Though there's a harbinger of winter in the air here in upstate New York, it didn't prepare me for the hell-freezing-over moment on this morning's 'Today' show. Matt Lauer went to bat for Rush Limbaugh.
Lauer interviewed conservative commentator Laura Ingraham and USC law prof - and Dukakis presidential campaign manager - Susan Estrich about current campaign tactics. Matt set the tone with this question, which implied that - hand-wringing notwithstanding - there's nothing unusual about the level of nastiness in this campaign season:
"A lot of people are running around all flustered right now about these negative ads, these negative comments in the final stages of the campaign. Have you seen anything lately that you haven't seen in campaigns past?"
Agreeing with Lauer's premise, Laura pointed out that there is a time-honored tradition of negative campaigning in America going right back to the Adams-Jefferson campaign of 1796.
When Matt moved to the Fox/Rush matter, I assumed he was going to jump on the Dem/MSM Rush-bashing bandwagon. Instead, in a display of admirable equanimity Lauer observed:
"Rush Limbaugh started a lot of controversy when he said perhaps Michael J. Fox is exaggerating or faking these effects of Parkinson's Disease in that ad promoting stem cell research. Didn't Rush Limbaugh just say what a lot of people are privately thinking?"
Lauer later made his defense of Rush's position even more explicit, with this question to Estrich:
"Susan, if Michael Fox goes out there politically and puts himself into the fray, he has to expect to be, you know, taken to account, correct?"
Estrich, interestingly, agreed: "Correct. And he is being taken to account."
Aside: If Estrich was even-handed on the Fox matter, she let her partisan side show when it came to the ad about Harold Ford, Jr. that the RNC ran in Tennessee. Estrich called it "a really bad one," and claimed that when she screened it and the famous 1988 Wille Horton ad for her students, they said the Ford commercial made the Horton ad look like "kid stuff." You gotta be joking.