Friday, July 31, 2009

Field of Schemes: A Glimpse at the Neocon Playbook

Occasionally, we get an IM, an email or read a comment saying, "That might have gone a bit far." For instance, Ezra Klein's recent deconstruction of Megan McArdle in the Washington Post tonally paralleled a lot of what Mr. Awesome had to say about her column, and some readers reacted as if Klein had been infected with a kind of political rabies. One can only imagine their reaction had they read our piece here. Probably something on the order of setting fire to this portion of the internet to prevent the contagion from spreading.

We're not insensitive or insensible to such criticism. Admittedly, sometimes snide jabs here veer wide of the mark or hit it with a viciousness that's perhaps inappropriate. For some time now, I've regretted saying that, "Glenn Beck is such a glutinous wad of overfed white Americana that he looks like 185 pounds of lard and bull semen poured into a 5-foot 8-inch man-shaped condom." Condom was all kinds of wrong. I should have said "tapeworm."

Joking aside, sometimes the content excoriates individuals, but despite whatever attempts I make at handwringing, I can't bring myself to feel much shame or dismay at it. The targets of that acidity willfully fabricate evidence, often in service of ideas that can bring direct harm to people. Mr. Awesome flayed McArdle's column, but the column itself was like watching Harry Lime in The Third Man explaining his indifference to the specks of humanity on the ground, then interrupting his impious sermonizing to shout through a megaphone at them that his defrauding them and their being prey to indifferent death is to their benefit. Whatever I may say about Glenn Beck cannot elide that the man has stood in front of The Alamo and fetishized it as a symbol of armed insurrection, lionized a man who shot minorities in the back and killed them, then turned to his audience with a wink and a smirk that looks like it was carved out of a bucket of Country Crock, as if to say, "I'm just thinking out loud! I'm not advocating anything. By the way, the President is a Fascist because he is a Communist, like Hitler. You know what to do, gang!"

It's nearly impossible to be washed over with guilt at unkind words when these people so readily just make shit up, then couple it with equally unkind words intended to demonize the people they're already misrepresenting with contrived evidence. To give you an example of how thorough and pervasive this is, how arrogantly false it is, how almost proudly full of crap the sort of people we occasionally assail are, take baseball.

On July 14, President Obama threw out the first pitch at the All-Star Game. I wrote up an extensive live-blog of the telecast, including Obama's first pitch, and you can get a fair idea of how shabby much of the coverage was. But to give you a fair idea of how much delight these people take in just wildly distorting things, let's look at how the National Review's Andrew McCarthy — not the actor, the conservative attorney who bends over backwards to defend torture and print Birther materialdescribed Obama's pitch, and break down his article FireJoeMorgan-style.

Though it's not a widely appreciated fact, we right-winger sports nuts have long known that the sports press is among the media's leftiest precincts.
Here he just makes shit up right out of the gate. No citation, not even token handwaving. It's just MEDIA=LIBERAL suddenly oriented to sports for no reason other than that McCarthy happens to be writing about sports right now. I'm sure the political orientation of some sportswriters matters to Andrew McCarthy, but nobody else in America knows where most sportswriters fall along the political spectrum because nobody fucking cares.

(Quick: think of the most political sportswriter in America. You pictured George Will, didn't you? Not only someone who isn't a sportswriter but someone whose writing about sports manages to suck all the joy out of them. The only thing remotely interesting about Will's baseball writing is placing his exaltation of the virtues of the sacrifice bunt "for the good of the whole team" against his describing tax hikes on the rich as bizarre and incomprehensible — then laughing and laughing and laughing.)

A pitcher might hurl the ball lefty, but there's no liberal way to throw a baseball, and because of that, the word doesn't get mentioned. Even if the sporting press were somehow all liberal, it never comes out, despite ballplayers being overwhelmingly conservative. How do all these lefty political animals manage to resist the opportunity to mock a bunch of rich, stupid men standing around a room naked after every ballgame?

