Blogs > Cliopatria > What a Bunch of "Adam Clymers"

Mar 12, 2004 2:27 pm

What a Bunch of "Adam Clymers"

Sometimes the Gods of fortuitous timing seem to smile on me. After all, what else could explain the fact that after my post yesterday on hypocrisy in American politics (inter alia) we have the latest contretemps that illustrates my point?

Yesterday, after a formal campaign appearance before a group of Chicago factory workers, John Kerry went over to pound the flesh with a group of them, and he forgot to turn his microphone off. He thus could be heard to refer to Republicans as"the most crooked, you know, lying group I've ever seen." (See this morning's Washington Post or just about any other news source for details.)

Not surprisingly, the condemnation from the usual suspects on the GOP side of the aisle was swift and predictable. One could almost hear a collective case of the vapors set over Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, and others as they lined up to express their outrage. I half expected to hear each of them say"Well, I never . . ." before fainting dead away.

Funny thing is, while it was a long, long time ago, if one steps into the Wayback machine and cranks the dial all the way back to that halcyon, sepia-toned year of 2000, there was a similar l'affaire pottymouth. It was a Labor Day rally, also in Illinois, coincidentally enough, and George W. Bush was getting ready to sit down with Dick Cheney, his vice presidential nominee. Bush recognized longtime New York Times political writer Adam Clymer in the audience, turned to Cheney, pointed out Adam Clymer, and in his own felicitous way called the Times writer a"major league asshole." Cheney responded,"Big time." (While a good search engine will get you dozens of articles if you plug in the right words, try here and here.) At the time I thought it was much ado about nothing. Indeed, a friend and I agreed that"Big Time" would be a great title for a book about down and dirty presidential politics. However, suddenly the GOP's hypocrisy is showing. Again. One can expect that the fulminations of folks like DeLay will spew forth (a man many consider to be a bit of an"Adam Clymer" himself) and Republicans will try to make hay off of this, especially now that Kerry has refused to apologize. Somehow I highly doubt that the fact that Bush, too, similarly refused to apologize after his 2000 comments won't make much difference to the Republican guardians of propriety.

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Thomas Thatcher - 3/15/2004

Wait a second yourself. I made an accusatory comment about your not criticizing Democrats that was demonstrably true, with regard to the post I read. However, I did over-generalize without reading the rest of your previous posts. I noticed, however, that you called me craven, snotty, and a partisan ranter without knowing anything about me other than the two comments I posted.

You want subtance, fine. I have not studied the issue to see who was more outraged, the Dems in 2000 or the Repubs in 2004. Actually, I think it was probably the press in 2000 that got its panties in the tightest twist, as Clymer is one of their own and the press always overreacts when they are the center of attention (such as regarding the anthrax threats made to the press in late 2001).

Overall, I expect policiticians to be hypocrits, especially in an election season. I don't know why anyone pretends to be surprised anymore. The real problem is that the political press has decided that the outrage is the story, and they seem unable or unwilling to draw distinctions between petty and major offenses. Imagine if some reporter would just say to Bill Frist, "your quote on Kerry's open mic slip is interesting, but what does it have to do with Kerry's claim that the Republican tax cut has raised the deficit to historic levels without stimulating job creation." Or to a Democrat, "Some people might be uncomfortable with Bush's use of 9/11 images in his ads, but what does that have to do with his leadership in a time of crisis?" I think the idotic back and forth over small potatoes would quickly vanish.

I suppose there are some issues of hypocrisy that really are relevant to how well a candidate would do in office. I'm hard-pressed to think of any at the moment that would stand up to serious scrutiny. But we have to be able to discriminate between what's important and what isn't. Kerry's attitude toward international terrorism and the Iraq and Afghan wars (and whether his views have "evolved" in a principled way or simply flip-flopped to take account of the opinions of likely primary voters) is far more important than whether he honestly thinks Bush is a crook or was just playing to his base. But the press treats both stories with equal gravity (or lack thereof). The goal is not to investigate Kerry's war positions, or to provide some context on how nasty politics used to be (and still is) but simply to get a reaction quote so you can run a news story with the comment and reaction and then forget about it and move on.

With regard to unguarded comments, I do think the Dems opened the door in 2000, and big surprise the Repubs tried to push it open farther in 2004. I wish they would all shut up and talk about something real. I want the Democrats on the Judiciary committee to answer tough questions about the politicization of the judicial confirmations and whether they tampered with an ongoing trial without being able to hide behind the issue of how the Republicans got their memos. I want the Bush administration to tell me why they so vastly over-estimated Iraq's WMD capacity while under-estimating Lybia and Iran without hiding behind patriotism. All we get is name-calling and meta-scandals in which the response, and the coverage of the repsonse, and the response to the coverage of the response, is more important than whatever the hell actually happened in the first place.

Janice Lyons - 3/14/2004

Might I point out that one can be an a****** and not be crooked or lying? And this "group" is the *most* crooked and lying? H

ow is this man going to make in the international world of Husseins (who, I think we might all agree, is a crook and a liar of a magnitude neither Bush nor Kerry could ever achieve.) JAL

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/14/2004

Wait a second -- why the snotty comment about your failirity with my ouvre? You threw out the accusatory comments about my not criticizing Democrats. That comment was demonstrably wrong. Your ignorance is not my character flaw.
My Friday post was about the current event, thus it got more coverage in my post. Further, the outrage from the GOP higher ups is a lot more extreme than the Dems in 2000. I note that you are not taking issues with the substance of my post, merely engaging in partisan ranting, going off half cocked about what I might or might not have written in the past.

