These days, journalism---political journalism, at any rate---isn’t the first draft of history. It’s the first drafts of a thousand novels that, fortunately, will never see a second draft.
These days, journalism---political journalism, at any rate---isn’t the first draft of history. It’s the first drafts of a thousand novels that, fortunately, will never see a second draft.
I'm no theologian, but I suspect that Jesus would tell that God-fearing, red-blooded American sniper [Chris Kyle], “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, for dispatching another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire.”
That’s Starne’s gloss on American Sniper.
I looked through my bible and couldn’t find the passage where Jesus said, “Shoot all your enemies dead,” but I’m guessing it’s from the Sermon on the Mount, right around where he said “Love your neighbor”.
Tell you the truth, I didn’t know who Todd Starnes was, didn’t even know he existed, in fact, until I read he said this, and now I’m sorry I do. If you didn’t know either you’re probably sorry to have found out and I apologize for being the one delivering the news.
As Atrios and plenty of others like to remind us, a lot of what Right Wingers say they say just to piss liberals off. But there’s something else at work, as well. They’re trying to piss each other off too. They like being angry. More to the point, however, their pundits, their talking heads, many of their politicians, their halfway intelligent bloggers, all following Rush Limbaugh’s lead, are trying to piss off the conservative base. It’s a strategy. Make the yokels boiling mad and keep them mad at those Others and they’ll be too worked up to think about who’s really been screwing them over.
This is an inherent evil of the American Right, an evil it perpetrates upon itself as much as upon the rest of us: its divisiveness.
And this is not an effect of its rhetoric or its politics. It is the intent.
The object is to divide ordinary people from their fellow Americans, keep them from making common cause, and gull them into seeing people as enemies who are in fact their neighbors. Conservative “thinkers”---pseudo-intellectual apologists for the economic rapacity of the owner class---like to talk about rational self-interest. We don’t need the government to regulate the marketplace, they say; the people will naturally choose to act in ways that are orderly, civil, generous or at least moderate, because that is the best way to protect their own interests. But the object is to short-circuit rationality, replace thoughtfulness with gut feeling, convince the people they’re being cheated and robbed by THEM, the same THEM who are cheating and robbing the owner class so that they will mix up their interests with the interests of the owners. The intent is to divide them from their own self-interests and want not what’s best for them but what’s best for the owner class that’s exploiting them. The intent is to bamboozle them into thinking they belong to the owner class by giving them group after group of Others to look down upon the way the owners look down on them. Take them up on a mountaintop to show them the world spread out before them and say “All this is yours to despise.”
In short, the object’s to make suckers of the rubes and enlist them in their own fleecing.
Todd Starnes is one of the sideshow barkers in this carnival of thieves.
Starnes’ moment of exegesis reads like it was scripted not like something said off the cuff in a moment of inspired stupidity and rage while on the air. Which means he took time to think about it, about what to say, how to say it, and what effect he wanted it to have. I don’t know if he thought about whether it was true, that Jesus up in heaven is as bloody-minded and vindictive as his father’s portrayed in the Old Testament. Maybe he believes it. But I doubt he does or cares if it’s true.
In fact, I doubt he believes in Jesus or God at all. Not really. Not to any extent beyond a shrug of acceptance. If he did, he’d know that that’s the kind of vicious and hateful thinking that could get you dispatched to the lake of fire yourself. There’s at least of four of the Seven Deadly Sins finding expression there. Maybe he puts too much faith in God as all merciful and forgiving and he expects that when the time comes to explain himself to St Peter a sincere-sounding apology will save him. More likely, though, when the time comes, he’ll have forgotten he said it. When reminded, he’ll deny it---three times, of course---then plead innocence on the grounds that an all-knowing God must know he didn’t mean it. He was just doing his job. Maybe. But, like I said, I doubt he believes God, or in anything.
If he was a truly thoughtful Christian, he’d know Jesus would never have taught anything like that. In fact, Jesus said something the very opposite. Here it is, chapter and verse. Matthew 5:43-44.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…
And If Starnes was a truly intelligent Christian and not a half-educated bigot, he’d know that Jesus was a good Jew and probably didn’t believe in a lake of fire or hell of any kind or even much of an afterlife at all and the little the gospels quote him as saying on the subject was probably put in his mouth by whoever were the actual evangelists we call Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I know. Too much to ask. Doesn’t matter, because, again, like I said, I doubt he believes anything, let alone his slander of Jesus.