So I suppose we shouldn't be surprised at how little was said (as in nothing at all) about the reception President Obama received last night when he came out on the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the baseball all-star game in St. Louis. It was a packed house (over 50,000 in attendance), and the jeers were easily discernible.
The reasons nothing was said are easily discernible, too, which immediately disqualifies them from appearing in McCarthy's column:
1. St. Louis' baseball rival team is the Chicago Cubs, and while antipathy is mostly directed at that team, St. Louis fans hate Chicago in general. This rivalry goes back decades. Obama is from Chicago. Obama stood on the mound wearing a Chicago White Sox jersey. In St. Louis. In the ballpark for the St. Louis baseball team. He is a man from Chicago wearing a Chicago jersey in the home stadium of people who hate Chicago.

Missouri's a really white state.
McCarthy doesn't want to go after a solidly red state on anything like political grounds, so it's obvious why he ignores point number two and wouldn't think to suggest that a state with ten counties with fewer than ten black people in them might just boo the darkie on a generally racist principle. But ignoring point number one is just stupid. He opens the column by identifying himself as a sports nut, then deliberately omits any mention of arguably the third most famous and well-established rivalry in the history of baseball. (Red Sox-Yankees and Giants-Dodgers being the other two.) Either he knows nothing about sports, knows nothing like what he claims to know about sports, or he's being a disingenuous ass by deliberately omitting the most basic evidence that torpedoes the point he most desires were real: that everyone booing Obama hates Obama for political reasons. In order for there to be something like a conspiracy of silence about the Obama boos, the boos must be politically motivated, and not the sort of team-spirit booing that would get, say, any famous New Yorker booed for throwing out the first pitch in Boston.

That's what made the booing all the more noticeable to anyone — other than a sports journalist — who heard it.
Again, McCarthy has to enforce the idea that sports journalists are somehow complicit in a deliberate cover-up because otherwise anyone reading this might come to the conclusion that a sports journalist would recognize the boos for Obama coming from the fact that he's a famous Chicagoan wearing a Chicago jersey in the town of Chicago's arch-rivals and say, "Big fucking deal."

The media fawning really is so shameless it's become self-parody. Take ESPN, for example.
Take it to the bridge. Take it to the river. Take it to the limit, and take it out back and shoot it. Just take it somewhere away from this column where it's providing a needless distraction by being completely devoid of significance. McCarthy doesn't fork over a single link or name a single example, because he wants readers to think that the evidence is so overwhelming that simply naming the network is as good as naming a single fact. He needs to suggest that the data is so self-evident because actually looking at the data would reveal his point's total absurdity. ESPN talks about the "it" thing all the time, because it sells pop-culture as much as it sells sports. It's an "it" network, and Obama's still one of the biggest "it" things in mainstream consciousness. Implying that their namedropping Obama counts as some kind of endorsement falls apart when you realize that these same standards prove that ESPN is in the tank for the Octo-Mom. Indeed, by these standards, ESPN's a neocon paradise in favor of murdering people at Guantanamo Bay because every time they show a clip of a home run being robbed at the fence, someone quotes A Few Good Men and yells, "You want me on that wall. You NEED me on that wall!"

Put aside the unacknowledged booing for a moment. The other embarrassing fact is that my six-year-old throws a baseball better (far better, in fact) than Obama.
Here's another "fact" that probably isn't, and that McCarthy will never prove.

Yet the media went out of its way to obscure that, too —
Here McCarthy refers to the abominable shaky-cam aspect of FOX's coverage, which I described thus:
His form is awkward, and FOX is too busy doing their funky everything-but-what-is-on-the-field-is-important camera bullshit to let us see where he threw the fucking ball. Cue another off angle. No idea yet if it was a strike. At the risk of being completely obvious, FOX fucks up everything. You don't need any dynamism for presidential first pitches. You just have a dude stand back there and hold a camera. Instead, FOX seems to have hired a meth head suffering peripheral neuropathy to do his best Paul Greengrass imitation and told him, "Look, at any minute, Jason Bourne is going to start punching the president."
Again, McCarthy describes himself as a "sports nut" in the very first line of his column, most probably to obscure the fact that his whole column is basically a pathetically thin excuse to deride Obama, yet his commentary gives the lie to either his self-description or his argument. Serious baseball fans hate FOX. They clutter up the screen with graphics and seem determined to cover anything but the game itself. They used to take time away from action on the field to show people an animated baseball with wings flying over the plate to demonstrate how a curveball or slider or changeup works. They frequently come back to commercial after the first pitch of the side of an inning, and often even after the ball has already been put in play or someone has made an out. FOX is so generally incompetent at baseball that it seems anathema to them. So either McCarthy is nothing like a serious sports nut at all, or he's again deliberately ignoring the simplest explanation in order to confabulate some sinister liberal motive from the FOX network.

