The Spectacle Blog

Why Does Dana Milbank Have a Job?

By on 2.28.10 | 11:30AM

It wasn't enough that the Washington Post gave a daily slot in the news section to Dana Milbank to ply his Maureen Dowd Jr. snark trade, one in which everybody but he is portrayed worthy of contempt but conservatives are worthy of contempt squared combined with moral disapprobation. Now the Post has given Milbank a Sunday column, too, where he often forgets he is supposed to be serious and falls back into snark, but uses the officially "opinion" format (as opposed to the news pages' "observational" format) to let show to an even greater degree his ideological disgust at all things right of center. Unfortunately for him, he also shows himself to be, well, just goofy.

Today's column is an example. In it, his theme is that Barack Obama needs to act more like a bully, because The One is just too nice. (Yeah, tell that to all the victims of Obama's Chicago Way, starting with the state senator he bullied out of his first race by getting her qualifying petitions thrown out, continuing with his campaign's bully-boy tactics against Hillary Clinton supporters in numerous caucuses, and including his campaign lawyer's threat to have criminal charges filed against John McCain or McCain's campaign for daring to warn against ACORN vote fraud. And of course Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is known for his gentleness, isn't he? Or, since those are bullyings by extension, how about Obama himself accusing his critics of bad faith, of him on more than one occasion saying "I won" in order to shut up his opposition, etc. Actually, in my mind, those aren't bullyings, exactly, but by the low threshold for bullying that Milbank evinces, they certainly are. Read on.)

But Milbank is really, really weird when he gives examples of what he considers bullying (or worse than bullying -- almost as if he, Mr. Snark himself, has a major problem with being hypersensitized, sort of like the kid on the playground who always started crying when his teammates urged him to run faster or try harder.)

Read this bizarre description:

Obama took the same cerebral approach when Sen. John McCain made a lengthy comment accusing Obama of breaking campaign promises and of unsavory and "particularly offensive" deal-making.

"John, if I could say -- "

"Could I just finish, please?" McCain bullied.

Granted, John McCain really is known for being a bully. But here? Obama himself filibustered all day long and cut off Republicans EVERY time HE decided they were just issuing "talking points" rather than making arguments... and now, where HE interrupted McCain, who had the temerity -- oh, the humanity!!!! -- to actually note that Obama had not upheld his campaign promises, Milbank claims the president, who controlled the time and made the interruption, was the VICTIM of bullying. That's rich. It's also just stupid. How is it possibly bullying for McCain to ask merely for permission to finish his statement?

Meanwhile, while Obama made a hugely long opening statement with many of the exact same lines and points he has made a jillion times already, Milbank doesn't complain, but when John Boehner makes some of the same points he has made before, in much shorter fashion, Milbank writes that Obama stayed too cool in response to Boeher's "canned speech." (If Milbank wants to see canned, I have umpteen thousand "my opponents want to do nothing" claims and eleventy-leven "false choice between our security and our values" assertions to show him.)

Meanwhile Milbank, in a truly strange flight of fancy, accused George W. Bush of "bludgeoning, intimidating and threatening holdouts (remember Jim Jeffords and Max Cleland?)" Huh? First, I challenge Milbank to find even a single example of Bush personally using harsh language against anybody, much less bludgeoning. Granted, Karl Rove did so at times… but to a much lesser extent than Emanuel. Meanwhile, Jeffords? Jeffords frigging switched parties mid-term. Gee, if Bush had intimidated him so much, wouldn't Jeffords have gone cowering to his corner and voted for Bush's initiatives like a good little boy? In fact, the proximate cause, in a straw-breaking-camel's-back sort of way, for Jeffords to switch was not any threat from the White House, but a refusal of the White House to invite Jeffords to share in the glory of some otherwise unremarkable legislative achievement or bit of pork or somesuch that otherwise was quite forgettable. If that's bullying, then I will claim that Milbank is bullying me by not letting me share his space in the Washington Post.

As for Max Cleland, it's a bit of a stretch to blame G.W. Bush for bullying Cleland, unless every campaign ad run by any of a party's candidates is going to be blamed on the president himself. Was Al Gore a bully when the NAACP ran a scurrilous ad blaming Bush for the dragging-behind-the-truck death of a black man in Texas and then Joe Lieberman refused to denounce the ad? Stop the presses! Call in the Marquess of Queensbury! Al Gore's running mate didn't condemn a mean ad against Bush! Gore is a bully and should be sent to his corner!!!!

But put all that aside. Here comes the most truly mind-boggling accusation in Milbank's whole, pathetic excuse for a column. Milbank wrote that Obama "remained calm and collected when Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl took a demagogic turn. 'Does Washington know best about the coverage people should have?' he asked. "Or should people have that choice themselves?" Obama replied: 'Can I just say that, at this point, any time the question is phrased as, 'Does Washington know better,' I think we're, kind of, tipping the scales a little bit there.… It's a good talking point, but it doesn't actually answer the underlying question.'"

Read that again. How on God's green earth is it even remotely demagogic for Kyl to note that the biggest philosophical difference between Obama and the GOP is that Obama's plan appears to rely on Washington to make the decisions while the GOP wants individuals to do so? Isn't that what an insurance MANDATE is all about: Washington forcing people to buy insurance even if they choose not to?  (!!!!???)

On the same page, the very same page, on which Milbank was describing Kyl's position as "demagogic," the dean of Washington journalists, David Broder, was writing that Kyl's position actually encapsulated the bedrock, substantive difference between the two parties. Note that Broder did not say that it was merely Kyl's opinion that the "who decides?" question was at the heart of the differences, but that that question is in fact, not in somebody's outlandish opinion, the difference. Here's Broder:

As the daylong discussion continued, it became clear that one of those differences involves the question of who sets the standards for health insurance and medical care. Obama and the Democrats would give that authority to Washington, which already exercises it when it comes to Medicare recipients and veterans. Republicans insist it should be in the hands of patients, doctors and insurers in the private marketplace or scattered among the 50 states.

Let's repeat that. Broder himself writes that "Obama and the Democrats would give that authority to Washington."

That's it!!! David Broder is a demagogue! David Broder is a demagogue! David Broder is a demagogue! (Dana Milbank said so!)

If what Kyl said is demagoguery, then tackling somebody is a football game is homicide.

How does an editor, even an opinion editor who by reasonable convention allows great leeway to opinion writers, allow such a laughable sentence ("…Jon Kyl took a demagogic turn") to make it into a column?

Stating a widely accepted fact is, by definition, not demagoguery.

And Dana Milbank isn't a serious journalist.

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