Leslie Savan | The Nation


Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

Herman Cain, Dada Auteur

A few thoughts about this absolutely kooky Cain ad:

I know that when Mark Block blows smoke in our faces, it’s supposed to be a big up-yours to us nanny-staters who’d impinge on his personal freedom, including the right to smoke himself to death if he damn well pleases. But turn off the sound, and it comes off more like an anti-tobacco ad, you know, the kind in which a drained-looking nicotine addict warns kids not to ruin their lives as he’s ruined his.

But the real purpose of the spot may simply be to prove that Cain has a chief of staff (and thus a staff), what with the media counting Cain out for having almost no ground game, no staff and no presence in the early primary states.

In any case, Mark Block isn’t just any old grizzled, diehard loyalist. As TPM points out, Block came to Cain from Americans for Prosperity, the hard-right Astroturf group financed by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists who go further back with Cain than many of us realized.

The usually amiable Cain has never looked so angry. Maybe the Koch bros have brought out a mean streak in him, but when Cain finally does smile, it’s unsettling, a bit like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. See Colbert out-slow-smile Cain by a mile. 


And strange though the Cain ad may be, he made an even stranger spot in August, which Lawrence O’Donnell dug up and aired Tuesday night. Note how the white hero beats the bejesus out of the disrespectful black cowboy, and the movie-within-an-ad motif. Is this meant to represent Cain’s disdain for “brainwashed” black liberals, and his own unserious political campaign within a serious marketing campaign, or something? Darn if I know.

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Wall Street to #OWS: Obnoxious Is Good

If you were going to make a commercial to demonstrate that Wall Street players are arrogant greedsters who totally don’t get the concerns of #OWS protesters and are indifferent to the working class, you couldn’t do much better than this, a spot for the trading company Forex that ran during Sunday’s talk shows. In fact, just as the Martin Luther King Jr., memorial was being dedicated, the ad’s currency trader was jabbering about “a place where a man’s success is determined not by the color of his credit card but by the position he took on the Aussie dollar in the face of rising commodity prices.”

Sure, the ad is jokey, but it indicates how much these people need to be told they’re wonderful, even when they’re being obnoxious; after all, they operate on a higher plane that the little people just can’t understand. (E.g., see Jamie Dimon’s and others’ comments here.)

As Forex’s Bonfire of the Vanities campaign slogan assures them, “It’s your world. Trade it.”


The Original Koch (Ed) Scorches the GOP, Praises OWS and Wants to Jail the Banksters

Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch (some of us still lend the softer pronunciation of his name to the brothers Charles and David) has played hot and cold with progressive causes, and likes to flirt with Republicans about leading fervently pro-Israeli Jewish voters against Obama.

But here, on Al Sharpton’s show Monday night, Koch reverses field: He’s now going to campaign for Obama (for background on Koch, Israel and the president, see Greg Sargent here), and he attacks Republicans for having lost all sense of justice, even patriotism. “They don’t care about the country,” he says. “They’ve given up on that, and that’s why I think the American public will give up on them.”

And perhaps most surprising, Koch “absolutely” supports Occupy Wall Street and wants the recession-creators sent to prison.

I think it is an outrage that no CEO, no CFO of any corporation, major corporation on Wall Street, or the banks, has been convicted and sent to jail for having engaged in criminality and bringing on the Great Recession. And some did, no question about that. A poor kid steals a bike, he goes to jail; a guy steals millions and he gets a civil fine, which is becoming the cost of doing business.… I’m distressed that the Attorney General has not been ordered by the president to pursue them.

How’s he doing?


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Herman Cain, the Polls and What Race Has to Do With It

Yes, they Cain! On Thursday, Zogby released a poll showing Herman Cain not just tying or slightly topping Romney and Perry in the GOP primary race, as he has been for a couple weeks now, but pulling 20 points ahead of Romney, 38 to 18.

And nobody believes those numbers.

Actually, nobody in the media has really believed Cain’s rising popularity for a while, figuring it’s just the latest in the Trump/Bachmann/Perry series of boomlets. But a twenty-point lead has to be more than a technical glitch, even for Zogby. And if it’s not true that 38 percent of Republicans dream of one day saluting a President Cain, then the numbers must mean something else. Maybe it’s a media hall of mirrors: Republicans doubling down on their love for Herman Cain because they don’t like the media laughing at them for claiming to love Herman Cain.

