Monday, March 14, 2005

Democrats, The Press and the Nice Guy Syndrome

Josh Marshal does a grand dissection of this bit of nonsense by Sebastian Mallaby that appeared in today's Washington Post. I won't try to summarize it. But I would like to hilight this part of it:

One of the Democrats' greatest problems -- far more insidious than many realize -- is their desire to gain the approval and approbation of establishment Washington and its A-list pundits. The habit or inclination is rooted in a political world that ceased to exist 20 or 30 years ago, and even then was wrong-headed. Republicans, on the other hand, have long seen the relationship as fundamentally antagonistic (if not necessarily unfriendly) and have acted accordingly. On balance, that's led to better press treatment because, though they are loathe to admit it, the mix of editors and pundits and talk show hosts respect the treatment.

Democrats, from top to bottom, would do themselves no end of good if they simply acted on the assumption that the Washington establishment is not a constituency they are trying to appeal to or cultivate.

That doesn't mean they should ignore the Washington press. Far from it. They should state their views and demand they be fairly covered. But they should not act on the ingrained assumption that these people are basically like-minded people of shared assumptions and beliefs who can be appealed to on that basis.

All of that is another way of saying they should act like Republicans.

I would change this to say that Democrats should act like Democrats, not like wimps. Other than that this is spot on.

There is an odd dynamic going on between the major parties and the establishment press. The Republicans treat them like crap with all their talk about Liberal Bias and what-not. Yet the press generally treats them well. The Democrats, on the other hand, go out of their way to try to appease the beltway opinion mafia, and they get nothing but grief in response.

Case in point: one of the primary reasons Gore chose Lieberman as his running mate in 2000 was to win over the opinion mafia. Lieberman was a darling of the press ever since he went to the Senate floor and criticized Clinton for his behavior with Lewinsky. By selecting Holy Joe, Gore may have calculated that he could win a little bit of that good feeling by osmosis.

And it worked.

For about two weeks.

That's how long it took for the GOP to roll out another smear campaign against Gore. A smear campaign the press immediately ran with.

The lesson: the press doesn't like "Nice Guys", they just say they do. What they really want is the "Bad Boy" who will put them in their place, whether they deserve it or not.

The reason Democrats get criticized when they start to show backbone is because the press just isn't used to it. It doesn't fit their model for the way things are and so they squawk. But if the Democrats don't back down the press will eventually get used to it and maybe, just maybe, start treating Democrats as equal partners in the political debate.

Here's a hint to the Dems: when the press says they "just want to be friends", their lying!


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