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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi -- previously one of my favorite writers -- went into the campaign season doing everything he could to weaken Hillary Clinton, thereby paving the way for the triumph of Trump. This, to say the least, pissed me off -- though I somehow never got around to writing the anti-Taibbi piece that I researched about a year ago. Today's a good day to hammer that particular nail.

Why today? Because Taibbi has published a new piece in Rolling Stone: "There Is No Way to Survive the Trump White House: The tenures of Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci represent two opposite, but equally ineffective, strategies for surviving the Trump White House." It's a fine article, filled with the kind of insight and snark you'd expect from the author of Griftopia.
The twin killings of Scaramucci and Priebus tell the whole story. The two men represented opposite strategies for surviving Castle Trumpsylvania, and both turned out to be equally ineffective.
The Scaramucci/Bannon rule seems to suggest that the best strategy for survival in the Trump White House is to lay low, keep your face off cable, and genuflect to His Highness as shamelessly and excessively as possible. No dice!

Priebus, a born bootlicker and capitulator whose spine was surgically removed years ago during his first term as RNC chairman, tried exactly this strategy, and ended up just as dead as Scaramucci.

There are countless stories attesting to Priebus' extreme unwillingness to confront the president. Granted the White House Chief of Staff job with sweeping assurances from Trump that he would have full autonomy and control in the White House, Priebus ultimately was reduced – this is according to the latest leaks – to listening at the door of the Oval Office in an attempt to guess who was meeting with the president.
I've wondered why Priebus never responded in kind to Scaramucci's bizarre attacks. Taibbi has a few words about that:
To this Priebus did what he'd always done – nothing, eating the humiliation like a meat loaf. He told fellow self-flagellating yes man Wolf Blitzer he "wasn't going to get in the mud in those kind of things."

This was the high road, seemingly, but not to Trump, who hilariously was furious with Priebus for refusing to "fight back."
Suetonian observations of this sort are what I dig most about Taibbi's work.

What I dig not is the hypocritical attack on Hillary Clinton which Taibbi offered up in early 2016. That hit piece helped to transform the most admired woman in America into one of the most hated. The most oft-quoted words are these:
Hillary not only voted for the Iraq War, but offered a succession of ridiculous excuses for her vote. Remember, this was one of the easiest calls ever. A child could see that the Bush administration's fairy tales about WMDs and Iraqi drones spraying poison over the capital (where were they going to launch from, Martha's Vineyard?) were just that, fairy tales.

Yet Hillary voted for the invasion for the same reason many other mainstream Democrats did: They didn't want to be tagged as McGovernite peaceniks. The new Democratic Party refused to be seen as being too antiwar, even at the cost of supporting a wrong one.
Why do I use the word "hypocritical"? Simple. If the call was really so effing easy, then one may fairly ask an important question: WHERE WAS MATT?

Taibbi's piece may give you the impression that he spent 2002 marching in anti-war protests and leading crowds in rousing renditions of Give Peace a Chance. No? Okay, then -- Taibbi must have been writing articles denouncing the rush to war. Right? Right?

In a very real sense, Taibbi had a vote too: He voted with his keyboard. A widely-read writer can influence the public, and Congress-critters will hesitate to vote yea if the public demands a nay.

In 2002 and 2003, did Matt Taibbi ever favor us with a piece that took a bold stand against the authorization? Did Taibbi ever urge readers to contact their senators and representatives?


I checked. I did the research about a year ago, and although I don't want to spend the day retracing the research trail I took back then, here's the bottom line: In the year before the invasion, Matt Taibbi did not write one article against the authorization of military force.

I could find no public statement from Taibbi arguing that a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein would be a really bad idea. If he did write such a piece, I could not discover it via Google. (Feel free to double-check.)

It's not as though Taibbi lacked an audience. From his Wikipedia bio:
In 2002, he returned to the U.S. to start the satirical bi-weekly The Beast in Buffalo, New York. He left that publication, saying that "Running a business and writing is too much." Taibbi continued as a freelancer for The Nation, Playboy, New York Press (where he wrote a regular political column for more than two years), Rolling Stone, and New York Sports Express (as Editor at Large).
He did not exactly "go to the Matt" for peace. And yet he now says that it was an easy call.

John Kerry had committed the same unforgivable sin that damned Hillary, but my search of the Taibbi ouvre did not disgorge a 2004 Kerry-hate diatribe to match his 2016 Hillary-hate diatribe. Again: Maybe I missed something. I'll be grateful to anyone who double-checks and proves me wrong.

