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Scandal! Electoral Rebukes! And the Different Ways Democrats and Republicans Respond to Them

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth lately at the Republican attacks, led by the racist nutjob Glenn Beck of FOX News, against Van Jones, who until he resigned this weekend was Obama’s green jobs czar.

Jones, you see, was under attack by Republicans for referring to them (and to himself) as "assholes" in remarks meant to demonstrate their and his toughness, as well as for signing a 9/11-related petition that questioned what Bush knew and when he knew it — pretty tame stuff, considering that wrist-slitting advocate Michele Bachmann has accused Obama, ACORN, and lefties in general of all sorts of bizarre and impossible things, and George W. Bush once called NYT reporter Adam Clymer a "major league asshole" and was not being complimentary in the least when he said it. And yes, conservatives and Republicans applauded both of them for it. (Here’s Jonah Goldberg on Bush’s dig at Clymer: "It never hurts to call a reporter from the New York Times an a**hole.")

Once again, we see the different ways in which Democrats and Republicans deal with scandals and setbacks, real or ginned-up, and the different ways our media elites treat Republican and Democratic setbacks — real or ginned-up.

When the Republicans got their butts unexpectedly kicked in 1998 by a pissed-off public warning them to stop it with the impeachment crap against Bill Clinton (a warning which featured kicking the Senate’s two most vocal impeachment advocates — D’Amato and Faircloth — out of office), what did they do? They chose Newt Gingrich — who of all the GOP leadership was the least involved with the impeachment mess — to be the scapegoat for the party’s midterm losses, and kicked him out so he could go make ten times as much dough as a lobbyist. Then, they went ahead with a lame-duck Congressional impeachment anyway — and they did so with the media’s full cooperation and approval.

When Democrats are attacked with real or fake scandals, they either ignore the attacks and hope the media doesn’t join in with the media’s Republican pals to amplify them, or they immediately try to cut their losses and cut loose whoever or whatever is the object of the hissy kabuki. (John Kerry’s tardy response to the Swift Boat smears is a classic example: He thought he could depend on the press to debunk and then stop publicizing the smears. He was wrong.)

Republicans, instead — and usually with the press’ assistance — pretend nothing ever happened. Even when it’s really blatant, they usually figure they’ll skate if only they can keep the press quiet. Look at how many months it took for Republican Senator Larry Craig’s airport-solicitation arrest to hit the news; it was nearly three months from his June 11, 2007 arrest until Roll Call finally broke the story on August 27, 2007. If he’d been a Democrat there would have been TV cameras filming him on his way out of the bathroom.

Don’t believe me about the press’ disparate treatment? Just look at Doris Kearns Goodwin’s telling PBS viewers that Bill Clinton’s pardoning Marc Rich was far, far worse than the first George Bush’s essentially pardoning himself over the Iran-Contra scandal. Seriously. Meanwhile, she had an attack of the vapors January at the prospect that Bush and Cheney might be called to account for genuine war crimes such as torture.

Or you can look at the press’ treatment of the winner of the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore. In 2000, the Atlantic Monthly adorned the cover of an issue with a picture of Al Gore as a vampire. The James Fallows cover story to which this fanged illustration referred included these words:

Al Gore is the most lethal debater in politics, a ruthless combatant who will say whatever it takes to win, and who leaves opponents not just beaten but brutalized. But Gore is no natural-born killer. He studied hard to become the man he is today.


Debate has also been the medium in which Al Gore has displayed the least attractive aspects of his campaigning style: aggressiveness turning into brutality, a willingness to bend the rules and stretch the truth if necessary. A generation ago Gore was a divinity student who said he was repelled by the harsh realities of politics. Now he is the political combatant most likely to leave his opponents feeling not just defeated but battered.

Gee, project much, Mr. Fallows? That’s not the Al Gore we all know. But of course, truth was the first casualty in the War on Gore.

Finally, how about David Broder, the Dean of the White House Press Corps and the amplifier of many a Republican-crafted piece of hissy kabuki? David Broder never met an RNC talking point he didn’t like, including the one that states that anything Republicans do should never ever ever be prosecuted.

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