Thursday, August 28, 2003
# Posted 4:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The correspondent in this instance is Jodi Wilgoren, the very same one who did her best some months back to whitewash the terrorist murders committed by David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin. So, one might ask, why would the same correspondent who defends the Weather Underground give Howard Dean a hard time?
As far as I can tell, Wilgoren is following one of the unwritten rules of the trade: romanticize Vietnam-era leftism as much as you want, but don't make nice with the aggressive leftists of today. After all, they might provoke a conservative reaction that threatens low-key mainstream leftists like the ones who work on 44th Street.
Up front, Wilgoren is pretty good to Dean, giving him a favorable headline that reads "In a Long Presidential Race, Dean Sprints". Positive as it is, the headline is accurate because Dean really is campaigning a lot harder than his opponents.
The first hint of of what's going comes in the second graf, where Wilgoren describes Dean's supporters as "rabid". As if being excited about Dean were some sort of violent pathology. While I think the Doctor's supporters are often misguided, such comments belong on the editorial page, or at least in a news analysis column.
Later on, Wilgoren informs us that "the feisty crowds were filled with Birkenstock liberals whose loudest ovations always followed Dr. Dean's anti-war riff -- there were few union members, African-Americans or immigrants." There is a lot of substance in that sentence, but it's hard not to notice a ridiculous phrase like "Birkenstock liberals" that belongs on the pages of the National Review.
While most of us are aware of the vague correlation between footwear and political preferences, invoking this sort of stereotype in the news is both counterproductive and misleading. As best as I can tell, "Birkenstock liberals" refers to those liberals who are not black, not union, and not immigrants. Does it refer, then, to middle-class white liberals? Young liberals?
Perhaps all this guesswork isn't worth the time, since the term "Birkenstock" might just have been thrown in to provide some color. Yet at the same time, it carries the sample sort of implication as the term "rabid" -- that Dean's supporters are outside the mainstream, so caught up in their idiosyncratic lifestyle that their views aren't worth taking seriously.
First of all, is that really the case? I doubt it. My sense is that Dean's campaign -- and especially his fund-raising -- isn't getting its momentum from granola-crunching Berkeley undergrads. As far as I can tell, there is a sizable portion of the American public that was firmly anti-war and is forcefully anti-Bush. They have to be taken seriously.
In another telling passage from the article, we hear that
"He's not running a campaign, he's running a movement," [according to] Natasha C., one of four people the Dean campaign invited to chronicle the trip on their Web logs. "These are protest-size crowds, these are not politics-size crowds, and that's the critical difference."Holy unwarranted editorializing Batman! I may not like what Dean is for, but you've got to pretty thick not to recognize that his supporters have a socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and Jimmy Carter-emulating agenda. But why the cheapshot if most NYT correspondents like that kind of agenda?
Because the elitist liberal intelligentsia distrusts the common man, even when he is on their side. Toward the beginning of the article, Wilgoren writes that
The staggering, seemingly spontaneous crowds turning up to meet [Dean] — about 10,000 in Seattle on Sunday and a similar number in Bryant Park in Manhattan last night — are unheard of in the days of the race when most candidates concentrate on the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire and would seem formidable even in October 2004.Not just unheard of, but unwelcome. Taking their cues from Julius Caesar, correspondents fear that the latest incarnation of Marc Antony will turn the mob to his own ends. Howard Dean one day, Rush Limbaugh the next.
Strangely, this is one issue on which the academicians are far ahead of the correspondents. Beginning in the late 1980s, a veritable flood of books and articles began to demonstrate that the American public is actually a moderating force, drawing politicians back from the ends of the ideological spectrum. Even on foreign policy, which scholars long considered the issue area in which the public makes the worst choices, it became clear that American voters recognized that they wanted something to the right of Jimmy Carter and the left of Ronald Reagan. (Click here to read more about the Rational Public.)
In short, it's time for the Times to get with the times. It may be true that
the people buying the "Doctor is in" buttons [at Dean's rallies] were mostly aging flower children and the tongue-studded next generation.But that sort of provocative details shouldn't pass for serious political reporting. In all fairness, there is a lot of interesting information in Jodi Wilgoren's article, much of it not reprinted here. But at just those moments when Wilgoren needs to provide more depth to her initial observations, she wanders off course and provides us instead with substandard cliches.
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