Klein at it again, claiming conservatives “happily chase converts,” while liberals “hunt down heretics”

Time columnist Joe Klein continued his pattern of denigrating liberals while praising conservatives, this time reviving a quote from Washington Post columnist Michael Kinsley who, in purporting to characterize politics in the 1980s, said that while “liberals hunt down heretics ... conservatives happily chase converts.” However, in 1996, Klein used the same Kinsley quote but argued that "[i]t's been the opposite in the '90s."

In a June 3 Time.com online column, Joe Klein, Time magazine's "most liberal commentator," continued his pattern of denigrating liberals while praising conservatives. This time, Klein revived a quote from Washington Post columnist Michael Kinsley who, in purporting to characterize politics in the 1980s, said that while “liberals hunt down heretics ... conservatives happily chase converts.” Citing Kinsley, Klein questioned whether Democrats in Virginia could accept a nontraditional Democratic candidate for Senate: James H. Webb, a former Republican and former secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan. However, in 1996, Klein used the same Kinsley quote but argued that "[i]t's been the opposite in the '90s" from the '80s -- Klein said then that “Democrats have spent most of the ['90s] trying to prove their moderation.” In his June 12 column, Klein made no mention of his opposite assessment in the '90s, nor did he provide any support for his apparent assessment that liberals and Democrats have reverted to their purported posture from the '80s. Moreover, he ignored current examples of conservatives who also “hunt down” their own “heretics.”

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, recently endorsed Webb.

Klein cited Kinsley as the originator of the aphorism that “liberals hunt down heretics” while “conservatives happily chase converts.” In his November 4, 1996, Time column, Klein used the same Kinsley quote to claim the opposite was true:

In the '80s, Michael Kinsley has noted, liberals looked “for heretics, while conservatives looked for converts.” It's been the opposite in the '90s. Democrats have spent most of the decade trying to prove their moderation (Clinton's first two years were an exception, for which Democrats were justly punished in 1994), while Republicans decided to pose as “revolutionaries.” GOP presidential candidates spent the 1996 primary season working overtime to establish their ideological purity, desperately denying any smidgen of moderation. It's been a disaster. If you want a good sense of what the public doesn't want to hear, just listen to Newt Gingrich -- not the positions he takes, many of which are entirely reasonable, but the way he takes them. He reeks of anger.

And then listen to Bill Clinton. He has worked overtime trying to establish his ideological impurity. He's taken some less than honorable positions, like his demagogic opposition to GOP Medicare reductions, but he has offered them softly, as a moderate antidote to the extremism Republicans have worked so hard, and so stupidly, to profess. He's had the luxury of no primary battle, of not having to pander to his party's left wing. And the public mood has played to his natural strength: last week there was extraordinary film of Clinton listening intently as a young woman, tears streaming, harangued him about partial-birth abortions. Then, with an arm draped over her shoulder, he responded. I don't know what the president said, but it wasn't nearly as important as the listening that came before it. The scene ended with a grateful, spontaneous hug from the woman. If there's a better metaphor for what has happened this year, I can't think of it.

Klein now says that Democrats and liberals act the same toward “heretics” as they did in the '80s, though he provides no support for the claim and ignores substantial evidence that conservatives and Republicans also “hunt down heretics.” A gathering of conservatives known as the "Wednesday Meeting" has reportedly served as a focal point for coordinating many conservative causes and groups, including the White House. Part of that coordination included identifying and attacking “errant Republicans,” as The Washington Post reported on January 12, 2004:

Coordination, though, assumes cooperation. For those who do not cooperate, [Americans for Tax Reform president Grover] Norquist plays enforcer. Democrats are “bad guys,” but errant Republicans are “evil.” When the House voted to pass school vouchers in September, Norquist growled, “Who voted wrong on that?” A Hill staff member distributed the Republican blacklist. On the Internet access tax vote, he targeted two Republican senators from Tennessee and Ohio: “We're trying to get [Lamar] Alexander and [George] Voinovich to behave. Any advice appreciated.”

When Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) tried to pass a state tax increase, Norquist helped defeat it. “We're going to keep him on life support,” he said. “We'll put him in a freezer, as an example.” He gave the Alabama state party chairman an award for opposing the hike. Instead of a plaque, Norquist sent him a sword with a steel blade. Even presidents have felt his wrath. Norquist first organized the Wednesday meetings in 1993 to galvanize opposition to Bill Clinton's health care plan. He keeps a rubber stamp by his desk, “Find Him and Kill Him.” Near it, he has taped a yellowing scrap on which he had written: “Oct. 12, 1987. Bush: 'I won't raise your taxes, period.' ” Norquist still condemns the first President Bush for breaking that promise.

Recently, conservatives have also fielded primary challengers against incumbent Republicans who they felt were not conservative enough. For example, in 2004, Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) challenged Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) with the aid of the conservative Club for Growth. In its endorsement of Toomey, the Club for Growth wrote that a vote for Toomey over Specter “would send a powerful message to the Republican in Name Only (”RINO") Republicans that your time has come and gone." Toomey received 49 percent of the primary vote to Specter's 51 percent. According to an April 28, 2004, Associated Press report, the Club for Growth listed Specter as its No. 1 target that year and spent almost $2 million dollars trying to unseat him. Other conservatives, such as Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and President Bush, campaigned and supported Specter against Toomey's challenge. The Club for Growth's political action committee is currently backing conservative Steve Laffey's bid to oust Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) in a September 2006 primary.

Despite being Time's “most liberal commentator,” Klein wrote on the Huffington Post weblog that the “left wing” of the Democratic Party has a “hate America tendency,” as Media Matters for America noted. He has also argued that White House senior aide Karl Rove's 2006 campaign strategy will “be aided by those on the noisome left who believe that the U.S. is a malignant, imperialistic force in the world” and singled out three prominent African-American House Democrats -- Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Charles Rangel (D-NY), and Alcee Hastings (D-FL) -- as particularly susceptible to such attacks. Klein has also lavished praise upon Bush for standing by his “deeply held” position on immigration and consistently opposing his own party's base -- despite the White House's apparent change of position on controversial immigration provisions that would have facilitated criminal prosecutions of illegal immigrants.

From Klein's June 3 “web-exclusive” column on Time.com:

Webb is a political amateur, and party pros consider him “undisciplined.” That means he hates fund raising and isn't very comfortable with the backroom coddling of special interests that is a dismally essential part of the job. He entered the race late and precipitately. His answers are sketchy on some domestic-policy issues; Miller has a Washington insider's grasp of issues like education and tax policy, as the Washington Post pointed out in an endorsement editorial last week. Indeed, Webb may be in serious trouble in the primary. A minuscule turnout is expected, less than 5% of the electorate, and Miller has been working his way through the traditional Democratic constituencies -- abortion-rights activists, teachers' unions and minorities -- like a threshing machine. “We have one candidate who is appealing and undisciplined and another who is disciplined and unappealing,” a prominent Democrat told me. “It's a real problem.” It is more than that: a campaign that will help determine whether Democrats have the expansive soul to become a majority party once more. Liberals hunt down heretics, Michael Kinsley once wrote, while conservatives happily chase converts. Webb is a convert in a party that mistrusts converts. His candidacy is a litmus test for a party that loves litmus tests.