But you’d think there’d be plenty of Christians tuning in who’d be bothered by his characterization of Jesus, at least momentarily, that they’d know it didn’t square with what they learned in Sunday School.
But for all their God-bothering, Right Wingers don’t really think about their professed religion and what it means to be a Christian. They certainly don’t read the Bible. They don’t need to. They know what it says. They know because they did read it, some of it, anyway, back when they were kids. It’s the same with everything they “know.” They learned it when they were kids and see no need to re-learn it. Which is why they were better educated when they were twenty-two than they are at forty-two and fifty-two. They’ve spent the years in between forgetting what they once knew while filling their heads with alternative history, alternative science, alternative economics, and alternative religion, all of it geared towards teaching the same lesson: that they’re right to be selfish, and greedy, angry, hard-hearted, and spiteful. They learn an alternative English too in which those words have as their synonyms self-reliant, practical, clear-eyed, tough-minded, and, judging by the way Starnes interprets the gospels, Christian.
If they want to think something’s true, then they know, they just know, history or science or the bible backs them up.
There probably are some real Christians among Starnes’ listeners who, even though they whole-heartedly support the shooting of terrorists on the grounds of better them than me and mine and might be anti-Islamic bigots, know that, necessary as they believe it is, killing isn’t really doing Jesus’ work, and are offended by Starnes’ insulting the Savior like this. But Starnes very likely meant to piss them off too. He doesn’t care whom he makes mad or if they get mad at him as long as they keep tuning in. He’s happy to stir up any sort of trouble because trouble boosts ratings.
I’d like to be able to end things there, with what’s evil about Starnes and the rest of the Right Wing demagogues in the media. But the sad fact is their sins aren’t original. Like all the rest of us sinners, they sin unorginally but to their own particular purpose. The inherent vice of the Right Wing media is an inherent vice of all media: the stirring up of trouble just to boost ratings, bait clicks, attract eyeballs, sell the sponsors’ products.
I keep hoping against hope that the rest of the mainstream media will notice what the Right Wing media has been up to and make it a mission to expose it for the propaganda machine it is.
But they know what’s going on and their reaction has been: We want us some of that!
They don’t see what the Right Wing Media does as a corruption of journalism or a threat to democracy. They see it as a successful business model.
They want those ratings, those eyeballs, those clicks, that audience share. They want that money.
Before it’s anything else, before it can be anything else, journalism is a business. It has to make money to stay in business. And like any business it’s prone to the temptations that arise from the need to make money. The inherent evil of the business of journalism is that the easiest way to make money is by successfully appealing to the worst in people or, at any rate, to the basest in them.
You don’t want your target audience to think. You want them to feel. You want them to react from the gut and the heart and not use their heads. You want their response to be emotional, the more visceral the better, because emotions are the addictive. Addict them to their own feelings and they’ll do your work for you. They’ll keep coming back for more of the jolt they get from feeling angry and afraid and jealous and full of desire and want.
Rile them up, stir up trouble, make people mad, make them afraid, make them want that, make them want more, feed them a steady diet of spectacle and scandal. This is what puts the paying customers in their seats. This is what keeps them planted in front of their screens, checking their smart phones, turning on their radios, even, because it still happens, buying the paper and subscribing to the magazine.
This is what sells, and selling is the lesson of the gospel Todd Starnes and his colleagues in the Right Wing and mainstream media truly believe in.
Read the whole story by David Edward, Fox radio host: Jesus would thank ‘American sniper’ for sending ‘godless’ Muslims to ‘the lake of fire’, at RawStory.
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If David Brooks didn’t exist, liberals would have invented him.
In fact, we did.
Maybe it’s more accurate to say he invented himself on our behalf.
Brooks’ job is not to provide a conservative voice to sing counterpoint in the generally liberal chorus of the New York Times editorial pages. It’s to provide liberal readers the fun of hearing the sound of our own voices.
He writes a column and we react, in derision, in scorn, in anger---although his usual stuff is so slight it’s hardly worth getting angry about---with laughter, with snark, with a self-congratulating recitation of facts, with a pompous and self-regarding reiteration of a lesson from our favorite college class, with a self-satisfying reference or quote, “reminding” Brooks of something he should have read himself or that he did read but misread or is misremembering.
