The Susan Estrich Complex

The behavior of the Fox News "liberal" is illustrative of the self-destructive behavior of Beltway Democrats.

Published September 28, 2007 12:58PM (EDT)

Several days ago, Susan Estrich of Fox News "debated" Rich Lowry of Fox News and National Review regarding race and gender, and afterwards, Lowry gave Estrich what, to her, is the Ultimate Compliment, the pat on the head for which she lives:

Richmond [Rich Lowry]

Thanks for everyone who came. It was a nice night. Susan Estrich was hilarious and the very model of a reasonable liberal.

Ever since her stint as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis, Estrich has desperately sought attention by being the "very model of the reasonable liberal" -- the one who goes on Fox News and lavishes Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity with praise and gratitude while repudiating the horrible radicals who are ruining the Democratic Party. She writes one article after the next like this one from a couple weeks ago on Fox News, in which she wrote: "The Democrats, especially the Democrats running for president, have a problem, and his name is Petraeus." She asked: "But attacking the General who oozes courage, fortitude and decency?"

Yesterday, eager for more head-patting from Rich Lowry, she wrote about the event she did with him and -- in another Fox News article entitled "John Edwards' $400 Mistake" -- said this, so empty and sad that it really defies commentary:

What do you think of when you hear the name John Edwards?

I was doing a forum with my friend and FOX colleague Rich Lowry last night at the University of Richmond, and the ever-gracious editor of the National Review was his usual gracious self when it came to answering questions about what he saw as the strengths of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

But when the topic turned to the former North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee, he couldn't resist. I'm paraphrasing, and he did it funnier, but the point was that the only thing he'd be fearful about if he were to meet Edwards in a dark alley was that Edwards might point a can of hair spray in his eyes.

The audience went nuts. . . .

The haircut has become the emblem of his campaign, in much the same way (and believe me, this isn’t easy for me to say) the image of Michael Dukakis fastening his helmet for his tank ride became the emblem of that ill-fated campaign of 1988. . . .

In high school, when you call someone a "pretty boy," it's not a compliment. Unfortunately for Edwards, the same is true in politics. The reason his haircut has stuck, where Bill Clinton's fancy one didn't, is because it captures the flip side of Edwards' boyish good looks. The flip side is the pretty boy, which is not what a country focused on terrorism and looking for toughness wants in a candidate.

Few things are less relevant than Susan Estrich, but this is still worth examining because it is the dynamic that predominates in our political process:

Ludicrous, play-acting tough guys like Rich Lowry depict Democrats like John Edwards as being weaklings and effeminate losers who are unwilling or unable to defend the nation (according to an adoring Estrich, little tough guy Lowry roared: "the only thing he'd be fearful about if he were to meet Edwards in a dark alley was that Edwards might point a can of hair spray in his eyes"). Then, desperate-to-be-liked Democrats like Susan Estrich join in the character smears, attacking those on their own side as losers and weaklings. Then it becomes conventional wisdom -- after all, even Democrats like Susan Estrich agree that John Edwards is an absurd pansy -- and elections are decided.

Here is what Chris Matthews said to Howard Dean before the Democratic debate on Wednesday night:

MATTHEWS: Why do Democrats keep running these weird presidential candidates, who always seem—ever since Jack Kennedy and maybe, well, Bill Clinton, they always lose the personality question. They always seem geekier, nerdier than the Republican guy. Why is that the case?

DEAN: How do you really feel about that, Chris?

MATTHEWS: Well, it's true. It's an objective assessment. Look at Dukakis in the tank. That‘s an objective reality. I mean, Mondale.

DEAN: Let me tell you -- let me tell you what we have to do.

MATTHEWS: Jesus, a good guy, but unacceptable on television.

The Republicans, they get the charm school. They got Reagan. They have got this guy George W. Bush. You know, they seem to run charming people.

DEAN: What Democrats have to do is talk about their values. People vote on values. They don't vote on position papers.

MATTHEWS: No, they vote on personalities.

Agree or disagree with Matthews' particular assessments, it is hard to argue that most political elections in the U.S. are, in fact, decided far more by these personality depictions and cultural signals than by any substantive disputes. And nobody helps to smear and demean the personalities of Democratic leaders more than Democrats themselves. That is the only reason any of this works.

This is why the eagerness of Congressional Democrats -- first in the Senate and then even more overwhelmingly in the House -- to vote for Republican proposals to condemn is so significant. The resolution itself is obviously meaningless. It has no binding or legal effect. But the point of it, the only point, is to subject the Democrats to what Digby this week called a "ritual humiliation" where Democrats turn on their own side and denounce and demonize them in a way that Republicans never would do with regard to their allies. Democrats thus look weak and pitiful for complying, and on top of it, they essentially denounce a major organization on their own side as McCarthyite, unpatriotic and evil.

It is hard to overstate how important these self-abasement rituals are to the Republican electoral strategy. Tying Democrats to traitorous and radical groups like MoveOn, while depicting themselves as the Defenders of the Honor of the U.S. military, is the only tactic they have. And Democrats in Congress just did more to help that tactic than Republicans could possibly have dreamed of.

To see how true that is, look at this new advertisement from the Republican National Committee currently running on The Weekly Standard:

The longer version of the ad on the GOP's site asks:

Who do you think Clinton and Obama support more?

Our Military

It then states (all emphasis and manic punctuation in original):

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are following the marching orders of a bunch of radical leftist bloggers. . . . and THEY want your vote to be Commander-in-Chief of our Military???????


Support the Republican National Committee's efforts to get full funding for our troops now.

That is all the GOP has left -- to politicize the military and claim it as its own ("our military"), and to create the dichotomy that a vote for Democrats is a vote for traitorous anti-military filth like MoveOn and liberal bloggers while voting for Republicans is to vote for the military. And nobody does more to bolster that theme than the Beltway Democratic establishment.

These cultural themes are the root of everything Republicans do. That is why Rush Limbaugh is desperate to dismiss anti-war soldiers as "phony soldiers," why they always reserve their most vicious attacks for Democratic war veterans like Wes Clark, Jack Murtha and John Kerry; and why they are petrified of facts showing that an astounding 40% of military contributions are going to Democrats, with the largest GOP amounts going to anti-war candidate Ron Paul. The personality contest which Matthews described -- of the weakling loser traitor Democrats vs. the tough pro-military Republicans -- is all they have.

And that is why it is so pathetic to watch Democrats do more than anyone else could possibly do to strengthen this tactic by engaging in self-humiliation rituals against MoveOn. There are always going to be people like Susan Estrich who are either so desperate for attention, so eager for approval, and/or so self-hating that they will happily serve as the obedient tool for this sort of self-flagellating smear. That is to be expected.

But what the MoveOn vote demonstrates is that so much of the Beltway Democratic establishment -- even in the face of a resounding 2006 election victory and one of the most unpopular Presidents ever -- is still drowning in the Susan Estrich Complex. At bottom, so many of them are just a slightly less obvious rendition of Susan Estrich.

And as long as the majority of them are willing to demonize their own allies whenever the right-wing demands they do so (while never forcing the Right to condemn their own) -- all so that they can be temporarily head-patted as one of the "reasonable liberals" -- the personality issues which Matthews highlighted will continue to be their most significant hurdle, no matter how much agreement they generate on the issues. If even Democrats continue to affirm on demand that their own leaders and supporters are losers and anti-American radicals, why would anyone disagree?

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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