NYT's Harwood Cracks on NYT Editor Sam Tanenhaus: 'The Death of Liberalism?'

MSNBC host and NYT contributor John Harwood interviews influential Sunday section editor Sam Tanenhaus about the Republican win in Massachusetts and jests about the title of Tanenhaus's recent book "The Death of Conservatism."
MSNBC host and New York Times contributor John Harwood (gently) mocked Times editor Sam Tanenhaus on MSNBC Friday afternoon when discussing the shocking Republican win last week in Massachusetts. (You can watch the exchange below.)

In a segment called "Sunday Times Early Delivery," Tanenhaus was on board to plug his upcoming Sunday front-page Week in Review piece, "The Crescendo of the Rally Cry," in which Tanenhaus, editor of two Sunday sections, the Week in Review and the Book Review, attempted to argue that despite the haymaker landed by Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, the Republican establishment may find itself in the Tea Party's crosshairs as well. It's becoming quite a common exercise in liberal wishful thinking in the Times and other liberal media organs.

Sam Tanenhaus: "Well John, I'm actually writing a story about it. I don't know if that good news for our readers, but it's got me thinking a lot about it, and one thing I'm struck -

John Harwood (interrupting): "- is it called 'The Death of Liberalism'?"

That's a clear crack at Tanenhaus's slanted 2009 book, the prematurely titled "The Death of Conservatism." Tanenhaus laughed, then rapidly detoured into a more amenable Democratic talking point:

Tanenhaus: "Well, you know, maybe not so fast. Here's my question: Did anyone pay attention to what [Republican Sen.] Linsday Graham said? It's in our paper, in a story by Carl Hulse. Here you have a conservative, moderate-to-conservative Republican wins in the Bluest state in the Union, right? A seat controlled by Democrats, as you know, since 1952. And Lindsey Graham says, conservatives in red states shouldn't think it can't happen to them. Now why would he say that? Well it's partly this idea of populist outrage against whoever is in office. But also, John, he's looking at the Tea Partiers. These are insurgents. And there's a long history of that in the conservative movement and specifically the Republican Party. These are people whose enemy are not liberals, not people on the left, but people within their own party they don't think are ideologically sound. And Lindsay Graham has come under attack. So have some others; Charlie Crist in Florida. So I think some in the Republican establishment are concerned about this."

The premise captured in the title of Tanenhaus's book "The Death of Conservatism" went unmentioned in his Week in Review piece, which featured a large picture from Spokane, Wash of Tea Party supporters end of the caption finds Republicans imperiled: "The movement is making life difficult for the Republican establishment." The online head is blunter: "Making Sense of the New Political Anger." (Something the Times has been unable to do.) Tanenhaus, far from seeing a conservative revival, or at least a backlash against intrusive government, explained the Brown haymaker as a vague "populist uprising" driven by a pickup truck:

Like so many good narratives, political stories often unfold along simple lines but invite multiple, at times conflicting, interpretations.

And so it happened last week. First came the upset victory by Scott Brown, a Republican, in the special Senate election in Massachusetts, widely deemed a populist uprising and symbolized by the mile-weary pickup truck that became a feature of Mr. Brown's campaign.

Only two days later, the Supreme Court, in a more sweeping ruling than many expected, undid the bipartisan campaign finance reform of 2002, freeing corporations, labor unions and other organizations to spend unlimited sums at election time.

President Obama, taking up his own newfound populist theme, said the decision favored "powerful interests" that threaten to "drown out the voices of every day Americans."

Republicans countered that Democrats also have their moneyed backers - in Hollywood as well as in the drug companies that support Mr. Obama's imperiled health-care reform bill.

Either way, the two surprises highlighted a widening divide in American politics, exemplified by the Tea Party brigades who helped engineer Mr. Brown's victory and also by liberals who have been voicing their disillusionment with the first year of the Obama presidency.

Tanenhaus hinted at an emerging liberal theme he spelled out more directly on MSNBC: That Brown's victory could be a harbinger for Republican incumbents as well:

The result was the more ideologically unified party still intact in 2010, most obviously in Congress, where House Republicans have formed a rigid bloc and Senate Republicans have made the threat of a filibuster their instrument of obstruction - further honed, no doubt, by Scott Brown's victory on Tuesday.



And yet, even though they have steadily opposed Mr. Obama, these same Republicans are now under assault. The new insurgents accuse them of complicity with the administration in big-spending, big-government ways.

How did this happen? One explanation is that with so few moderates left, the only plausible targets for angry purists are conservatives tainted by the occasional heresy - someone like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who voted to confirm Justice Sonia Sotomayor, or Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, who endorsed Mr. Obama's stimulus package.