no doubt wishing to avoid unfavorable comparisons to the strike President Bush famously fired from the mound at Yankee Stadium at the 2001 World Series.
There's a delicious consistency in this comment. Neoconservatives seem to adore Bush's presidency solely for pitches. There's Yankee stadium in 2001 and the entire sale of the Iraq war from 2002-2003. McCarthy, like the lot of them, enjoys making this earthy dig on Bush's behalf. He's a man's man, not some limp-wristed liberal. The president you'd want a beer with. Clears brush. Throws baseballs. Now watch this drive.

Of course, to give this comparison any weight, McCarthy has to ignore obvious evidence again. After the first pitch, Obama joined the announcer's booth and admitted that he stopped playing baseball when he was a kid, and that he turned all his attention to basketball. Obama admits, hey, he just wasn't that into it. McCarthy doesn't acknowledge this, because nobody is going to be the least bit surprised to learn that a man who stopped playing baseball at 10 throws a pitch with less accuracy than a man who loves baseball and owned a Major League Baseball team. This kind of deck stacking is critical to the hearty man's man image so beloved by neoconservatives, and is why the fact that Obama's a baller will get dropped like a hot rock the next time a republican who can't dunk (all of them) gets elected. The comparison always has to be uneven to keep the conservative machismo mystique alive. Take a guy who's basically never bowled (Obama) and compare him to someone who put a bowling lane in the White House (Nixon). Gerald Ford was an all-star for the Michigan Wolverines. You know who couldn't make a flying tackle to save his life? Franqueer Delanope Rosenfag.

Now, take a look at this clip from, about 24 seconds in. It's the only decent footage I've seen, and it shows that Obama's first pitch did bounce.
There's nothing I can do to make fun of this. McCarthy goes on about ESPN's "laughable coverage" of Obama's first pitch and how they said the pitch didn't bounce, then links to footage of the pitch not bouncing and says it bounced. There's no Zapruder film, no back-and-to-the-left movement, no grain. He literally just links you to footage of one thing and tells you it's something else. This must be the neoconservative Noble Lie I've heard so much about — the Straussian notion that the stupid herds of humanity will be too distracted by things like shiny facts and sparkly dispositive proof, and that good, earthy baseball-throwing conservatives who own ranchland will occasionally just have to make shit up to get America on the right track about the important matters. Obama can't throw a pitch. Throw everyone in Guantanamo, bomb Iran to a sheet of glass and burn down the welfare state because a ball that stayed in flight until it reached a glove bounced on the ground and threw up liberal clods of failure dirt because I said so.

In fact, the pitch did not even reach home-plate — and they evidently knew it wouldn't. The player who was sent out to catch Obama's pitch (more on that in a moment) was crouching on top of home plate, not behind it where catchers always set up. And even so, he had to reach out a couple of feet in order to short-hop the ball, which otherwise might have bounced all the way to the backstop. Now, about that player who caught Obama's pitch: It was none other than the Cardinals' great first-baseman, Albert Pujols. What does that matter? Well, the tradition is that the first pitch is tossed to the catcher, not the first-baseman — and, in fact, the starting catcher for the National League last night was the Cardinals' own Yadier Molina. But while Molina is popular, Pujols is like God in St. Louis (in fact, a fan in the stands either last night or the night before was holding a banner that said, "In Albert We Trust").
Self-proclaimed sports nut Andrew McCarthy has somehow never seen a ceremonial first pitch in his life. Sometimes the catchers stand straight on home plate and don't bother to crouch. Sometimes it's not even a catcher doing the catching. Sometimes you get the entire starting lineup out there to catch nine balls thrown by nine ladies from a hospice, and the balls go everywhere and nearly thunk a player in the face. Moreover, McCarthy has ignored that even major league pitchers whose job it is to throw a ball with perfect accuracy sometimes have things called wild pitches that go nowhere near the plate. Yet, in order to sustain his fantasy of an Obama conspiracy, he has to rely on the absurd notion that Obama has enough discipline as a hurler to throw the ball the exact same distance every time, and that the ball would not veer left or right or sail over Pujols' head. In order for McCarthy's claim to at all make sense, the Obama staff had to know that Obama would fail with such repeatable precision that the ball would always fall a few feet short of the plate and require a regular player — not a catcher — to catch it, because a catcher would be obliged to squat down and thus would be unable to step forward and rescue Obama's ignominious pitch from hitting the dirt exactly where it would always hit the dirt.