Aaron James Armitage - 3/14/2004

Nobody ever went to jail for for being an asshole (well, except maybe Martha Stewart). Plenty of people have gone to jail for being crooked.

When discussing politicians, the most natural interpretation of "crooked" is "guilty of public corruption". THAT'S what the issue is. Nobody thinks crooked is a word the FCC won't let you say on TV (yet, anyway). It's a word that gives the impression of being an accusation of federal crimes. He out to put up some proof, or apologize for throwing out sloppy words.

Thomas Thatcher - 3/13/2004

I gather that during Kerry's factory appearance he must have been wearing a wireless lapel mic, so it was possible for him leave the podium but still be picked up for broadcast. The person watching the sound board probably caught hell for not hitting the mute button. Of course, the mic has its own off switch, which Kerry's people probably taped over in the on position so he didn't accidentally cut himself off in the middle of his speech. (I run a sound board occassionally, and it is quite common for speakers to be fiddling with the mic and accidentally turn themselves off, then blame the sound board.)

With that background, I wonder how long it will take for someone with a radio scanner and tape recorder to set up at a candidate rally and record the candidates candid comments when the mic is off. (The mic broadcasts even if it is muted at the sound board.) Will Rush broadcast pirated sound of Kerry taking contradictory positions to different audience members? Will Al Franken play bootlegs of Bush getting peoples names wrong and sounding like a doofus? This could be like the early days of sattelite TV when viewers of the raw network feeds could catch network anchors doing all sorts of embarrassing things during commercial breaks.

Thomas Thatcher - 3/13/2004

I did not read Thursday's post. In fact, Friday was the first time I ever read the blog, after Glenn Reynolds linked to Ralph Luker's piece on the USM affair. Excuse me for not be familiar with your entire oeuvre.

You posted that the Republicans were hypocrits for criticizing Kerry when they defended Bush. With the same set of facts, you could just have easily criticized the Dems for defending Kerry when they previously attacked Bush. The direction from which you chose to approach the issue reveals something about you, I think. And in Friday's post there is no hint that you consider the Dem's outrage in 2000 equally "vaporous." So I make no apologies.

As a matter of fact, if both comments are "small potatoes," then don't the Dem's bear some responsibility for making such a fuss about the 2000 comments, which is the only reason Kerry's remarks got the traction they did?

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/13/2004

Thomas --
You'll confront Republicans' hypocrisy when I go after the Democrats? Beyond how unbelievably craven that comment is -- not to mention its implication that hypocrisy is ok if the other guy is doing it? Ladies and gentlemen, exhibit A for effectively a definition of hypocrisy -- I'll refer you all the way back to the long ago era of . . . Thursday. Thursday, when a careful reader (by which I mean someone who can read) would be able to recall that I criticized the hypocrisy of both parties, democrats included. Assuming you are not a goldfish, your short term memory might go back that far, no?

Thomas Thatcher - 3/12/2004

I'll confront the Republicans' hypocrisy when you go after the Democrats. Why is it that Republican/conservative hypocrisy is always more noteworthy than Democrat/liberal hypocrisy? Is it that the people taking note are seeking partisan advantage themselves, or is it the rarity of R/C hypocrisy that makes it noteworthy?

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/12/2004

Both candidates got caught with microphones they didn't know were on. Bush's crack was intended only for Cheney's ear. Kerry's directed to voters. Is that a distinction with a difference? Not sure. In any case, there's more of a history (!!) to the Bush retort than most realize. Seems Clymer had taken an unprofessional cheap-shot at Bush (then again, editorial writing posing as reporting is the norm in the Times, isn't it?), in print, and then tried to play it off as "gallows humour" that was accidentally published. Here's the link:

In any case, much ado about nothing. Just like the September 11th Families group that got so much ink with their press release lapped up by those hardworking minions of the press corps -- turned out the group has only 120 family members (as distinct even from family members of 120 victims).

Oscar Chamberlain - 3/12/2004

As Thomas, and a number of others have pointed out, the thing that makes this so tedious and overbearing is the electronic media. They have time to fill, and time to sell; so they repeat anything that might make the time of value economically.

And they are lazy. Rather than make an important but difficult story interesting, it's cheaper and easier to treat everything as a crime.

Thinking about it, most television news these days seems modelled on the way the OJ Simpson trial was handled.

That's almost as depressing as the Wisconsin Legislature taking steps one and two to ban gay marriages and civil unions in the state constitution.

(Well no, what the Wisconsin bigots and panderers did was a lot worse.)

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/12/2004

Actually, since I think they both are small potatoes, I am not sure why I will bother, but Bush called an individual person an asshole, clearly and explicitly. In terms of the quality of the dialogue, I am not certain Kerry descended to this level, and in fact it is not at all clear that Kerry was referring to Bush specifically. In any case, why is a reporter somehow fair game and not the opposing candidate? Indeed, in terms of relevance one might even assert that the opposing candidate IS fair game and that calling reporters names should be more off limits. I guess I missed the memo that some person are more worthy of dignity than others. The bigger point is the GOP hypocrisy, which I note that you sidestep.

Thomas Thatcher - 3/12/2004

Isn't the obvious difference the fact that Bush was talking about a reporter while Kerry was talking about the opposing candidate? It's not the language but whom it's directed against. I agree with David Horowitz (gasp) on last night's Dennis Miller show that this is nothing compared to alleging that Bush knew about 9/11 in advance and did nothing, or that he faked the Iraq evidence to start a war that would benefit Haliburton. Every negative comment is repeated by a breathless media that is more interested in getting a reaction quote than in reporting on facts, and somehow we have lost the ability to make distinctions between different levels of outrage.