There’s been so little feedback among rank and file voters that Reince Priebus, the Republican National chairman, might conclude that they aren’t as stupid as he appeared to believe.
Priebus is demanding that NBC abandon a planned dramatization of Hillary Clinton’s career, and that CNN scuttle a documentary it is assembling. Propaganda, Priebus called both programs, aimed at “promoting” a Clinton presidential campaign. If the two networks proceed, he vows, he won’t allow them to host any of the 2016 Republican presidential debates.
Little Sir Echo to Priebus, Arkansas GOP chair Doyle Webb, among other state chairs, chimed in, arguing that the two entities were “attempting to sway the opinions of voters by running puff-pieces about Hillary Clinton.”
Forget that neither program has yet been produced and thus that neither man, or anyone else, has been able to see them. Set aside that the election is, ahem, three years distant. And that threats, like censorship, are unbecoming of a serious political party. And that voters presumably would recognize puffery and rebel against it.
And — that Priebus and Webb might actually like the programs.
It helps to be either a political junkie or of a certain age — to consider the now legendary interview in which Sen. Edward Kennedy, in 1979, blew off one foot and three toes of the other, hobbling his presidential campaign months before it formally began.
Kennedy, at the apex of a Democratic left disenchanted with President Carter, had done everything preparatory to a candidacy save declare himself a candidate. CBS News decided a Kennedy documentary was in order and set correspondent Roger Mudd to work. There was no public protest from the Carter team, though surely it rankled; and it did raise eyebrows across the political-media landscape, as the Mudds were known to have socialized with Kennedy’s late brother Robert and his wife Ethel. Certainly there was no complaint from the GOP, delighted as it was by the prospect of short-term gains from a well-financed intra-party assault by a liberal icon against an incumbent president.
Those anticipating a “puff piece,” especially conservatives who long have considered CBS News the propaganda arm of the anti-Christ, saw something quite different.
Why do you want to be president? Mudd began the interview. Kennedy’s reply would enter the history books, to be studied, unto this day, by political consultants and everyone who wants to be president.
“Well, I’m — were I to make the announcement and to run, the reasons I would run is because I have a great belief in this country,” Kennedy began. “That it is — there’s more natural resources than any nation in the world; the greatest education population in the world; the greatest technology of any country in the world; the greatest capacity for innovation in the world; and the greatest political system in the world.”
A couple hundred words more followed — somebody counted — including, “uh”s, “er”s, “I means” and the like, and further punctuated by stammers and uncomfortable pauses. Kennedy concluded — finally: “It’s imperative for this country to either move forward, that it can’t stand still, or otherwise it moves backwards.”
As justification for dislodging a president, especially one of Kennedy’s own party, it was a devastatingly ineffective argument. The only claim to the White House that Camelot’s heir could even imply was that he somehow was entitled to it. When the broadcast aired Kennedy & Co. was appalled. Carter was delighted (understandably if prematurely) and the Republican establishment delirious. Even before the documentary took up Chappaquiddick and the senator’s rocky marriage Kennedy had cast himself as a dilettante, a pretender rather than a contender. His campaign never recovered.
As to Hillary Clinton and the documentary and the mini-series — there is no reason to believe she regards either with relish, and ample basis for suspecting she dreads both. Should they proceed into production they are not likely to enjoy her cooperation.
Both would necessarily delve into matters Candidate Hillary or even private citizen Hillary would rather be forgot — Benghazi being the latest, Whitewater the most annoying, “that woman” the most painful.
In fact Priebus is less interested in kneecapping his party’s strongest (at this point) potential opponent than mollifying his hard-right base, which has been unhappy with him since a report he commissioned on the GOP’s future early this year urged Republicans to be more inclusive, less the party of “no.” Thus far it hasn’t worked. Telling mainstream Republicans (and independents) they are too dumb to judge a television show for themselves is hardly a step toward “yes.”
As for NBC and CNN being in the tank — well, the former was the network that pursued Whitewater like a vendetta. And in a documentary only the other day CNN ripped the Obama administration (along with its shrillest GOP critics) over Benghazi; fair and balanced, you might say.
Besides, if the 2012 Republican debates were predictive, Priebus and Webb had best hope all of the ‘16 primary debates are blacked out.
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Steve Barnes is a native of Pine Bluff and host of Arkansas Week on AETN.