Political Animal


October 30, 2012 5:11 PM Barone To the World: I’m Right No Matter What!

By Ed Kilgore

Watching the slow but steady decline of Michael Barone into partisan hackdom has been one of the sadder phenomena of my career in politics (certainly since 1976, when I bought and devoured my first Almanac of American Politics). Barone actually complained to my boss when I wrote an review of the 2006 Almanac noting that his hackish tendencies were beginning to infect that totemic publication, which he co-founded. But Barone can still occasionally muster the energy to do some research, and his punditry, while predictable, usually features at least an aroma of empirical evidence.

I don’t know what to make of his big pre-election column for the Financial Times. It grinds a big ax against the standard historians of the New Deal about popular support for FDR’s agenda, by way of predicting happily that the New Deal Era has finally ended once and for all no matter what happens on November 6:

A Romney victory would refute the lesson taught by the New Deal historians. A narrow Obama victory - and no one expects him to run as well as he did in 2008 - would also undermine it, since he has based his campaign largely on his opponent’s deficiencies. The

[L]ast time a Democratic president won another term as a proud exponent of bigger government was in 1964. Of the three Democratic presidents since, Jimmy Carter was defeated for re-election, and Bill Clinton won only by shifting towards the centre after Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994. Mr Obama chose not to do so. That may prove to be a losing bet, not just for Mr Obama, but for the narrative of the New Deal historians.

This manages to get Carter, Clinton and Obama wrong, in one paragraph, which is what it takes to make the claim that the Great Conservative Reaction to the New Deal has actually been the people’s choice since 1936 (or maybe 1934, based on how you interpret Barone’s murky writing on the subject). This maneuver requires that Barone accuse Obama of taking office as a crazy lefty, getting even crazier after 2010, before suddenly repudiating his entire legacy in a frantic effort to survive. That way, the column can arrive at its intended destination of showing that no small variable like the outcome of the actual election can disturb Barone’s sweeping interpretation of American politics over the last three-quarters-of-a-century or so.

You’d almost think Barone is just talking to himself. That’s probably an occupational hazard when the smartest guy in the room takes the easy way out and signs up for the team where interest in honest analysis is limited.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Rich on October 30, 2012 5:15 PM:

    Barone is such a lost cause that even the wingnut don't seem to really embrace him. They have enough of their own homegrown hacks. I would focus more on obvious upcoming hacks like Ezra Klein and mostly offering only occasional scorn and snark in the direction of someone like Barone.

  • Basilisc on October 30, 2012 5:53 PM:

    Barone's hackish tendencies were apparent well before 2006.

    I remember the 1992 AAP (because it's the last one I ever read). The analysis was mostly structured along the lines of who supported GHWBush's Gulf War resolution in late 1990, and who opposed it. Opponents of the war (mostly Democrats, of course, including Ed's old friend Sam Nunn) had shown themselves to be woefully out of touch and headed for political oblivion. Supporters of the war (mostly Republicans, of course) were lionized. He really went over the top in his profile of Cong. Bob Dornan of California, whom most of us remember as a wild-eyed kook but whom Barone saw as presidential timber.

    As I said, after that I stopped reading the AAP. Barone has just gotten worse since.

  • cwolf on October 30, 2012 6:03 PM:

    I used to occasionally watch a tacky talk program called the McLaughlin Report (or something like that).
    It frequently co-featured a fat clown called Barone (or something like that).
    Is this the same idiot you are talking about?

  • TT on October 30, 2012 6:07 PM:

    I wouldn't exactly characterize Barone's "decline" into the bowels of conservative fever swampism as "slow but steady". He's been a rightwing jackass for 20 years now. He was virulently hateful toward Bill Clinton and Al Gore, lavishly worshipped George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, vocally supported the Iraq War, torture, warrantless wiretapping, and the Bush tax cuts, wants war with Iran, is a predictable geyser of slander and viciousness toward Barack Obama, and so on and so forth.

    However, 2006 does stand out for one reason: that's the year in which he wrote an especially disgusting column in the wake of Joe Lieberman's primary loss to Ned Lamont, in which he declared that Lamont voters were, for all intents and purposes, not Americans and wanted al Qaeda to defeat us.

    He's an odious, lying twerp. And has been for a long time now.

  • Gorilla Meek on October 30, 2012 6:43 PM:

    I'm a someone who thinks Obama will do as well as 2008 in the popular vote, less well in the electoral college (over 300, but under 365).

    Hispanics and women will be coming out big time for Barack, the former's always been undercounted and the latter's not going to put up with a rollback to back alley abortion and no contraception.

    And Sandy shows our President in the best possible light: a competent non-liar who represents everyone, not just the semi-illuminated fat cats on Wall Street.

  • gyrfalcon on October 31, 2012 1:22 AM:

    Ed, Barone came out as a hack rapidly in 1996, which you may or may not remember as the year Fox News Channel arrived. He was immediately snapped up as a frequently appearing guest (or "contributor" or whatever) and quickly descended into frank hackdom.

    Fox does that to people. The echo chamber is all-encompassing, and conservatives who at one time had a tiny bit of sense lose it quickly in that alternate universe.

  • Don Lowell on October 31, 2012 9:14 PM:

    Poor man is on the skids allright. Ditto Lawrence Kudlow. Two peas in a pod.