Tuesday :: Apr 8, 2008

Stories of Love and Hate

by eriposte

In the 2000 election campaign, one of the key stories that led to Gore being falsely savaged as a liar and exaggerator was the "Love Story" incident. The basic story was simple. Vice President Gore claimed in passing during an interview that a friend of his - Eric Segal - had told a reporter in TN that the lead characters in Segal's book "Love Story" were based on Gore and his wife Tipper. The reality was that Gore had been a model but not Tipper. However, Gore had in fact accurately stated what the TN newspaper had claimed based on an interview with Eric Segal. It just so happened that the newspaper's claim was partly in error. The press corpse and the right-wing used this incident, among others, to character assassinate Gore in the 2000 election. (Read one of Bob Somerby's posts on this for more details.)

Today, we have the Trina Bachtel story. Believe it or not, my first reaction after I saw some alleged "liberal" bloggers go after Sen. Clinton on this in knee-jerk fashion was: it's Love Story all over again - except Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd, and the dozens of other frauds in the media now have willing pals in parts of the formerly "liberal" blogosphere. To me, the 2008 Democratic primary campaign is a watershed event in the history of the progressive blogosphere. It has revealed that some of the alleged "progressive" bloggers are fundamentally no different than the media and the deranged right-wing bloggers they have long claimed to detest. The Trina Bechtel incident is the "crowning" event on a sickening trend in this election campaign - where Gore was replaced by Clinton and the "media" was supplemented by an influential portion of the allegedly "progressive" blogosphere. I can easily see an entire book being written on the work of these jokers who have turned the credibility of the blogosphere to dust because of their Clinton-hatred. There used to be a time when bloggers like Glenn Greenwald and Atrios used to write again and again about how the right-wing blogosphere was almost always wrong, especially in their attacks on Democrats. Today, it is clear that such blog posts could equally well be written about a prominent section of the formerly "progressive" blogosphere.

It has become crystal clear that Sen. Clinton had been truthful on the Trina Bechtel story. There's some video and updated information debunking the attacks on Sen. Clinton - posted by Fleaflicker at No Quarter, BTD at Talk Left (see Part II and Part III) and Taylor Marsh (also see Lambert at Corrente). BTD also has this update (bold text is my emphasis, throughout this post):

...Olbermann wanted to attack Clinton on the Bachtel story, but it seems NBC got the memo that they were wrong (Olbermann graciously "gave that one" to clinton) then attacked Clinton for an argument she did not make (but should) - that the Media LIED about the Bachtel story....But Hillary Clinton would be wrong to even suggest your network and you Keith Olbermann are biased against Hillary Clinton. Suuuure. The man is Obama's O'Reilly. NBC is Obama's Fox Noise. But the kicker for me was Dana Milbank, who said well yes the Media got the Bachtel story wrong, but LIKE AL GORE IN 2000, it is Clinton's fault. the sad thing is I read the same thing at the so called "progressive" blogs now. We are through the Looking Glass - the "progressive" blogs who once saw their mission as countering the Media's bias against Dems like what happened to Al Gore. Now the cher it on and inded LEAD those charges [sic]. the progressive blogosphere is dead. Long live the "progressive" blogosphere!"

There's another interesting aspect to the vile attacks on Sen. Clinton during this campaign. The fact is, I know of no politician who has a perfect record when it comes to the truth. It would not be very difficult to find instances where Vice President Gore or Senator John Kerry actually made statements during their respective campaigns that turned out to be incorrect or false. This did not make them liars - except in the eyes of the right-wing and the media that behaved like proxies of the RNC. What has happened in the 2008 campaign is that despite Sen. Obama's repeated mendacity and/or exaggerations (which I intentionally decided to underplay in the past couple of weeks despite his attacks on Sen. Clinton's truthfulness - because all pols sometimes exaggerate or misstate or make things up in the heat of a campaign), there is an anti-Clinton segment of the "progressive" blogosphere that decided to act against Sen. Clinton just like the vile political and Beltway media machine this segment claims to hate. In fact, I wonder how these bloggers would have reacted if their candidate of choice had been running against FDR. As historian Jean Edward Smith points out on more than one occasion, in his compelling biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt titled "FDR":

As with many of FDR's stories, fact and fiction mingle freely. [page 36]

I found the following episode particularly interesting given recent events. This is an incident that occurred after FDR had gotten a plum position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy (in part due to the Roosevelt name and dynasty) in the Presidential administration of Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who had defeated FDR's cousin Teddy Roosevelt in the Presidential election of 1912. FDR really demonstrated his excellence and competence in this position and Smith recounts the following incident towards the tail end of World War I:

In the summer of 1918 FDR finally managed to get to the front in France. The Senate Naval Affairs Committee was heading to Europe, and Daniels wanted Roosevelt to get there first and correct anything that might attract its criticism [89]. Franklin chose to make the Atlantic crossing aboard the USS Dyer, a newly commissioned destroyer rushed into service without a shakedown cruise to escort a convoy of troopships through the war zone. He reveled in every moment, from the storm that smashed the crockery in the wardroom to an engine breakdown and the alarm bells signaling a U-boat attack that never materialized. As Roosevelt retold the story through the years, the German submarine came closer and closer until he had almost seen it himself. [page 158]

Here's another incident recounted by Smith:

One of the principal pieces of social legislation to come forward at the 1911 session was a bill to limit the workweek of women and children to fifty-four hours. The measure was being held up in committee, and Democrats were divided. Every vote was important. Miss Perkins approached Roosevelt to ask his support and was dismissed abruptly: "No, no. More important things. More important things. Can't do it now. Can't do it now. Much more important things." [5]


Franklin was absent when the bill passed. "I remember being considerably disappointed because Roosevelt wouldn't do anything about the 54-hour bill," said Perkins. "I took it hard that a young man who had so much spirit did not do so well in this, which I thought a test, as did Tim Sullivan and The McManus, undoubtedly corrupt politicians." [8]

Whether he could not remember, or whether he simply wanted to cover his tracks, FDR's version of that night varies substantially - another example of excluding unpleasant facts from the record. Campaigning for governor in 1928, Roosevelt told a labor rally in Manhattan, "One of the first measures that we started in 1911 was the fifty-four-hour law for women and children in industry. In those days a fifty-four-hour law was considered the most radical thing that had ever been talked about." [9] Several years later, Roosevely ratcheted up his involvement, telling reporters how he and Robert Wagner had been called Communists because they had worked for a fifty-four-hour-a-week law. "It is an old story," said FDR, "but like an elephant, I have a long memory." [10]

The most blatant reinterpretation was provided by Roosevelt's principal aide and general factotum, Louis Howe writing for The Saturday Evening Post in 1933. In Howe's version, FDR not only supported the bill but played the central role in its passage. [pages 80-82]

And more:

But he was tireless and confident, and Louis Howe thought he was becoming increasingly eloquent. Unfortunately, he was often unfocused and prone to exaggerate his personal achievements...

Franklin's casual approach created a passel of trouble. On August 18, in Deer Lodge, Montana, he became carried away by his own rhetoric and claimed to have written the Haitian constitution, much as Al Gore once claimed to have invented the Internet. A week later in San Francisco, he boasted of "running Haitin and Santo Domingo for the past seven years." [76] The Associated Press picked up the stories, and Republicans had a field day. [page 182]

Other than the fact that Al Gore did not claim to have invented the internet (shows you the power of false media narratives, doesn't it?), what Smith was gracefully pointing out was a characteristic of just about every politician - especially the most famous ones. They all exaggerate and misstate facts from time to time. Sometimes it is because they were given wrong information. Sometimes it is because they wrongly recall some details of their experiences. Sometimes, they slightly embellish stories for effect on the campaign trail....and sometimes it is because they are genuinely liars. Technically, when you read about FDR's political life, you could easily label him a "liar", but I won't. However, I have good reason to believe that some of today's Clinton-haters would have just been glad to teardown FDR as a liar. He sure couldn't be trusted to be a President, could he? After all, he was only one of the greatest Presidents in the history of the United States.

FDR's biography is also interesting for another reason. After all, some "progressives" (especially some who were/are part of or surrogates of the Obama campaign) have not hesitated to repeatedly bring-up Bill Clinton's sex life as a negative against the Clintons. The irony of some Obama supporters extolling their candidate as a near reincarnation of John F. Kennedy (surely the very Symbol of FaithfulnessTM) while others go after the Clintons on this topic is amusing enough. But I can't help but think how these cranks might have savaged FDR if he had been running against Sen. Obama:

It was in the summer of 1916, shortly after the birth of John Aspinwall, that FDR took up with Lucy Mercer, Eleanor's part-time social secretary. [Eleanor Roosevelt] ER and the children were at Campobello, and Franklin was spending another summer alone in Washington. Lucy was nearby, unattached, and incredibly attractive. The long, tender love affair between Franklin and Lucy remained shrouded in secrecy until well after the president's death. Eleanor never mentioned it in her extensive autobiographical writings; Franklin said nothing; and Lucy was among the most private of persons. The families knew, the White House staff was aware, and many in the press had more than an inkling of the relationship. In those days the private lives of public persons were strictly private. [53] Journalists respected that, the public was not consumed with people watching, and the three protagonists - Eleanor, Franklin, and Lucy - conducted themselves with honor, dignitiy, and discretion.