Of course, there’s no expectation that Brooks will read what we wrote or give it much thought if he does. The point isn’t for him to get schooled. It’s for us to have fun being smarter than David Brooks. Brooks is writing for our amusement, just not in the usual sense of that phrase. He’s giving us material to amuse ourselves with. It’s a sport.
This is why his writing is so shallow and his arguments, if you can call them arguments, so easily refuted. What’s going on here is target practice, not big game hunting.
There’s no sign in anything he writes that he cares if readers agree or disagree with him. No sign he actually believes any of what he writes himself. He takes the same pride in one of his op-eds as a gamekeeper takes in skeet. You can practically hear him cry “Pull!” as he hits the enter key at the end of a paragraph.
He lets the words fly and we blast away.
And when it’s over we pack up our hampers with the columns we’ve shot full of holes and return home to sit by the fire with a drink and congratulate ourselves on a good day’s shoot.
What I’m saying is the New York Times doesn’t keep him around to write columns. He’s there to generate commentary. On blogs, on Twitter, in the Times’ letters page, in the space under his columns on the website. He’s good at it, too. And we enjoy it!
“Did you read what Brooks wrote today?”
“Yes! Did you see what I Tweeted about it?”
“That was great! I’m going to quote you on Facebook!”
“Be sure to mention Drum. He had a great post. Really nailed it!”
Here’s the sport in action.
Brooks’ column: Obama in Winter.
Kevin Drum’s take down: Isn't It About Time to Ask Republicans to Start Acting Like Adults?
Nancy Pelosi agrees with me. That wasn’t a Republican wave washing through last Tuesday.
I think she agrees with me.
It depends on what she means by a wave.
It depends on what I mean by a wave.
I mean “Something the conventionally wise in the political press corps want to think happened but I think didn’t happen.”
What happened was that in a low-turnout election in states with a lot of Republicans more Republicans didn’t not turn out than Democrats; as a result, Republican candidates got more votes.”
The question is, what do the conventionally wise think happened that I think didn’t? What do they mean by a wave?
What is a wave?
Is it a synonym for landslide?
Is it a reversal of a tide or a shifting of the current current?
Is it a sea change?
Yes to all three, because it’s being used in all three ways by different commentators, although many commentators can’t make up their minds and switch back and forth or intend all three meanings simultaneously, not because their thinking is complex and they’re trying to distinguish between what the wave carried in or carried out or left undisturbed along a variety of shorelines but because their thinking’s confused. Others make a practice of saying everything and anything that comes to mind so that they can be sure they must be right in some way and can weasel out of having been fantastically stupid and wrong if they’re called on it later.
“Sure, I said this fantastically stupid and wrong thing. But if you look closely, you’ll see I also said…”
There’s another way wave is used: to be meaningless.
It’s a pundit’s trick to get past having to explain something and be right.
In the Insider Journalist’s art of instant “analysis” all interpretations of facts are intended to prove the pre-existing narrative. This election was about voters’ disillusionment with President Obama so all the returns everywhere must reflect that. But the returns everywhere don’t show that. They show different things happened in different places. How do you explain that?
You don’t have to. It doesn’t matter. It was a wave.
What happened in Arkansas? A wave.
What happened in Iowa? A wave.
What happened to Martha Coakley in Massachusetts? A wave.
What happened to Mark Warner in Virginia? A wave.
What happened in states where Democrats won? Never mind those states. This was a wave year.
A wave is a cliché, one of those stock phrases journalists and pundits use reflexively thinking they’re shortcuts around complex thoughts but which actually short-circuit thought. Boots on the Ground. Game-changer. Double-down. Wave year. This is what clichés do. They trick us into thinking we’re thinking.
But they sound colorful. They sound poetic. They sound demotic. They sound like they must mean something.
For many consumers of television news and commentary the sound is enough. They’d rather hear something that sounds like a thought than something that requires thought. They don’t want to think; they just want to know. If they hear it on TV it must be true and worth knowing.
Now they know.
“It was a wave.”
And the people saying it on TV like the sound of it too. They like it because they said it. They like the sound of their own voices. A lot of people talk just to hear themselves talk and a lot of those people are attracted to careers as politicians and TV pundits.