Also, for those scoring Occam's Razor at home, the entities multiplied needlessly for this master conspiracy to take form now include:
A FOX Sports director who knows to cut to shaky cam to obscure Obama's pitch.
A FOX Sports cameraman who knows to get a tactical case of palsy before the presidential first pitch.
Albert Pujols, a non-catcher, to be able to stand up and rescue Obama's first pitch.
A magic pitch from Barack Obama that fails with exact regularity.
A crafty and alert Obama staffer who put all this together and managed to keep it from leaking.
A complicit media, every member of which, except the redoubtable Andrew McCarthy, would work to hide the truth.
It's like McCarthy accepts that the moon landing occured but believes Neil Armstrong lied about his lunar golf swing. No, it's worse than that: it's like Watergate, except they got away with it. No, scratch that. Still not dire enough.

It's like all those State Troopers Clinton had murdered because they had proof he'd had sex once.

I think Obama's people knew he would get a very mixed reaction last night. His entrance was shrewdly orchestrated. The cheers and boos started as soon as he came onto the field, but he was steered immediately over to shake hands with Stan Musial — the most beloved player in the history of the Cardinals. No true St. Louis fan would boo Satan if he was shaking hands with Stan the Man. The president then went straight to the mound, where today's Stan the Man, the great Pujols, took good care of him — quickly embracing Obama right after making sure his heave looked borderline respectable . . . with a little help from the cameras. Finally, Obama moved was ushered quickly over to the third-base line, where Cardinal legends Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, and Lou Brock (among others) were there to share warm-handshakes.
Here's where McCarthy's conspiracy makes the least sense, and why he deliberately avoids mentioning anything about the Chicago team jacket Obama is wearing. Take all those entities cited in the bullet points above. Add to them Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock and others. McCarthy's entire thesis rests on the idea that the Obama team shrewdly acknowledged all the factors I named, recognized the necessity of adding this wall of celebrities, yet somehow sent the president out there wearing the jersey, not of the home team, but of a team hailing from St. Louis' arch-rival city. They had the wit, foresight and presence of mind to plan all these other factors to minimize boos, yet sent him out there wearing the colors of a hated team from a hated city instead of having him wear a Pujols replica jersey to shamelessly generate a cheap crowd pop. The only way they could mastermind a fuckup more comprehensive would be if they had sent Obama to speak at Notre Dame while carrying a bible and being marched in by a platoon of Archbishops while overlooking the fact that he dressed himself up in an EAT AT JOE's sandwich board with "ABORTION IS PRETTY AWESOME" flashing intermittently on the front and back.

This is why McCarthy has to bury and fabricate evidence to make his point, because anything like a reasonable or objective glance at any makes it implode under the weight of its own stupidity. If we take McCarthy's own words at face value, that he's a serious sports nut, we can only conclude that he's a colossal moron about baseball or a disingenuous liar looking to marshal any tactic or tatter of reality to advance a nebulous point that Barack Obama is a bad president because he "can't throw ball good." It's up to you which conclusion is more probable.

In the box score, as reported by the Obamedia/Sports Division, it will read like a standing-O for The One as he hurled a bull's-eye before strutting off to warm waves of adulation. If you were watching, though, Obama looked like the guy who bowled a 37.
I'm going with the latter.

If there's any joy to be taken in McCarthy's contemptible essay, it's that soon perhaps his theory of an All-Star Game coverup will gain mainstream traction, and The Pitchers will join The Teabaggers as the second fringe conservative group named after gay sex terminology.