It hasn’t been easy for the political press to say exactly why it thinks Cain’s supersonic rise isn’t real. They’ll say that Cain is a “placeholder” or “a nice protest parking place for Tea Partisans disappointed by the Bachmann and Perry adventures.” All that’s true. But what few seem to consider is the man’s race.

A few days ago on WRRN’s Richard French Live, however, former NY1 political anchor Dominic Carter and former Connecticut congressman Rob Simmons, a Republican, got down to it, musing that Cain’s appeal to white conservatives is related in large part to the Bradley Effect—the phenomenon of white people who, for fear of appearing racist, tell pollsters they’re going to vote for a black candidate but actually vote white (named after LA mayor Tom Bradley, who lost the 1982 gubernatorial race after polls showed him far ahead). French admitted he was relieved his guests brought up the Bradley Effect, so he didn’t have to.

I understand the feeling. In an age when even the most rabid birthers and mosque molesters fly into a rage at the suggestion they might be bigots, it’s become impolitic to state the obvious: that a lot of Tea Party types are crazy for Cain because he shields them against charges of racism. As the current hard-right favorite, Cain is proof of widespread Tea Party colorblindness, writes conservative pundit Ron Christie.

Some conservatives even want extra credit for favoring a “real black man,” as Cain calls himself, over someone like Obama. Laura Ingraham (who wrote in her Barack Obama “diary” that Michelle Obama eats baby-back ribs at every meal) clumsily endorsed that notion last week when she said that Cain "would be the first black president, when you measure it by—because he doesn't—does he have a white mother, white father, grandparents? No, right?”

Cain’s candidacy can be used as a weapon as easily as a shield. It’s a way for frustrated Republicans to sic it to Romney and Perry for their various rightwing apostasies, telling them, “We distrust you so much, we’d sooner vote for a black guy.”

Let’s be clear: Cain’s race is not the only reason for his popularity.   In the conservative American Spectator, Aaron Goldstein came up with Nine Reasons Why Republicans Ought to Nominate Herman Cain. Only one, Number 7, was “He Would Make Liberal Charges of Racism Look Really, Really Stupid.” Others were “He’s a CEO,” “He Has Never Held Elected Office,” and “He Worked at Burger King.”

Of course, Cain also spews all the right anti-Obama, anti-liberal fairy tales, like telling the Occupy Wall Street protesters “if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!” and calling blacks “brainwashed” for voting Democratic. Coming from an African-American, that has tremendous value for the right. (Number 1 in Goldstein’s reasons to nominate Cain is “He Has No Sense of Entitlement.”) Like the motivational speaker he is, Cain is helping a lot of Republicans feel better about themselves.

And so far, he’s been running more of motivational book tour than a real campaign for the presidency (just try to find Cain in New Hampshire). His candidacy has more in common with Trump, Gingrich, and others in the Murdoch Primary who’ve glommed onto the GOP race to promote their business-friendly brand.

But as Cain rises in the polls, he is undergoing more scrutiny and is inevitably tripping over facts that don’t fit his sales pitch. Cain told Lawrence O’Donnell Thursday night that he wasn’t involved in the civil rights battles of the ’60s because he was in high school. “If I had been a college student, I probably would have been participating,” he said. When O’Donnell pointed out that Cain was in college from 1963 to 1967, “at the height of the civil rights movement,” Cain went into brain-freeze, saying, “I graduated from high school in 1963, OK? I didn’t start college until the fall of 1963.” Huh? (Here is the fascinating follow-up discussion about the interview itself, and here is Jon Stewart on Cain’s “I don’t have facts to back this up, but” line of argument.)

Pasteboard positions like Cain’s will shred quickly enough, at the hands of the right as well as the left. National Review blogger Kevin Williamson has already taken down Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan by calling it “Nein! Nein! Nein!” And eventually Cain’s Tea Party friends may find he’s not quite the shield they thought. A Red State blogger says he’s “seriously angry” with Cain for calling Perry’s use of the “Niggerhead” hunting camp “insensitive.” “Conservatives already have to fight the race card smears by the media and the left,” writes agconservative, “we don’t need to have them confirmed by leaders in our own movement.”  