Most clichés are metaphors that have gone stale. They’ve been worn out, hollowed out, drained of meaning, by overuse or misuse or by changes in idioms or in the physical world to which they once referred. Metaphors are what we use to connect abstract thoughts to the world in which we live. We need them to help us understand because we are bodied creatures and can only truly understand what our bodies know. The problem is they can be apt but never exact.
The best metaphors connect the physical to the physical.
All the world’s a stage…
Well, no it isn’t.
But, yes, of course, it is.
Metaphors help us deal with ideas as if they are things. They help us see, feel, hear, sense our way toward understanding. But even the best metaphors, the most apt, carry us so far. There comes a point when we have to abandon the metaphor and think.
When we don’t give up a metaphor, when we tie ourselves to its mast and convince ourselves we’ve saved ourselves and the ship from crashing against the rocks of incomprehension, when we treat the comparison as if it’s the same as the abstraction all thought is scuttled and goes down with all hands.
Clichés are all that’s left floating to wash up on shore.
From In The Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman:
But our private conversations, between father and son, are free of the disingenuous concessions of dinner parties. Metaphors their place, he says, but never as explanations, never as substitutes for the thing itself, which is the only thing that can turn on the lights or leave us in the dark. His suspicion of metaphors recognizes that our proclivity toward them probably springs from our very nature, which is given to analogize, to link one thing with another, and to make whole the disparate. But exercising this instinct is not the same as giving an explanation.
It was a wave.
It wasn’t a wave.
NBC’s Chuck Todd has been on a road trip in an RV just like regular folks use on their road trips to Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone, which makes him a true man of the people in touch with the heart of real America, taking the pulse of the nation as only a celebrity journalist based out of Washington D.C. can do.
I imagine his jaunt through what I’m sure he calls the Heartland when he’s not calling it that god awful place where you can’t get a decent brioche is making him feel like Charles Kuralt.
Isn’t it amazing? Most of us spend our whole lives trying to figure out what makes people tick and die still scratching our heads over the question but celebrity journalists like Todd just need one quick swing through a handful of towns in a handful of states where, relatively, very few Americans live to get themselves on camera nodding sagaciously as a handful of people their producers have designated “regular folks” parrot what TV has taught them celebrity journalists like Todd want to hear and they can tell us everything we need to know about the human condition.
I guess that’s why they get the big bucks.
Of course it helps if all you think matters about the human condition is how people vote in national elections and you’re only interested in what makes regular folks tick because their votes will decide who your neighbors back in D.C. are going to be and what parties you’re going to be invited to and who’ll be picking up the tab at lunch and how much you’ll be able to charge as your speakers’ fees and what unpaid internships your kids will be able to get that will launch them on their own Washington Insider or Wall Street careers while regular folks’ kids spend their summers working at fast food restaurants and big box stores just to pay next semester’s tuition at state colleges where they’re pursuing degrees they hope will land them jobs that will pay them enough they can cover their monthly student loan payments.
If you’re a fan of the Sunday bobblehead shows and think something like actual news is actually discussed on those shows, you’ll be happy to know that some good will come out of this trip. The next time Todd has someone like Paul Ryan or Lindsey Graham on Meet the Press, he’ll be able to say with authority, “I was just talking to some regular Americans and they told me pretty much that what needs to be done to save America is what you just said needs to be done.”
Updated. Saturday evening. October 4, 2014.
Hardest part of the drive up and back to Syracuse is trying to ignore the news shows blaring from the TVs at the Thruway rest stops while having a cup of coffee and taking advantage of the WiFi to noodle on the net. It’s usually CNN. One story after another about how THIS IS THE WORST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED.
That last story we told you was THE WORST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED? FORGET THAT. IN FACT, AS FAR WAS WE’RE CONCERNED NOW THAT ONE NEVER HAPPENED. THIS ONE IS THE THE WORST THING. UNTIL THE NEXT THING. AFTER THAT WE’LL GO BACK TO THE FIRST THING WHICH WE’LL BE EVEN A WORSE THING BY THEN.
Don’t watch TV news. Just don’t. Ever.
Last night on the way home I was able to ignore most of it but then I let my guard down and I saw him.
He was on CNN lying about how the President has not been presidenting when it comes to ISIS because he’s been off fundraising and golfing and vacationing and otherwise not doing his job presidenting.