Taibbi is also misleading younger folk about the history of that period.

Here's a key fact that lefties always leave out: The authorization of military force was very popular at the time. Look up the polling. Most of the citizenry demanded a "yes" vote. They were ready to crucify any politician who opposed the authorization. Many people believed Ann Coulter when she accused anti-war protestors of being traitors in the secret pay of Saddam Hussein.

Of course, the same average Americans who supported the authorization in October of 2002 refused to "own it" after the war went bad.

As always, Americans could not blame themselves. Most people would rather scrape their nipples off with a rusty vegetable peeler than admit to even the slightest error.

So they blamed Bush and Cheney -- and correctly so. But let's face it: On a visceral level, blaming any male politician is emotionally unsatisfying. We need a girl to kick. The American psyche demands it.

It's all Hillary's fault. She made Bush do it.

That's why we continually blast Hillary for the 2002 Iraq vote while forgiving everyone else in politics at that time, Democrat or Republican.

There are other facts which people like Taibbi always leave out. The authorization was supposed to be invoked only in case Saddam Hussein blocked weapons inspectors. At the time of the vote, only the most cynical could foresee a situation in which Saddam allowed the inspectors complete freedom and Bush went to war anyways. (Sure, I possessed sufficient cynicism -- but I'm a notorious weirdo.)

There were many in Congress -- both Republican and Democrat -- who sincerely believed the tales of WMDs told by Colin Powell and others. Powell commanded enormous bipartisan respect at the time; he was the one untouchable hero.

We should also note that, after the war began, Hillary's record on the war was (slightly) to the left of Barack Obama's. 

So much for the Iraq vote. As for Taibbi's non-Iraq complaints against Hillary -- well, I was going to write a point-by-point counterargument, but Kevin Drum has already done the job.

This is not the place for a full recapitulation of my arguments against Bernie Sanders, the man Taibbi hoped to help -- even though Sanders was never going to win the nomination. (Easy call.) Suffice it to say that I began as a Sanders admirer and ended up despising both the man and his zombie army of hipster dimwits and Republican/Russian trolls; see here for my main anti-Bernie piece.

I remain convinced that Bernie Sanders, had he gained the nomination, would have lost all 50 states, including Vermont. After I published that list, we received confirmation that the Republicans do indeed possess video of Sanders in the midst of Sandinistas chanting "The Yankee will die!" That video, considered separately from all other factors, would have insured a Sanders loss of the popular vote as well as the electoral college.

I will stop walloping Bernie when he reconciles himself to his destined status as an historical footnote. Unfortunately, Bernie's Alt Left movement is already doing its best to insure that the Republicans retain control of the House in 2018. You might say that Bernie Sanders is the Chairman of the Committee to Re-Elect the President. If Taibbi remains hypnotized by Bernie-ism, then we might as well consider him the Co-Chairman, despite his current critiques of Donald Trump.
Hillary was a U.S. Senator from New York. I'm sure her vote literally represented her constituents, the many thousands whose lives were suddenly wrecked when their family members were murdered, and the millions who felt attacked. Probably her finest hour, dammit.
all I can say is thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! Your sharp perspective, understanding & research skills are soooo valuable & needed.
This is historical revisionism in the opposite direction. There were 126 nays in the House on the Democratic side for the Authorization for the use of Military Force in Iraq, about 40%. A similar percentage held in the Senate, 21 out of 50 voted no.
Before the invasion in March 2003, polls showed 47-60% of the US public supported an invasion, dependent on U.N. approval.

Gary, the revisionism is being perpetrated by the BernieBro contingent and by certain GOP propagandists, who would have you believe that the Democrats bear equal responsibility.

The public fairly strongly supported invasion of Iraq in October of 2002:

(Remember, the authorization was NOT sold as a vote on invasion; it was sold as a "stick" to force Saddam Hussein into permitting the entry of weapons inspectors. So support for the authorization would be higher than support for invasion.)

According to Wikipedia, only 27 percent opposed invasion the month before it actually occurred.

My point is not whether Hillary should have cast her vote based on polling. If that's what you are about to argue, you didn't read my actual words. My argument is that the public scapegoated Hillary Clinton because they refused to own up to THEIR OWN support for the invasion. On both the right and the left, people continue to blame her for the war more vehemently, more viscerally, than they blamed Bush or Cheney or Kerry or anyone else.

