Why Dana Milbank is awesome

I don’t always agree with Dana Milbank’s take on politics, but I always love reading his Washington Sketch pieces for the Washington Post. To me, he represents where newspaper journalism should be heading: reporters as honestly subjective sources unto themselves, rather than faux-objective conduits for he-said, she-said quote-getting.

My favorite Milbank pieces are sketches of congressional hearings. He’s not afraid of actually pointing out the absurdity and dulling obfuscation of government bureaucracy in action. I often wonder why the Post bothers running “straight” news stories about hearings — the kind of stories that dutifully recount “newsworthy” quotes (i.e. scripted boilerplate) — when Milbank’s sketch invariably tells you what really happened.

Milbank’s new piece on Hillary Clinton’s win in West Virginia isn’t about a hearing, but it’s one of his best columns yet. Not just because he uses Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot” sketch to frame Clinton’s dwindling candidacy, but because he finally reveals the hollowness of my all-time favorite stumping-politician move: the smarmily grinning point-and-wave (and its close cousins the grinning point, wave, and-thumbs-up; and the grinning point-and-nod, which Hillary Clinton does at the 8- and 52-second marks of this video and which Bill Clinton does three times in the first 21 seconds of this video).

Milbank’s description of Clinton running through the point-and-wave motions is almost poignant, despite the mockery of the story’s Monty Python framing:

A steep descent brings Clinton’s plane to Charleston’s hilltop airport. After an appropriate wait, she steps from the plane and pretends to wave to a crowd of supporters; in fact, she is waving to 10 photographers underneath the airplane’s wing. She pretends to spot an old friend in the crowd, points and gives another wave; in fact, she was waving at an aide she had been talking with on the plane minutes earlier.

If there’s been a more succinct, perfect illustration of Clinton’s end-game — or a better skewering of the point-and-wave — I haven’t seen it.

UPDATE: Credit Bill Walsh for the terrific headline (“This Is an Ex-Candidate”) on Milbank’s story. Walsh posted some other headlines he considered; I especially like “White Americans and the Norwegian Blue,” but I think his final headline was poifect.

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