This is their story and they’re sticking to it: Whenever there’s a crisis, the President isn’t to be found. He’s off somewhere fundraising, golfing, vacationing, something, anything but presidenting. Man never presidents.
Romney’s apparently forgotten that after he lost in 2012, he whined it was because the President unfairly presidented during Hurricane Sandy.
Of course, Romney spent the campaign demonstrating he didn’t know the first thing about presidenting.
But there’s Romney, spoiling my coffee break, lying that the President has done no presidenting about ISIS.
I guess those planes just ordered themselves into the air.
Pilots said, Darnit, we can’t wait for the President to get around to it, let’s go get those IS somnabitches on our own. Mitt Romney says it’s the right thing to do!
Erin Burnett played the clip of Romney lying as part of her interview with Paul Ryan in which Ryan then lied about how the President’s been doing a lousy job presidenting on ISIS.
Ryan was there shilling for his new book in which he lays out his vision for the better, happier, more glorious America that will result when he’s done presidenting the hell out of the place. Basically, it will be the conservative’s dream version of Ronald Reagan’s dream version of America except the only part it gets right is that in this new America life’s going to be a lot harder for poor people, which, when you think about it, is pretty much the central fact of Reagan’s America.
Any way, in the course of his shilling, Ryan did some lying of his own about the President’s presidenting.
Ryan’s lies were more in the vein of things omitted than things actually said.
For instance, he thinks it’s not enough the President is dropping bombs on Iraq. He thinks the President needs to do what “we’ve” done that’s working in Afghanistan, neglecting to mention that what “we’ve” done was actually done by the President.
He said the president needs to stop “micro-managing” the military and listen to the generals, then took a swipe at the President for recommending defense cuts based on his having listened to the generals.
By the way, “micro-manage” is Republican shorthand for “How dare a Democrat President act like he thinks he’s the Commander-in-Chief.”
Burnett read Ryan a passage from his book, some bombast about American exceptionalism and America’s responsibility as the world’s last best hope on earth to drop a lot of bombs and kill a lot of people, then played a clip of the President using similar bombast only with better phrasing, and asked Ryan if he and the President weren’t basically saying the same thing.
Ryan said they were but the difference was the President didn’t mean it.
The President’s policies don’t match the bombast.
What he meant was the President wasn’t presidenting in the way Paul Ryan thinks he should president, again neglecting to mention a key point---that it’s impossible for the President to president in a way any Republican thinks he should because the way they think he should is by doing something different from whatever he’s doing because whatever way he’s presidenting is wrong because he’s the one doing the presidenting.
The point is simply and always to oppose and undermine and sabotage and belittle and humiliate and defeat him whatever he’s doing and keep him from presidenting at all.
If the President put “boots on the ground” and sent in the “enablers’' Ryan says he thinks he should, Ryan would be telling us how that was the wrong way to president.
Naturally, Burnett didn’t call Ryan on Romney’s lies or his own.
She didn’t say, Congressman, why is your former running mate lying about the President? Why are you lying about the President?
She didn’t say, Congressman, why are you here instead of back on Capital Hill congressing? Isn’t it just to sell your book? And isn’t that a form of fundraising? After all, you’re using it to help sell yourself as a possible Presidential contender someday, aren’t you? The whole point is for people to say, Look, Paul Ryan has written a book, he must be a smart guy, let’s make him President, isn’t it? This is why people are supposed to take you seriously, because you’ve written several budgets you claimed would end the deficit but which depended on fudged numbers and the expectation of a supply side miracle and now you’ve “authored” a book that tells poor people they wouldn’t be poor if they practiced virtues you never had to practice in your whole life because you were born into money and married more and now supplement your government paycheck with Right Wing welfare?
No. She sat there nodding at his lies and then said, in effect, So Congressman, tell us more about what an important book you’ve written and why we should all rush out and buy it!
I guess she couldn’t ask him those other questions because it would have violated the agreement the media seems to have with Republicans in which the Republicans’ terms for appearing on the news shows are: If you ever ask us an intelligent and penetrating question that challenges any of our lies we’ll walk off the set and never come back and then all you have on your shows are Democrats and you know how they are? All they’ll want to do is talk realistically about the nation’s problems and the actual workable plans they have to solve them, boring your audience and you to tears. And the media’s terms are: Just tell us what you want us to say.