Bradley Effect or not, I almost feel bad for Cain. He seems to really believe it when he insists that, unlike former Trump, Bachmann and Perry fans, “Cain supporters do not defect.”

The (Pre-)Occupied Political Media

This morning on The Daily Rundown, host Chuck Todd and guests Jonathan Martin of Politico and Chris Cillizza of the Wash Post were having a good ol’ time circling and recircling the deeply worn grooves over whether or not Chris Christie would run for prez, what his candidacy would do to a sinking Perry or to a rising but not-serious Cain, and on and on until they had to stop for a commercial break. “But I could go on all day!” Chuck said, and at that, Martin got so excited he said (and I’m only slightly paraphrasing), Oh, please, let’s go on! Let’s never, ever stop!

That sort of media pleasuring itself continued later in the show after word came in that Governor Christie was going to hold a press conference to announce his decision. (Whether you read this before or after the announcement, the answer is No. Which it has always been.)

Oh, somewhere in Chuck’s hour-long show a little footage was given over to Occupy Wall Street, where real news is being made and outcomes are not already known. But OWS warranted only a minute or two, creating a roughly 20-to-1 ratio of horse-race MSM theater to democracy-saving people’s theater, something like the already lopsided ratio of 10-to-one spending cuts to tax increases that all the GOP presidential candidates have rejected and that indicates the extent of corporate dominance OWS is up against.

This ratio is only likely to increase over the next year or so, as political media amuse themselves with the fun, easy stuff, while ignoring the harder work of understanding what’s really driving so many people to Occupy Wall Street, Boston, Washington, Denver, Chicago and more.

I don’t mean to single out Chuck—I believe him in his MSNBC “Lean Forward” ad when he says he wants to use his “access [to the politically powerful] for a greater good. Use it for people who can’t get through the White House gates, for people who can’t be heard.”

But are those really people like Cillizza and Martin?

Jon Stewart Tells Horny Pundits that Christie’s ‘No Means No’

The Tea Party Is Dead! Long Live the Tea Party (in the Media)!

Great piece by Will Bunch in Media Matters arguing that the actual Tea Party—its activities and number of supporters—is dying, but the “smell of fear” the corpse gives off will shape politics and media for years to come.

Sure, there’s no question that the so-called Tea Party philosophy is fueling the discussion in Washington and in the media these days—where every conversation on spending begins and ends with “cutting,” where every notion about government boils down to “how much less.” But the bizarre thing is that this ongoing influence seems to be playing out against a broad canvas that seems to be missing the existence of an actual Tea Party.

Did the Tea Party become, in that famous Sherlock Holmesian expression, the dog that did not bark?

For the most part, yes. So what was all that barking that woke America up in the middle of the night?

It was the right-wing media, and its echoes, that you heard.

When historians look back on the surge and decline of the Tea Party movement in America, and they will, I believe the focus will be how something that was real—anger and fear among a segment of the middle class that has been decimated by the decline of the U.S. economy—was hijacked by a band of high-def hucksters, starting with media stars and their bosses seeking ratings, attention, and cash, not necessarily in that order. The behind-the-scene billionaires eager to save their oligarchy, and the craven politicians that they own, piled on later.

The Tea Party itself may be fading along with Glenn Beck’s mug on the TV, Bunch writes, but the “chaos unleashed by Fox and friends on the American political system during those two years of the Obama backlash is going to be with us for a long, long time.”

Anatomy of a Media Curtsy to Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh is unbashedly taking credit for former New Mexico Governor’s Gary Johnson’s killer joke at last week’s GOP debate (“My next-door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration”)—and by and large the media have agreed that Rush owns the knee-slapper when, in fact, some unfamous person coined the crack years ago.

Not the biggest media news of the day, but it is typical of how my dog digs deeper into stories than this current Beltway press.

Rush spent a full five minutes on the radio yesterday magnanimously forgiving others for inadvertently borrowing from him. For how could they not?

It’s very difficult for any other conservative out there to be considered original with me on the scene. So I cut all these people slack. They steal stuff from me all the time…. it’s something that can’t be avoided. You go out there, and you speak for fifteen hours a week, and you’re sucking up a lot of oxygen, a lot of opinion, it’s going to be very tough for anyone else to be original.

