Joe Conason's Journal

When the Wall Street Journal embraces Howard Dean, what does it really mean? Plus: Washington, madness and the Clinton years.


Salon Staff
June 24, 2003 7:56PM (UTC)

A double-edged Dean "endorsement"
How intriguing that the Wall Street Journal editorial page chose the morning of the MoveOn.org online preference poll to publish an endorsement of Howard Dean. It isn't a straightforward endorsement, of course, because Dean's politics are anathema to the Journal's right-wing editors. But it is certainly a plug, from the headline "Dean of the Democrats" to the flattering descriptions of the Vermonter as "the most consequential Democrat challenging President Bush" -- "articulate and smart" -- and as a candidate "touching something deep in the current Democratic psyche."

That perception might be more plausible if Dean had risen above 5 percent in scientific surveys of Democratic voters. (In all of the most recent national polls, he has languished near the bottom with Al Sharpton and John Edwards.) So the Journal's desire to elevate Dean may reflect a degree of wishful thinking on their part, although Dean has attracted a corps of serious, passionately committed activists that other candidates cannot help but envy.

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Correctly or not, the Journal editors assume that a Dean candidacy -- with its tendency to "indulge the outraged inner liberal rather than compete for the political center" -- would represent disaster for the Democrats. That's why they welcome and even encourage that possibility, with a slightly ironic echo of Goldwater's doomed glory: "A first or second in the Iowa caucuses would give [Dean] momentum going into New Hampshire, where he and Mr. Kerry would vie to knock each other out. Stranger things have happened and they might again if Democrats next year decide they want a choice, and not an echo."

Sanity in the asylum
Readers of the Washington Post will find an amazing column today by Richard Cohen, who reflects on the epidemic insanity of the capital (and its press corps) during the Clinton era in a review of the reviews of Sidney Blumenthal's "Clinton Wars." Selecting a single sentence or paragraph for quotation here is difficult because so many are so strong and so salient -- and so surprising in the pages of Cohen's newspaper. Of the almost unanimous Washington attitude toward the former journalist and Clinton aide and his book, Cohen writes:

"I know Blumenthal. He was my Post colleague. But I also know most of the people who have criticized his book. They are honorable people, but many of them use the book to pick up where they left off. They have no second thoughts, no backward glance to see the mess they made or to wonder how investigative reporting and commentary went right off a cliff and into a sewer. The real scandal for the news media is that no scandal ever materialized.

"So we get accusations that Blumenthal spun this or that event. What's missing is not just an overview but a sense of astonishment. Isn't it just plain mysterious that Newt Gingrich continues to get respectful media attention when, really, on a given day he is half-mad and almost always blowing smoke? The same could be asked of Tom DeLay, who revived impeachment when the effort flagged for lack of compelling evidence and was determined to smash Clinton -- never mind what else he would destroy in the process. Yet he and other Clinton-haters wander the streets of Washington, unscarred, uncensored but, nonetheless, unhinged."

Considering the personally vicious review that appeared a week or so ago under the byline of the Post's Jonathan Yardley (and don't miss the curious "correction" that has since been appended to it), Cohen's conclusion seems especially pointed:

"There's much to criticize in Blumenthal's book -- a detail, an omission, a partisan spin on events. But the book's reception reminds me of the events it chronicles -- a warped obsession with this or that tree when Ken Starr and his Republican allies were clear-cutting much of the forest. Blumenthal's book, describing what a madhouse Washington became back then, has for some reason been given to the inmates to review."
[03:00 p.m. PDT, June 24, 2003

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