February 12, 2008
The David Shuster Lesson
By Mary Lyon
After years of drought, this is an historic election year. If ever there was a time to want to get into the game, 2008 is it. And David Shuster has to be kicking himself in his own head. Loose lips sure do sink ships, and sometimes at the most inconvenient moments.
This particular week's voting, the so-called "Potomac Primaries," is extremely significant. Obama's sweep of Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, may have been the unofficial clincher on the Democratic side. There are still many states remaining on the primary schedule, most noteably Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, but Obama's momentum at this point may be unbeatable.
He hasn't just won, he's won with significant margins of votes. He may have reached the state of unstoppability.
There's every likelihood from here on that he'll run the table, as demographic group after demographic group - unions, white men, blacks, many women, incomes 50-plus, incomes 50-minus, disgruntled Republicans and independents - scrambles onto Barack's bandwagon. It's not over for Hillary Clinton, but the path ahead for her is steep and bumpy at best. Same thing for the hapless John McCain who is wooing his own people with so-so results. He carried all three states, also, even if many Republicans held their noses as they voted for him. Besides, that annoying latter-day Gomer, Mike Huckabee, is digging his heels into his beloved Flat Earth and refusing to be a good little boy and give up and go home.
For any political junkie, THIS is The Year of Years. Just a really awful time to get benched. And so it is for David Shuster.
What strikes me as a sad irony is that David Shuster seems to be taking the fall for Chris Matthews at MSNBC - and maybe a whole lot of others, too.
David Shuster was yanked off the air after making a careless and tasteless remark about Chelsea Clinton - wondering aloud on camera whether her parents "pimping" her for her mom's campaign. OUCH. Make no mistake, he didn't mean the kind of Cinderella makeover pimping that rapper-host Xzibit showcases on "Pimp My Ride." Shuster was not referring to giving Chelsea a makeover. It was that OTHER "pimping" reference he was using. It was MOST unwelcome and uncalled for. Hillary Clinton reacted as an angry mom, firing off an irate letter to the NBC brass demanding that Shuster be punished, and that all such sordid verbal slaps be stopped. I'm solidly with her on this. I, too, am fed up with the never-ending verbal abuse, and I'd feel that way even if I didn't have a daughter also. Does anybody remember that kind of smart-ass crack being uttered, by anyone on TV or radio, about the five pampered, healthy, young Romney boys? Has anybody said such a crass thing about Caroline Kennedy this year, the Kerry daughters four years ago, or the spoiled, arrogant Bush princess-poseurs four years before that? For some reason, if it has a Clinton involved, it's fair game for the meat cleaver and a nice acid bath. By now, America has had to endure more than SIXTEEN YEARS of Clinton bashing. From the wrong-wing pundit class and hate radio, spurred by Rush Limbaugh and his many clones, and Pox Noise, a compliantly obedient mainstream media took its cues and its marching orders from the conservative corner from the very beginning, and like well-trained Pavlovian dogs carried the ball all the way to the bitter end zone. For crying out loud, we haven't reached our quota by now?
I think David Shuster "died for all their sins." Unfortunately, the obnoxious, slobbering, juvenile, testosterone-obsessed Matthews doesn't have to pay nearly as high a price. Chris Matthews could use a sobering lesson far more than Shuster does. I'm one of those who thinks the airwaves would be a LOT better off without him cluttering them up. Mediamatters.org decided enough was enough several weeks ago after Matthews' loutish blubberings that Clinton's original New York Senate victory was nothing more than a "pity vote" because her husband had screwed around on her. Enough of an uproar erupted in its wake that Matthews was forced to open his show with a prolonged mea culpa - about how he really liked the Clintons and Hillary in particular and had said plenty of nice things about her and didn't really believe that she hadn't earned her election wins in her own right. I was appalled by that impudent, insulting dismissal, myself, and I was among many who sent email complaints to Matthews, "Hardball," and NBC News executives. It was just another slap in the face - the latest in a list of what seems like millions. I'm sympathetic to Hillary Clinton for the nearly non-stop drubbing she's had to endure - for the better part of two decades. Her voice can't even break for a second-and-a-half without critics piling on, making crying noises, and honking for weeks like constipated geese. For crying out loud! Some people just have this nearly irrational hatred and distrust of her. How deep their insecurity must pierce How threatened they must be! It's hard for me to understand. It makes me wonder just how shaky the emotional or psychological ground is upon which they stand. How else do you explain it?
I'm certain this column will provoke a lot of flame wars from First Amendment stalwarts - that anybody should be free to say whatever they think and the suppression of free speech includes that very kind of speech you find most offensive. They'll point out that David Shuster is being unfairly disciplined, and for relatively small potatoes. The P.C. Busters I'm sure are up in arms about this, too - heaven forbid we cramp our style about the Clintons - are we really supposed to tiptoe around every mention of them? We can't take potshots if we feel like it, and we're not allowed to aim as far below the belt as we dare? Hey, it's a free country, isn't it?
I support the Freedom of Speech, but it would be refreshing to see that freedom leavened just a little - and through personal self-control. Call it humanity, maybe. We've GOT to be better than this. I'm frankly sick to death of hearing the minute-by-minute drumbeat of negativity and hostility toward all things Clinton. It makes me want to vote for Hillary, just out of spite (even though, in the interest of full disclosure, I punched the card for Barack in the California primary). Yes, Hillary Clinton is a big girl, and nobody forced her to jump into this with both feet. Chelsea, too, is a big girl, no longer a shy teen whose high-profile parents were adamant about protecting her privacy. But even when she was younger, a noncombatant, she was still a target. That "nice" John McCain himself once joked at her expense while her dad was president, about how ugly she was - because Janet Reno was really her father. Cute one, John. Simply adorable. What a big man you certainly must be, picking on a little girl with undignified and repulsive cheap shots like that. What's the matter? Don't have anybody your own size to kick around? McCain eventually found himself swallowing a similar barb when his own little girl, his dark-skinned adopted daughter from Bangladesh, was smeared by rumor-mongering character assassins from the Bush camp as his illegitimate child. Stunningly, he never rose up to express outrage, or file a complaint, or make a stink. I can't wait to hear what the next generation of heartless, ruthless swiftboaters has in store for Barack Obama's two little girls. I'm sure they'll be fair game, too, but it sure seems as though the Clintons suffer the most of it.
Perhaps David Shuster IS being singled out. It's unfortunate because he's already deservedly distinguished as one of the more impartial, thorough and respected reporters working. But he's also good enough and smart enough to know better. This stuff simply has to stop. I suspect some of us may have hoped that when Don Imus lost his job for his gaffe against Rutgers University's women's basketball team, it would have served as a cautionary tale for other talking heads to try a little decency for a change. I guess the on-air blow that's a little too low is destined to keep jumping out at us from some careless mouth at uneven intervals, leaving someone to take the fall for it. Well, so be it. Maybe media people need reminding every so often that there actually are consequences for missteps sometimes. I don't think it would hurt anyone or anything if we could call a moratorium on this sport of verbal snipers for awhile. Preferably a long while.
It just needs to stop. We're poised, as a country, to elevate the first African-American politician in our history to the highest-level job competition in the land. That prospect should signal to all of us, and to the rest of the world watching us, that we've finally grown up and grown out of our centuries-long prejudices and our smallness. Why can't we grow up in our discourse also? Or will David Shuster be the only one of us who learns anything this time?