This, despite the fact that her stance in 2002 was far more complicated than many now presume. This Slate article has the details:

She called for the avoidance of war and the involvement of the UN. At the time, that seemed like an option, even though Taibbi and others would have you think otherwise.

So it's infuriating to me that people who were cheering the invasion in 2003 are now pretending that Hillary was the warmonger. She wasn't. The American people in general were.

Thank you for keeping the record straight, Joseph! I would also include calling Sandersnistas who did NOT call for Obama's drone bombing to cease as hypocrites, especially after he bragged to the NYT about his "double tap" method of bombing anyone who showed up for the funerals as "also" being terrorists: after designating every young male as terrorist.

Kerry received NO backlash for the same vote that Hillary cast. When he ran for president, there were no shrieks or even grumblings about his vote. Ditto, as Secretary of State: nary a peep about it.

He was my rep when he made that vote. In my mind it was much worse than Hillary's, not only because (as Amelie points out) her constituents in New York may have communicated that was the vote they wanted, but also because Kerry ran for office as an antiwar vet.

In UMass Boston there is an ongoing writing program organized by antiwar Viet Nam vets I attended more than one year. Kerry was to be the keynote one year I was not enrolled, immediately after his war vote. Friends snuck me in to the dress event (or rather turned a blind eye as I strode in and let me sit at their table). As Kerry began to speak, I rose in floor-length gown and turned my back.

I stood my ground as the security goons barreled down the aisle. First one, then another vet stood by my side and crossed their arms. and the goons retreated. We stood like that for Kerry's entire speech. One distraught vet heckled him the whole time. Afterwards he came up to me and hung on my neck and wept. Many vets thanked me. The only media or press attention it garnered was one buried line in an article by the now defunct Boston Phoenix, a popular weekly then.

I have a keen disdain for the unthinking mob who imagine they are more "progressive" than they actually are. I read a list poem to one of those mobs at a Boston open mic and had them all shrieking and chanting until the end when I revealed that every action I'd listed as Obama's or Hillary's was in fact the opposite. Best buzz-kill ever, instant depressed silence. I was known for one-off funny political poems rooted in the moment, so they trusted me enough for it to work. Once.

Thank you again for this sanity-saving community.


Thank you for posting that Slate article about Hillary's vote. It was the final nail for me no longer caring about Hillary's Iraq war vote. It's slightly amusing how I came across it. During the primary when she was asked about the vote, she defended herself by saying she didn't authorize the invasion but merely the authorization of one to give the President leverage in weapons inspection. Since I was still naive about Clinton at the time, I thought "Oh, this must be the Hillary nonsense everyone keeps talking about." But in doing my own research about her, I came across that article, and I was shocked as it turns out she was 100% right about the description of her vote. It was a major turning point in how I viewed Hillary in that it made me start pondering if whether or not the narratives about Hillary are true, and I eventually figured out they are not.

Also, the idea that any Senator from New York would not vote for the war is ludicrous. And, as your blog documented, it's not like Obama was a strong firebrand against it. He came out against it as a state senator when the vote happened, but never publicly strayed from the party line afterwards. Not that I blame him. Just that it's not like his view on it was radically different than Hillary's.
The current New Yorker issue includes a 5-6 page article about Bernard 'Bernie' Sanders, U.S. Senator (I) from Vermont, and his woes, righteousness, and influence. The words 'socialist' and 'socialism' never appear. Why not? My guess would point to Minority Leader Charles 'Chuck' Schumer's (D, NY) so-called progressive 2018 platform (mentioned in the article), which includes $15/hr federal minimum wage, universal health care, free college tuition, and a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure program, all of which the article suggests is owing to the Vermont senator's influence. For the 2018 one-off-year campaign -- The Most Important Election Of Our Lifetime --, I'd love to see Sanders and Schumer take to the road as a revival of the Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner "2000-Year-Old Man".
"I have a keen disdain for the unthinking mob who imagine they are more "progressive" than they actually are."

In France, after VE Day, every Frenchman suddenly decided that he had been with the Resistance from the start. Similarly, Trump now says that he was ALWAYS against the Iraq, despite the evidence of his own recorded words.

Funny how these things happen.

Is the text of that poem available anywhere online? I'd love to see it...
maz, thank you for asking, but there is probably only one copy, on paper, somewhere hereabouts. I generally write for page, but that one was pure performance and one of the only where I encouraged audience participation (which should've tipped at least some of them off). Wish it had been recorded. It was the kind of trick you can only play once in a small community.