Arthur Schlesinger put the romance into perspective: "If Lucy Mercer in any way helped Franklin Roosevelt sustain the frightful burdens of leadership in the Second World War, the nation has good reason to be grateful to her." [54] [pages 150-151]


There was no scandal. Not until the 1960s was FDR linked publicly with Lucy Mercer. [109] [page 162]

Of course, the FDR-Lucy Mercer affair started not during WWII but at the end of WWI and well before FDR was elected President. That is however, not the point here. In today's era, writing or saying something even mildly positive about the Clintons in this context (see Mike Huckabee) would be considered almost scandalous. Can you imagine Sen. Clinton - a female leader - getting a pass for any kind of hypothetical transgressions? I can't.

As I was reading one of Anglachel's posts, I kept coming back to this point of hers:

What Krugman (here and here) and Perlstein both point out is that there are divisions in this nation that run so deep and are so powerful that we have no choice save to fight them tooth and nail, and to understand that we have only our mortal, flawed and always already compromised leaders to rally behind. What these respondents hate the most about Hillary (and also about Bubba) is that they are "unclean".

The greatest crime the Clintons have committed in the eyes of the Left is not being perfect. [...]

I think there is some truth to this. Yet, if you look at FDR's history unvarnished and how he is lionized by most of today's progressives (and there are many great reasons for FDR to be lionized for he was one of America's greatest presidents), it is hard for me to understand the deep-seated Clinton hatred that has not just dominated the fever swamps in comment threads and obscure websites, but aggressively seeped into the front pages of allegedly "liberal" blogs. (Melissa McEwan has just the latest ugly note among many at the increasingly pathetic site known as Talking Points Memo). As Avedon Carol of Sideshow said a few days ago:

Scott linked to this Bob Somerby post which starts, but doesn't stop, with that Gerson article. Somerby goes on to talk about the narratives that accompany the Clintons wherever they go, particularly in the press corps. These days, though, they have escaped out into the same blogosphere that used to exist largely to stamp out these lies. Gerson was going after Obama in that article, but Gene Robinson is going with the "Clintons will do or say anything to win" story, despite the fact that there is no evidence for it.

Maybe I'm more sensitive to this because I never loved the Clintons all that much, but I could see what the conservatives/Republicans were doing to the Clintons in the '90s, and I knew which side of that I was on. The fact that the same falsehoods about the Clintons are now showing up in the supposedly-progressive threads of supposedly-progressive blogs/sites isn't making me feel good. Of course Clinton's supporters are horrified by it - as a non-Clinton supporter, I'm horrified by it, too. Destroying the Clintons does not help the party, and will do it serious harm in November. If Obama can't get his campaign to discourage this crap, we will lose in November, and it won't be the Clintons' fault.

Where do we go from here? I'm not sure, but I do hope that there will be a better progressive blogosphere in the coming years - not one where some of its "leading lights" have been revealed as haters and smear merchants who make Free Republic and Power Line look like role models for good behavior. Todd Beeton at MyDD seems to think there is some self-correcting pushback on this ugly dynamic but I think he's being too optimistic:

To say I'm disconcerted by today's obsession with the release of the Clintons' tax returns is an understatement. Does anyone else think the feeding frenzy is flat out embarrassing or is it my whole WASP uncomfortable talking about money thing? Is it news? Sure. Is it worth poring through? If you like. But the glee with which so-called Democrats at dailykos have launched "an investigation" into the Clintons' tax returns is most disturbing of all.


But my point here isn't to slam the Hillary haters of dailykos, although reading through the comments of the second diary made me want to take a shower, but rather to point out the voice of reason and sanity that lives in the community over yonder. There was almost a pitchforks and torches feel to some of the comments in the mothership diary, from Obama supporters at that. Here's just a sampling:


And there were plenty more just like them. In addition, there was a diary called I'm embarrassed for us in which diarist kubla000 writes "today, dKos jumped the shark.  and i'm embarrased for us" and, of course, this parody diary titled "LIVEBLOG MOTHERSHIP: CLINTON DENTAL RECORDS" that captured the absurdity of the anti-Clinton spectacle. As diarist drational put it:

Is the change we want to become like the GOP?

It's tempting sometimes to paint the dailykos community with a broad anti-Hillary brush, just as many like to paint MyDD as anti-Obama. The truth is much more complex than that as I was reminded by the comments of the diaries above. The blogosphere thrived on a sort of singleminded us against them mentality, whether it was Democrats vs. Republicans, outsiders vs. insiders or gate crashers vs. gate keepers; but now we have trained our sights on each other. So it was a relief to me to see that while some diarists persist in feeding the Obama vs. Clinton flames, as Angry Mouse wrote the other day, there is beginning to be a rebellion against it there, and I hope here as well.

I guess time will tell. For now, I'll leave you with this video, via Kate Harding of Shakesville.

eriposte :: 6:39 AM :: Comments (80) :: Digg It!