Even the simplest of differences can create false appearances. For instance: Is Jennifer Rubin sinister or stupid?
In the end, though, the difference is one of valences. Sinister forgives stupidity in some cases for the fact of reasonable execution, but even the sinister is cultivated around a germ of ignorance.
In the first place, there is Rubin’s arrival at The Washington Post. Eric Alterman of The Nation noted last year—
It is no secret to anyone that conservatives have conducted a remarkably successful, decades-long campaign to undermine the practice of honest, aggressive journalism with trumped-up accusations of liberal bias. They have made massive investments of time and money in groups and individuals devoted to “working the refs,” and these have yielded significant ideological dividends—which, as might be predicted, have only encouraged them to keep it up.
—as a preface to his discussion of Jennifer Rubin as “The Washington Post’s Problem”. She was the third in a string of quota hires made as part of an attempt to deliberately throw their political coverage rightward in order to fend off attacks of being too liberal. Ben Domenech, their first hire for the position, turned out to be a sharp-tongued plagiarist, which was kind of embarrassing for the Post, as you might imagine. Next they plucked Dave Weigel from Reason.com, and one can reasonably say the Reason franchise has never been the same. Yet for all the quality of this pick, Post editors deemed him unsuitable for the task after realizing that he just wasn’t conservative enough. So the newspaper turned to rabid right-winer Jennifer Rubin, and the disaster of her term as a staff blogger really is hard to describe. Alterman’s review for The Nation is an excellent read, but it is also something of a headache insofar as truth is stranger than fiction and the twists and turns of Jennifer Rubin’s greatest contribution to our political discourse would seem to have something to do with mainstreaming hardline rightist tinfoil in major news media. After the 2012 election, Rubin’s ability to change her story without the slightest hint of shame, or even decency, was pretty much on display for anyone to see. Simon Maloy tried to sketch the degree of self-contradiction in her coverage of the Romney loss; it isn’t pretty.
Jennifer Rubin is a political actor. Her purpose at the post is not to inform, but, rather, to deceive.
Certes, some part of politics, as with any sales job, involves various sleights intended to deceive consumers; in that context, one might simply say that it seems an odd choice for the Post to put a saleswoman front and center as their conservative political voice. Of course, after learning that a proper journalist such as Weigel was unsatisfactory to the media company, one wonders who else would want the job.
Most recently, Rubin has turned her obsessive wrath against President Obama, which in itself should come as no surprise. Neither should spectacular headlines like, “Obama is scaring women”, or, “Is Obama trying to sink fellow Democrats?” The former is an intersting headline, a scare tactic intended to cover what could actually be received as a rational political observation:
Once women — and men — see competent and calm Republicans working to help solve their real problems and forcefully addressing threats from abroad, they will embrace them.
But this is just the problem. Former Sen. Zell Miller (D-GA) rolled in 2004 to give a speech for the Republican National Convention, and two points seem to have escaped people’s notice the wake of that tremendous pack of lies. As a matter of general principle, Mr. Miller showed just how low one must stoop in order to satisfy conservatives. As a matter of general fact, what Kerry voted against was a defense proposal from the Republican-led White House that the military brass really didn’t like. But therein lies the key to Zell Miller’s swindle: He was giving cover to Dick Cheney. As Defense Secretary, Cheney had gone before the House Armed Services Committee and recommended termination of various programs; you can follow the list in both his testimony and Zell Miller’s speech.
And this is the great gamble of Republican politics. Lie, lie, lie, and hope people just don’t want to bother untangling the mess.
Which is why the bizarre comments about rape in 2012 hurt Republicans so much. The lie about women not being able to conceive when raped has been around for decades, quack medicine pushed by anti-abortion advocates. Where Murdock and Akin ran afoul of the argument was that they said it, straightforward, where people could hear. It’s kind of like the Bryant administration in Mississippi skipping the bit about patient protection and bragging publicly about ending abortion in the state. Or Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Turzai (R-28) crowing on the record that his state’s new voter ID law would deliver the state to Romney.
Murdock and Akin are more relevant here, since Rubin chose to couch her one-paragraph critique of fellow Republicans amid an ill-conceived, poorly-executed pageant of edited quotes and contextual reconstructions.
After all, she has identified the problem exactly: There are no “competent and calm Republicans working to help solve their real problems.
That is to say, there is nobody to embrace.
But the argument to support her thesis that “Obama is scaring women” requires that one consider access to birth control and other health care “extremism” pushed by “an army of Sandra Fluke shock troops”.
Perhaps we should wonder if she hopes to fashion a society in which female voters are an army of Jennifer Rubin morons.