Note to anyone, Democrat or Republican, President or Congressman, journalist or politician, military or civilian, using the phrase “boots on the ground” as a euphemism for “sending in ground troops”: Saying “boots on the ground” doesn’t make you sound like real army. It makes you sound like you think you’re playing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
Further note: In order to believe Republicans like Mitt Romney aren’t racists you have to believe they’re too stupid to know there’s a difference between calling a white President lazy and calling a black President lazy.
Updated to make one plus one equal forty-two: It’s not just ISIS. Paul Ryan lies when he tells the President how to president on the budget too. Jonathan Chait adds up all the ways Ryan’s budgeting doesn’t add up:
Paul Ryan has emerged from his long post-election period of repositioning, soul-searching, and secretly but not secretly visiting the poor. He had been caricatured as an Ayn Rand miser and attacked as a social Darwinist, merely for proposing the largest upward transfer of wealth in American history. Ryan has identified the root cause of his difficulties, and it is fiscal arithmetic.
Read Chait’s post at New York Magazine, Paul Ryan Declares War Against Math.
Fox News is very good at the other thing it does.
The entertaining is part and parcel with the propagandizing. Even the most rabidly reactionaries in its audience wouldn’t sit still for another Republican lie if the liars were boring. The powers that be at Fox News know their audience and they know the secret to keeping an audience coming back for me: Give the suckers what they want.
They want to be angry. They want to be afraid.
They want is to hear that the world as they know is coming to an end.
There’s a good reason for their wanting to hear this.
Their world is coming to an end.
I don’t mean that their dear old Mom, apple pie, and Chevy loving USA is going, going, gone, that safe, prosperous, and virtue-rewarding land where those people knew their place and where good, God-fearing, Republican-voting white folk didn’t just run the country, they were the county or all of it that mattered. That is gone, although it hasn’t been entirely replaced. We’re living among the ruins, and if you don’t like what’s being built in its place, if you can’t even see the rebuilding as rebuilding, all you will see is devastation. That’s upsetting. That’s frightening. That’s infuriating!
But I mean something more than that and something more personal.
Their world is coming to an end in that their time in it is coming to an end.
This is my theory, and it’s just a theory. Fox News’s audience skews old, but not that old. The age a lot of the suckers get pulled into the sideshow seems to be around sixty. Joseph Conrad thought sixty was “not a bad age”. But I suspect that for most people reaching sixty it’s the age at which you have to face up to the fact you are going to die.
No one wants to face up to that.
I’m not sure it’s possible for anyone to face up to it. Not directly. How do you face up to the realization that none of it mattered? That none of it happened or none of it feels like it happened? That you didn’t matter? You didn’t happen? And it’s too late to do what might have save you from this existential nervous collapse, find the joy in every single moment and live as if in the eternity of that. This is hard for the wisest, most cheerful natures. It’s hard for Americans especially, I think, focused as we are on the future. We always have to be striving to get ahead, right? Today is only important in how it prepares us for tomorrow. It’s harder for certain Christians whose religion teaches them to hate the present moment for distracting them from their future goal of getting to heaven and to hate joy itself for tempting them to love this world. Anyway, at sixty how many present moments do you have left to find the joy in and what joy? You might live forty more years and every single day someone you know and like will die. Every single day you will grow weaker, sicker, more helpless, closer to death.
Who wants to face up to that?
So we do it symbolically, through metaphorical thinking. Fox News presents its audience with an ongoing allegory for its viewers’ fear of their own mortality.
It’s dystopian fiction for those too old to read The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner. (And, by the way, adolescence is the other time in life when we become aware and afraid the world as we know it is coming to an end and with it us or, rather, our certainty of self, of having a self. You don’t need me to explain that one, but its probably why dystopian novels and movies are so popular among young adults. And now I’ve got myself thinking about Harry Potter.) But it’s like those books in that it’s meant to reassure in the end. The news is an extended metaphor for death but guess what? There’s salvation to be gained. It can all be put back right. Heroes and heroines will arise. You can be among them. All you have to do is vote Republican.
Anyway, that’s my theory.
Fox News’ viewers are angry and afraid because they don’t want to die and Fox News sells them a way to deal with the terrible knowledge that they are going to die and the anger and fear that go with it.
