What’s happening to otherwise-intelligent liberal journalists? (No snarking, please. These are in fact intelligent people, even if I find myself disagreeing with them more often than not.) I’m talking about people conservatives once grudgingly conceded were calm and readable, even as proponents of liberal views.
Lately, however, they’re panicky and defensive, with professional writers and politicos now feigning utter stupidity and pretending not to understand politics, the law, or even the English language.
No, I am not talking about John Harwood. As Mollie Hemingway predicted, there was no surprise about Harwood’s hackery at the Republican debate in Boulder. Harwood was never to be taken seriously, and the GOP debate only confirmed what we already knew.
Instead I mean liberals who are sensible people and know how to write a story—or, more importantly, how not to write a story—and who know how Washington works. As Hillary Clinton marches to the Democratic nomination with less suspense than an election in the Soviet Central Committee, something is happening to liberal writers that is uncomfortable even for conservatives to watch.
Consider Ryan Lizza and Jeb Bush
Exhibit A: Ryan Lizza, a journalist who among conservatives has a reputation as part of the reasonable wing of liberal scribes, the kind of establishment liberal conservatives read as part of a balanced media diet. That’s why so many of them were gobsmacked when Lizza recently went for two cheap hits on Jeb Bush, taking Bush out of context as though Lizza were a high-school reporter flubbing his first story about a candidate giving a talk at the local Rotary.
Lizza’s rookie move was to grab Jeb’s “stuff happens” quote after the Oregon mass shooting, making it seem like Bush was shrugging off a day of mayhem. Even Lizza’s colleagues in the press pushed back, but that’s not the point: Lizza had to know what he was doing, and he had to know it was wrong.
This is not a defense of Bush, who is crippled by the same weird gypsy curse on his speaking ability that afflicts his whole family. Rather, it is bafflement that a professional reporter went to such lengths to pull such a cheap move.
Lizza wasn’t done with Bush. A few weeks later, when Jeb said he’d like to “create a little bit of a recession in Washington DC”—a Republican applause line that goes back decades, usually in some version of emptying out the nation’s company town—Lizza reacted as if he’d never heard anyone use a metaphor, ever. “Good grief,” Lizza tweeted in his best Charlie Brown voice, “this is the craziest thing Jeb Bush has said in this campaign: he wants an economic recession in DC!”
Now, Lizza is not this stupid. Unless he just arrived here from Alpha Centauri, he knows full well that Bush was not bent on the economic destruction of the Washington DC area.
We Can’t Imagine Why Hillary’s Getting Investigated Again
Lizza is not alone. I had a recent Twitter conversation with Greg Sargent, the writer of The Washington Post’s always readable “Plum Line” column, about whether Hillary Clinton did anything wrong in her email troubles. Sargent did what many liberals are now doing, in effect pretending that they have no idea how anything in the American political system works.
In particular, Sargent found it an overly complicated explanation to believe Hillary set up a private email for any nefarious reason. For the rest of us, of course, that’s the simple explanation, and anything else is complicated.
Liberal journalists who live around congressional investigations every day are feigning shock at a congressional investigation. They’re appalled that anyone would criticize someone like Clinton before all the facts—30,000 of which she’s destroyed—are fully assembled. Remember, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe is not actually of her!
No, it’s of her actions, which is how investigations are done. Surely liberal commentators were all briefed on that before being sent here from the Delta Quadrant. If you’re a journalist in DC and you say you don’t know how document classification or FBI investigations work, you’re either lying or you need to find another job.
I call this the “First Day in DC” defense, the pretense that everything in Washington is complex and unknowable. It poisons any possibility of discussion, because every disagreement about Hillary devolves to definitional tail-chasing: “What counts as classified? What’s a regulation? What is the definition of ‘is’?” And on and on.
Closely related is the simple-minded “everyone does it” argument. This is usually the domain of journalists less inclined to pretend objectivity. The New Republic’s rather excitable Brian Beutler, for example, fumed that Republicans in the House would dare question the Queen Designate about four dead Americans in Benghazi, including the first U.S. ambassador killed since 1979.
“There were all these overseas security failures under St. Reagan,” Beutler tweeted, “yet Dems who ran Congress managed not to ghoulishly exploit the dead.” See? Everyone loses a diplomatic facility now and then, you fiends.
We Can’t Believe Obama’s a Failure
I could throw out many more examples of this kind of journalistic dysfunction, and not from hacks like Harwood but from otherwise responsible people like Lizza. So what’s going on here? I believe liberals are motivated these days less by hatred of Republicans—that’s just part of their DNA—and more by shame, combined with the first tingles of panic.
Liberals were once more reasonable because they were once far more confident. They’d lived through the triangulation of the Clintons, they were coming of professional age in the final wreckage of the Bush years, and they were huffing all that talk about Permanent Democratic Majorities and other nonsense inspired by the media’s obsessive Obama messianism.
The death-dealing Bush-Cheney Republicans were finally vanquished by a no-kidding professor and his coterie of earnest grad-student assistants. While it wouldn’t be perfect, it would the Most Transparent, Most Ethical, Most Awesome administration, full of all that self-actualizing nonsense that even DC liberals, with all their affected faux cynicism, really want to believe in, not least because it makes them feel better about themselves.
Today, liberals are facing a failed administration that has done things that in any other world they would find appalling. (Imagine the size of the media establishment’s collective aneurysm if George Bush had presided over an intentional airstrike on a hospital. Talk about “stuff happening.”) Between the failures of the Obama administration and the looming coronation of Hillary Clinton, they need to convince themselves, and to try to convince other Americans, that things could always be worse and that even the most reasonable Republicans are completely nuts.
Close Your Eyes and Think of the Queen of England
The only way to do that is to adopt a pretense of utter credulity about Hillary while smearing hapless candidates like Jeb with inane headlines that are not so much stories as dog whistles. If claiming that Jeb Bush wants to destroy DC while brushing off a massacre in Oregon is what it takes to distract America—and themselves—from the dumpster fire that is Obamaism and the queasy spectacle of a Clinton restoration, well, so be it.
This is going to get worse now that the tiny Jenga pile of the Democratic primary process has collapsed on itself. Until now, liberal journalists could at least pretend there was a “democratic” primary among the Democrats. That’s over. Bernie Sanders was never a viable challenge to Clinton, but his groveling surrender in Las Vegas and his subsequent attempts to suck up to the certain nominee are embarrassing.
Liberal journalists—like liberal voters—are now left knowing that they now have no choice but to do their duty. They will trudge to the caucuses and primaries, then to the general election, and they’re going to pull that lever for Hillary whether they like it or not. The Clintons have demanded it of them, and they will not be denied.
That might make Andrea Mitchell happy, but most DC liberals know—and they know first-hand—that Clinton is one of the most corrupt and vindictive Wall Streeters the Democratic Party establishment’s ever produced in modern times. She’s a terrible candidate, and having to carry her water, as liberal journalists must now do, has to sting more than a little.
Yeah, We’ve Got Nothing
But will Hillary be the next president? Remember, deep down many liberals inside the DC bubble still cannot understand how 2010 and 2014 happened. Betrayed twice by those rubes out in flyover country, they likely have an unsettling fear that Hillary cannot pull this off. They have mixed feelings about Hillary because they know what she is. But they also know that in order to validate their worldview, she has to win, so they may think they have to pad the score as best they can ahead of 2016.
That combination of fear and shame would explain a lot. Lizza and others must be pretty worried if they’re going in so hard after a guy like Jeb Bush, whose campaign has been Dead Money Walking for a year. Now that Bush is almost certain to flame out, Rubio’s starting to get the same treatment, including the third-degree about things like buying a fishing boat with a book advance. (Can you imagine? A boat? In Florida?) Once again, the DC press corps—people who’ve covered fabulously wealthy senators like millionaire working-class hero Elizabeth Warren—are all acting as if they’ve never seen such gilded profligacy.
Demonizing conservatives is a liberal tradition. This time around, however, it might be the only way at least some members of Washington’s liberal journalistic establishment can rationalize a vote they know they must cast, but that at least some of them will regret even as they hand over their ballot.