A bit of background: Rush did indeed crack a variation of the doggy line the afternoon of Thursday evening’s debate; Johnson later explained to Huff Post that he received the one-liner from a radio host friend that day and didn’t know of Rush’s wisecrack. And most media, like Rush, let the impression stand that Johnson haplessly crossed the border onto Limbaugh property. You can hear some of them on the audio:

But Rush no more created the joke than Johnson did. Or than did Johnson’s radio host buddy. Or than did financial blogger Jeff Carter, who ran with the joke a full week before Rush, and immediately explained that he got it from “some commentary on the Internet.”

As Talking Points Memo showed (and as I relayed last week), the shovel-ready bit has been out there not for a couple weeks, but for a couple years. A TPM slideshow of the “Top Ten Protest Signs of 2009,” includes a photo, taken at a Tea Party rally, of a black dog wearing a red vest that reads: “I Create Two Shovel-Ready Projects/Day.”

Obviously, the joke began soon after Obama’s stimulus program memed-up “shovel-ready” into the atmosphere in early 2009. But most media found it easier (and, considering Rush’s wrath, safer) to grant Limbaugh authorship than to follow the TPM lead.

Media people of all people should know that catchphrases, one-liners, spin and falsehoods travel at the speed of lite, and for one borrower to claim creation while cutting another borrower “slack” is a pile of poop the press should promptly scoop up.

The Real Poop: Gary Johnson 'Stole' Debate Joke From Limbaugh, Who Stole It From a Helpless Puppy

Last night, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson finally squeezed into a major GOP debate and pulled off the best joke of the evening: “My next-door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration.”

Laughs and levity all around. However, on Morning Joe today, Willie Geist passed on the news that hours before the debate, Rush Limbaugh had burst forth with: “My dogs have created more shovel-ready work than Obama has just this week alone.”

Uh-oh on Johnson. The Joe crew hinted that either a writer had handed Johnson the laugh line (which he, indeed, seemed to be reading), or that he had actually plagiarized Rush. Why would anyone be so stupid as to steal from the big man? they wondered. John Heilemann made a squinchy face at the very thought.

As it turns out, Johnson told the Huffington Post after the debate that he knew nothing of Rush’s knee-slapper and that he drew the line from “eight one-liners” that a former Tonight Show writer and Albuquerque radio host had texted him yesterday afternoon.

Rush, of course, claimed all the credit, telling Michael Calderone, “I guess I’ve become show prep for the GOP debates now, too.” (Not clear what achievements “too” refers to.)

But here’s the big scoop: It might have been Rush who either “plagiarized” or unknowingly regifted the joke: a real live dog originated the line two years ago! A Talking Points Memo slideshow of the Top Ten Protest Signs of 2009 included one photo of a black pooch in a red vest emblazoned with the words “I Create Two Shovel-Ready Projects/Day.”

Unless the dog stole the line from, say, an elephant.

Poor Little Rich 'Class Warfare' Victim

Add Louisiana Congressman John Fleming to the list of anti-tax Republicans who whine that getting by on a six- or seven-figure income isn’t as easy as you five-figure folk may think.

Back in July, Representative Sean Duffy (R-WI) shared that he struggles to pay his bills on his $174,000 Congressional salary (more than three times the median household income in his Wisconsin county). Today, on Chris Jansing’s MSNBC show, multimillionaire Fleming  explained in personal terms why Obama’s plan to raise taxes on millionaires is so unfair.

Fleming, whose flock of Subway shops and UPS stores brought in $6.3 million last year, said that after expenses he nets about $600,000—and “by the time I feed my family, I have maybe $400,000 left over to invest in new locations, upgrade my locations, buy more equipment.” 

“So,” Jansing asked, “you’re saying that if you have to pay more in taxes you would get rid of some of those employees?” Fleming never answered the question.

She tried again: “You do understand, Congressman, that the average person out there who’s making forty, fifty, sixty thousand dollars a year, when they hear that you have only $400,000 left over, it’s not exactly a sympathetic position.”

“Well, again,” he said, “class warfare’s never created a job.”

Neither have record-low taxes on the rich, as ten years of Bush tax cuts should have proven once and for all. Finally, in his speech today on why we must raise taxes on the wealthy to reduce the deficit, Obama came up with just the right, succinct retort: “This isn’t class warfare. It’s math.”



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