Pundit Elite Enraptured by Hillary's 'Flawless Campaign'

The satirical video short "Harlan McCraney, Presidential Speechalist" offers a comedic explanation of why George W. Bush comes off to many Americans as an inarticulate, even stupid politician. It's intentional: There's "a genius behind the stupidity" - speechalist McCraney (played by Andy Dick), a consultant who coaches Bush to come off as a misspoken, folksy everyman. So while many of us see an ill-equipped president not up to the job, there's McCraney, off-stage, exclaiming "Yes!" and pumping his fist in victory as Bush mangles the "Fool Me Once" aphorism. A similar dichotomy exists as many of us watch Hillary Clinton in TV interviews or Democratic debates. We see a politician vacillating to the point of self-parody, talking out of both sides of her mouth on issue after issue. "Her flat, monotonic voice lays out yards of opaque white gauze," observed Barbara Ehrenreich. "Where does she stand? Over here, and a little to the side, and maybe a few steps to the right." But that's not how elite pundits see it. Powerful media voices praise a "flawless campaign" and declare that Clinton has "won every debate." They enthuse that she's "never off-message" and "doesn't make mistakes." I imagine a bunch of Harlan McCraneys in the Clinton campaign, scripting her long-winded non-responses to please first and foremost the D.C. political press corps - with enough doubletalk to avoid offending the Democratic Party base. Democratic activists who want their party to forthrightly move the country toward peace and justice may be frustrated by Clinton's mumbo jumbo and non-answer answers, but the privileged, unelected (never term-limited) punditocracy finds those same answers to be brilliant. The reality is that Clinton and the pundit clique (with a spectrum from conservative Republican to conservative Democrat, from GE to GM) are largely in sync in holding positions that are not only unpopular among Democrats, but unpopular among the public at large. To obscure this reality, Clinton keeps issuing doubletalk, and corporate media keep cheering. Beltway pundits know that most of our country wants out of Iraq, and they seem to like it when Clinton offers the antiwar base rhetorical teases ("If we in Congress don't end this war by January 2009, as President, I will!") - while the laptop warriors in the media know damn well she'll prolong for years an occupation that none of their kids are dying in. National pundits - whose jobs can't be outsourced overseas - know that most of the public opposes corporate-written trade deals like NAFTA. They like it when Clinton deftly implies she may change course ("I believe in pro-American trade") - knowing full well that Clinton and her corporate backers are as blindly worshipful of "free trade" as they in the national press corps. Polls show that most Americans want government-provided national health insurance. Pundits applaud Clinton's cautious talk of incremental healthcare reform that keeps big bureaucratic private insurance firms at the center of the system, a status quo that will never work for most Americans but suits the well-insured pundit elite just fine. I know a bit about mainstream punditry, having been a talking head on cable news for years until I was muzzled on the eve of the Iraq War. While millions of Americans vocally opposed an invasion of Iraq, the few TV voices who supported those millions were marginalized or silenced. I spoke for a majority of Americans when I advocated national health insurance and opposed corporate trade deals - but within the pundit club, I was a fringe minority. Given the conservative tilt of the punditocracy, it doesn't surprise me that many in the media are seeking to anoint Clinton as the Democratic nominee, or that they (including at Fox News) tend to side with her in disputes with Edwards or Obama. I'm old enough to remember that while corporate media exploited and savaged (perhaps partly in envy) Bill Clinton's sexual misbehavior, they liked most of his appointees and policies -- especially his corporate-oriented "New Democratic" approach to economics. It will be up to grassroots Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire and other early states - not the 40 Wealthiest Pundits on Forbes' list - to determine their party's nominee. Democratic voters can choose to insulate themselves from media coronations and preferences, ignore distractions like Edwards' haircuts and Obama's missing American flag pin, and reject the prodding of a pundit elite that has been wildly wrong on everything from invading Iraq to the impact of NAFTA. If not, I'm glad I won't be backstage in Iowa next January to see the Harlan McCraneys in Hillary Clinton's camp high-fiving each other. Jeff Cohen is a media critic, author of "Cable News Confidential" and an advisory board member of Progressive Democrats of America.