaller and more insular than it is today (and, by the way, all male and all white). Allow me to offer an excerpt from The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories that Shape the Political World, a book I wrote way back in 2003 with Kathleen Hall Jamieson:
Why was Muskie's emotional response to an attack on his wife given such attention and an unflattering and cautionary interpretation? David Broder later explained: "All of us suspected that under the calm, placid, reflective face that Muskie liked to show the world, there was a volcano waiting to erupt. And so we treated Manchester as a political Mt. St. Helens explosion, and, in our perception, an event that would permanently alter the shape of 'Mt. Muskie.'" In his book Behind the Front Page, Broder quoted reporter Lou Cannon, relating how after playing poker with Ed Muskie he concluded that the Senator was "a little temperamental to be President of the United States." "What does a political reporter do with this kind of insight?" asked Cannon. "As in this instance, it is rarely written as a hard news story the first time the thought arises...What we reporters tend to do is to store away in our minds such incidents and then use them to interpret - to set a context - for major incidents when the occur."

In other words, Cannon, Broder, and the rest of the Kewl Kids of the day had decided that Muskie was unfit to be president, so they waited until they had a chance to take some event that was in truth rather unimportant, and blow it up into something that allegedly revealed the twisted core of the candidate, the monster lurking within Muskie.

Was their belief about Muskie accurate? I can't say - I was but a wee pup at the time. But one thing's for sure. They - not the voters, the reporters - decided that Muskie would make a bad president, and they made damn sure he wouldn't get the chance.

No comments: