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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tweety's New Meme

by digby

Matthews flogged the Bradley Effect yesterday like he'd just discovered gold ... in his pants. Among other panels with whom he blathered on endlessly on the topic, he had Pat Buchanan, Dr. Eric Dyson and Dee Dee Myers on. Dr. Dyson felt there was evidence of the Bradley Effect and Buchanan disagreed:

Buchanan: ...I think there's a lot of special pleading here, going on right now. All those races you mentioned were general election races. This was a race inside the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton benefited from a surge of women to her candidacy. Edwards collapsed. The Bradley Effect cannot explain why Edwards did so poorly when the pollsters said he was going to beat Hillary Clinton. I think the piling on by the media, and the gloating over her tears, and people thinking coming out of Iowa that you're supposed to coronate Barack Obama was a tremendous backlash among New Hampshire, voters and independents said you're not gonna impose your fellow on us, we'll choose our own, and the women said we're gonna go in there and we're gonna pick up Hillary Rodham Clinton and stop what's bein' done to her.

Matthews: You sound like Alan Alda Pat. Where's this new sensitivity towards women's aspiration coming from?

Buchanan: Look I think the Obama spinners and the media are trying to explain why they have egg all over their faces. By doing this you are tarnishing Hillary Clinton's victory and tarnishing the Democratic Party as racist.

Matthews: No, no that's not what I'm doing here. I'm trying to explain.

Buchanan: Well, whoever's attacking this Chris, whoever says this was racism was tarnishing the Democratic Party and...

Matthews: We'll see in future elections. First of all, everything we're talking about right now will be tested in future elections. because we'll have a lot of these primaries and caucuses. Dee Dee get in here, and talk about this. Do you remember the Tom Bradley campaign?

Myers: I do. There's no question that people went into, they were embarrassed to tell pollsters that they wouldn't vote for an African American and were uncomfortable doing that and so there was this giant disparity between what the campaign expected and what actually happened. I think Pat makes a good point. This is a Democratic primary and it's a different universe. I don't know, you know we hope against hope that that's not happening in a Democratic primary. I don't think we know yet and ...

I think Pat's right on the money though. I think women stood up and, even women who weren't for her two days ago, who were lukewarm to her saw what they saw as piling on.

Dyson countered that Pat Buchanan was discounting the element of race. Buchanan again said that Dyson was trying to tarnish Hillary's victory and explained that even his wife and daughter, staunch Republicans, were disgusted by the media treatment of Hillary in the final days and that the numbers quite clearly indicate it was women surging to Hillary, not secret racism that accounted for the polling discrepancy.

Up to this point it had been a fairly reasonable disagreement, which there is no real way to resolve. Was it a strong women's vote, The Bradley Effect, good turn-out something else or elements of all of them?

And then the discussion took a turn:

Dyson: I'm glad to see that Pat Buchanan is coming to the defense of those who are battered because enough women and minorities, Latinos and Hispanics and a whole bunch of Arabs in this country, and Jews and Italians and Poles have been battered. The reality is this. In a particular race for a heated debate over a very powerful victory like the presidency, certainly race comes into play... I'm not suggesting that it is the central line here, I'm suggesting that it plays a role and that despite the fact that I agree that Hillary was being pounced on in a very serious and severe fashion and women identified with her. But that doesn't mean that women who identified with Hillary Clinton are not also motivated by racial considerations.

That's a very hot accusation in a Democratic primary to suggest that the women who voted for Hillary didn't do it as a matter of affinity but rather did it because they couldn't vote for an African American and had earlier lied to pollsters about it. (That's what the Bradley Effect is.) It's possible that it's true, but it's a provocative accusation about a specific group of voters in the Democratic coalition.

Of course, we can depend on Buchanan to take the discussion all the way into the swamp:

Buchanan: Would you not agree that racial considerations have entered the equation to make Barack Obama so beloved and heroic, he's our savior,and all this other nonsense. Race had nothing to do with that?

Dyson: No, no, no. Barack Obama has overcome despite the racial realities. Barack Obama has had to walk in to the room proving that he is highly intelligent, highly literate, capable of transcending any tribal loyalties to articulate a transcendent vision that speaks to the entire universe of political reality.

Dyson said that Obama wasn't running as a "race man" which Buchanan agreed with, backhandedly complimenting Obama on not getting involved with the "Jena nonsense" and the whole thing devolved into some ugly crosstalk about "noblesse oblige" and competition between "race and gender." Matthews eventually tried to pin Dyson down and admit that Hillary's crying jag brought out a bunch of addled old Golden Girls to vote for her and then pin Buchanan down that they were also racists who couldn't wait to pull the lever against the uppity African American. That's called "fair and balanced" on a show like this.

The takeaway "insight" from this Hardball was that the Democratic race is now a battle between the racist old bitches and the sexist African Americans. Fabulous. (White men like Chris, you'll notice, are the only ones voting purely on the merits in this little scenario.)

Dyson, by the way, gave a critique that I would hope the Obama campaign will think twice about:

Dyson: All I'm suggesting is that even though her tears, the sentiment that was being expressed because of all the tiredness, her verklempt moment that you talked about, was also the articulation of an idea that I find troublesome. That is to suggest that "I am THE only person. I'm gonna get it right, he's gonna get it wrong," and there's an implicit racial subtext to that: "don't let a black man run this country."

I'm not black so maybe I can't hear a racist argument when it's spoken, I'll grant that. But these candidates are pretty close on policy so they have to run on something. If Dyson is suggesting that it's racist for his opponents to say that he will not make as good a president as they will, then his opponents literally have no argument to make for their candidacy that isn't racist. In any case, it's very hard for me to see how anyone could run if he or she can't criticize his or her opponent on judgment, experience, positions and policies and suggest that they're going to get it wrong and you'll get it right.

Certainly it was racist for Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani to make a big deal out of Obama's teenage drug use up in New Hampshire and for Billy Shaheen to talk that up as a reason to vote against him. I don't believe anybody thinks otherwise. But Dyson's argument about the racist sub-text of him getting it wrong and her getting it right doesn't seem persuasive to me. I'll be interested to hear what people think about that.

Eric Dyson is a very, very smart guy and it appears to me that he's setting up the South Carolina primary, with its large African American constituency with an argument that Clinton (and people who vote for her) have racist tendencies. Jesse Jackson Jr, made asimilar comments yesterday, so it's likely a conscious campaign strategy. Perhaps it will work.

But making a big deal out of The Bradley Effect will end up weakening Obama overall in my view. Pat Buchanan shockingly wasn't too far off in his assessment: if people begin to actually believe Obama can't win even in a Democratic primary, because of hidden racism, it could become a self-fulfilling prophesy. I can't see why Obama's spokesmen would want to get this meme started. People who are on the fence could easily get the idea that it's not worth voting for him because the racists are all lying to the pollsters and he can't win.

I certainly don't want people believing there's no hope for an African American to win. That would be profoundly depressing --- and I'm not at all convinced it's true. And for a whole host of reasons it sure won't help Democrats in the fall to give people any reason to believe that racism is still a deciding factor in American politics.

I suppose we'll see in future contests if this same phenomenon presents itself. If it does, then we will have to face the music. But I see absolutely no reason for Democrats to be out there potentially making it a reality based upon one small sample of voters.

As that little display between Buchanan and Dyson shows, this is potentially an ugly road to walk and I really hope that none of the campaigns wander too far down it. Matthews will certainly be there pimping it every day: he and his friends have already shown their colors on gender and now they're going to be flogging this "hidden racist Democrats" issue day in and day out. I don't see why any Democrat would want to help him do it.

Update: The Hillary Effect may be another explanation for what happened. From my count there are about 377 reasons for why Hillary beat Obama in New Hampshire by three points, all of them fascinating, none of them provable. I think everyone's overthinking it just a tad, including me. It's just one primary.

Update II: Oh fergawdsake. Like clockwork, here comes a stupid Clinton surrogate, Andrew Cuomo, mouthing some racially charged nonsense. Ugh.

I guess we're going there. Great. Wonderful. Perfect.