After all, Rubin recalls Reagan, and cites right-wing author Henry Olsen about the Hollywood president and how he expressed conservatives’ “most deeply held values”. We might note that Rubin does not wish to discuss what those values are. Paranoia, fearmongering, and bigotry aren’t really kind colors on any “deeply held values”; there should be no question why Rubin wishes to flee that part of the discussion.
In her blog entry about President Obama, what emerges most clearly is that there would appear to be no such idea as objective reality in Rubin’s outlook. Her analysis works well enough within its presumed narrative, but that narrative is itself faulty, and depends on willful apathy—i.e., deliberate dishonesty—toward facts on record in order to justify itself.
Reading through Rubin’s columns, one might get the impression that American politics is some sort of reality-teleivision scam; and, yes, one might wonder at motives of those promoting such an outlook.
It is a measure of President Obama’s unbridled ego that in an election in which he is dragging his party down to defeat, he insists on reminding voters that those struggling to swim against the tide and away from him are really his supporters. In an interview with Al Sharpton (apparently the MSNBC audience and a sycophantic host provide the president a safe venue — or so he thought), Obama proclaimed: “A lot of the states that are contested this time are states that I didn’t win. And so some of the candidates there — it is difficult for them to have me in the state because the Republicans will use that to try to fan Republican turnout. The bottom line though is, these are all folks who vote with me, they have supported my agenda in Congress. . . . This isn’t about my feelings being hurt, these are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me.” He is absolutely correct; these are people who supported every major initiative and dutifully stuck with their majority leader. But why say it?
Why say it? Well, in the first place, the question was asked. In the second, it actually is a curious issue this year; President Obama has certain policy successes, yet Democrats are running away from them.
Okay, so this much is not apparent to Rubin. Is she actually paying any attention? Or is she merely, as we might already suspect, another shill? Another paid liar?
It would seem that her complaint is not that President Obama complicated things by lying, but that he somehow complicated things by honestly answering a question put to him by an interviewer.
For Rubin, this is all about President Obama. For other observers, this raises an interesting question: What is Jennifer Rubin so afraid of?
And speaking of the liberal base, Obama didn’t exactly carry his weight in motivating these voters. Hispanics, many analysts predict, will sit home. They are rightly annoyed that the president for six years (two with a Democratic House and Senate and four with an exaggerated sense of executive authority to act unilaterally) has promised immigration reform and consistently put it below other priorities.
Now, Democrats on the ballot can’t blame the president entirely. Ultimately, they voted for his policies that were unpopular back home. They put Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) at the helm and supported his do-nothing approach. They defended the defense cuts and backed the president’s about-face on Syria on the red line and premature pullout from Iraq. Their real complaint is that Obama won’t let the voters forget it.
Notice who is absent from Rubin’s consideration.
One wonders why Rubin wishes to criticize Obama’s policy prescriptions without observing the Republican role in all of this? After all, it is the Party that so disdains governing that it should hope to drown government in the bathtub, and they have pretty much made a point of their refusal to govern for six years, now. Notice how she works her complaint about executive authority in there; in truth, her complaint that Obama merely “put [immigration reform] below other priorities” doesn’t pass the smell test, as it presumes Obama can do anything with his executive authority. As we all know, there is only so much he can do on his own, and with the immigration question outstanding, a war rising in the Middle East, and now a potential health crisis, Speaker Boehner sent the House of Representatives on vacation, and now we hear from Republicans in both houses that Congress should conduct no business during the lame-duck session.
And there is a subtle consideration; one can rightly question whether such a sleight is within Rubin’s faculties.
Note the bit about “President Obama’s unbridled ego”; she managed to work it into the first sentence. For partisans like Rubin, whose only creativity is invested in their craven desire to deceive, this is a necessary resuscitation; their prior Obama the Narcissist line died in ignominy over the weekend. This, apparently, was all Rubin could come up with.
The greatest value of Jennifer Rubin’s analyses is their self-reflection. As she is criticizing her own fantasies insted of reality, we catch some fleeting glimpses of the mirror in which she sees herself.
And no, the reflection ain’t pretty.
Which is all well and fine insofar as there is no pretty in politics.
We ought not be surprised by the moral ugliness Jennifer Rubin shows; it would seem ugly is all she has left, and might well be all she ever had to begin with.
Alterman, Eric. “The Washington Post’s Problem”. The Nation. 16-23 July 2012.
Maloy, Simon. “WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin Admits She Misled Her Readers”. Media Matters for America. 7 November 2012.
Rubin, Jennifer. “Obama is scaring women”. The Washington Post. 20 October 2014.
—————. “Is Obama trying to sink fellow Democrats?” The Washington Post. 21 October 2014.
Wilstein, Matt. “Rachel Maddow: Maybe Democrats ‘Don’t Deserve to Win’ in Midterms”. Mediaite. 17 October 2014.