Back when the Bush White House canceled a poetry reading the White House (for fear of antiwar sentiments being read) many writers made observations on the antiwar sentiments of Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes, but none mentioned Emily Dickinson, the third poet whose poems were to have been read. So I did an In-death Interview with her (poems) that About.Poetry had up for years, but I guess it didn't survive's transition to Dotdash.
prowlerzee, might we hope that your Dickinson Interview might again see the light of day? Let us know.
What does the man himself have to say about his whereabouts and activities? Let's check out his 2007 book _Smells Like Dead Elephants_. The into begins:

"I missed the beginning of the Bush years. When the Gore-Bush electoral mess blew up in the news I was living in Moscow, Russia, editing an English-language paper called the eXile and also writing for a mudslinging Russian tabloid called Stringer. While America was busy counting hanging chads and careening toward a constitutional crisis, what I mostly remember is sitting in the Stringer offices pounding vodka with Russian colleagues Leonid Krutakov and Alexei Fomin, and listening to them howl with delight at the news that the mighty U.S.A. was now officially as fucked up and directionless as the Russian state. "Let's see you bastards try to lecture us about our elections now!" I remember Leonid saying, shaking his head with contempt. 'We may be a third-world country, but at least we know it!'"

Joseph, thanks for returning to this topic and posting.
egads, Tom, I used to get invited almost annually to do that poem so there may be a recording somewhere...I've been a miserably bad archivist of my own life/work. My best friend died before we could archive her work, and her late-in-life husband ruined any chance we had of gathering it, so I should do better.

Meanwhile, I need to find a copy of Smells Like Dead Elephants. Fiction can't compete, can it?

You guys are a bad influence. I wrote another sonnet this morning. I wasn't late to my new job but I did have to skip, maybe I should say good influence. I could stand to skip a breakfast or two. French toast is in my near future tho!

prowlerzee, Having only just acquired the book, I'm not able to recommend it. My brief impression of this collection of Rolling Stone columns is that they're fairly typical Taibbi. Well written, somewhat over-the-top, dating to the early 'aughts.

I do find it interesting that at the time of the 2000 campaign and election, Matt Taibbi was working in Moscow "pounding vodka" with his Russian coworkers. He returned to the US in 2002.

For an eye-opening historical read, it's impossible to do better than the new book _Democracy in Chains_ by historian Nancy MacLean. It tells the story of an economist, James Buchanan who also did economic and political consulting work that aimed at defeating desegregation following the Brown decision.

By updating the arguments of John C. Calhoun and others, he became very influential among the Libertarians and the far right. He came to the attention of Charles Koch, who funded him generously for many years.

The beautiful kicker in this story is that he kept an archive. There it is, a building full of papers and files, an unlisted archive located on the campus of George Mason University. MacLean was lucky to find out about it.

This book makes many things clear.

Tom. It's charming that you imagine I could read a book like "Democracy in Chains" and comprehend it. I'm mostly a student of absurdity. I need Cannonfire to pre-digest all the facts and point out all the references for me to barely follow the gist. I do read many of the links. This should be our nightly news stations' job, and if people want to follow sports, they should be forced to watch pay channels in pubs that other citizens should turn tail on when they enter and distinguish that definitive roar.

Those of us who have not made all these political threads a lengthy study are mostly lost. I make an extra effort when disparaging things are discussed about Libertarians or Berniebros.

See, I'm mad curious about the title of the Smell of Dead Elephants. Is it abut trophy hunters? And I've seen Russian drinkers in action, and let me say wow. From a drinker's pov....just wow. Good for Taibbi to even try to keep up. My joy at having a Russian-Jamaican couple move in next door quickly turned to dismay as they started to have babies right away. Cute ones, but alas. Less drinking....much less drinking.

I joined an old newspaperman's luncheon in my neighborhood to hear their stories (and drink) but I was the only one spiking my ice tea and the grumpy proprietor kicked them out for meagre revenue. Alas, again. I dearly love stories....and drink...and there are too many teetotalers with stories and bars with sports fans and/or tweeters.

Joseph is a dear proprietor with all the right tales and kind tolerance for drunk posting and admirable zero tolerance for foolish philosophies.

"This book makes many things clear." Would that there were book clubs for this.

pz. Yes, Joseph does a good job here. I've been looking at some older posts.

Weekends are a busy time for me. But I'll try to return to the subject of M. Taibbi's book on smells as soon as I can.

Democracy in Chains pretty well reveals Libertarian "thought" as a hollow shell of propaganda that must hew to Charles Koch's line. To paraphrase.
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