Now, because I think the folks who run Fox News know exactly what they’re selling, I also think the people who work for them, in front of and behind the cameras, know what’s being sold too. I think they’re hired because they know the product and know how to sell it. They know they’re selling a fiction. A story. They’re good storytellers. They don’t have to believe the story themselves to tell it well, and I think many of them don’t believe it, even those who are really conservatives and not simply nihilists and cynics. I’m not which Megyn Kelly is, a real conservative or a cynic, but I don’t think she believes it and from time to time she lets her disbelief show, either by suddenly acting like a real journalist, as when she challenged Karl Rove on election night 2012---“Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better? Or is this real?”---and Dick Cheney this past June---“history has proven you got it wrong”---or when she just can’t keep a straight face, like last Christmas when she was spouting her nonsense about Santa Claus and Jesus being white.
But Kelly is smart and actually well-educated (Go Syracuse Orange!). This can’t be said about many people who go into broadcast news, a field that doesn’t attract or require geniuses, and Fox News seems to set the bar lower than the other networks do. Probably some of their non-geniuses are true believers but I’ll bet some of them are just dumb enough to fall for their own lies. They scare themselves like kids telling ghost stories around a camp fire.
I don’t know which sort of non-genius Kimberly Guilfoyle is. Maybe both. Whichever, she sure seems to believe what she’s saying here and to be scaring herself silly:
"Can I just make a special request in the magic lamp? Can we get like Netanyahu, or like Putin in for 48 hours, you know, head of the United States?"
Guilfoyle finished her genie-lamp appeal by adding:
"I don't know. I just want somebody to get in here and get it done right so that Americans don't have to worry and wake up in the morning fearful of a group that's murderous and horrific like ISIS."
When I saw this I wanted to ask her (Well, actually, I did ask her on Twitter, but since I don’t expect the celebrity journalists I follow to actually read and respond to my tweets, although some do, it was mostly for my own amusement.) “What is the American version of ISIS you’re waking up scared of in the middle of the night and what do you expect Bibi Netanyahu or Vladimir Putin to do about it? Launch rockets at hospitals in Central America? Steal a Canadian seaport?”
But that would be asking for a rational response.
This is her nightmare of the world as she knows it coming to an end. She’s far too young to be having it (or too old, depending. See above.) but it’s what her viewers want to hear and in re-telling it (retailing it) she’s persuaded herself it’s coming true.
This brings me to the other part of my theory.
A nightmare is a dream and a dream can be an imaginative act of wish-fulfillment.
I think the Fox News viewers I’m talking about want the world as they know it to be coming to an end.
Not because they’re closet progressives who’ve intuited that the world as they know it needs to end and not because they’re subconsciously coming into wisdom and are realizing there’s a time and a season and theirs has run its course and it’s time to hand it off and move on.
Because they get tired of being afraid.
I think this is just human nature. Fear is self-destructive in a several ways, one of which is that it begins to make you long for the thing you’re afraid is going to happen to happen, just to get it over with.
At least then you won’t have to be afraid of it anymore.
And, if you get a chance in the final few seconds before it all comes crashing down, you get to say, “I told you so.”
Updated below. Wednesday, August 13, 2014.
Hillary Clinton knows that when she’s running for President she’s going to have to deal with accusations of “softness” on matters of national security from the Republicans and “doubts” from the National Political Press Corps that she’s tough enough to to defend the United States from the violent hordes, within and without, that want to destroy us because of our freedoms.
This is the given any Democrat has to deal with, even war hero ones running against draft dodgers. But a woman will have an even harder time of it. So it’s probably smart politics to try to get ahead of the game and start making the case for yourself as the kind of warmonger influential neocons, armchair generals in the media, and other “serious” DC insiders think the country needs or think we rubes out in the hinterlands want. Which is why I’m hoping this interview she gave to the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg is a cynically calculated bit of political theater and press manipulation.
“Yes, Jeffrey, in answer to your questions and your barely concealed hope, I do plan to kill a lot of people when I’m President. In point of fact, if I was President now I’d be killing them in Syria and Iraq by the hundreds and trying to figure out how I could kill more in Ukraine.”
In a way this interview could be a good sign.
Not of what Clinton might do as President.
Of what she’s learned since 2008 about the care and feeding of the Press.
I’ve complained about this.
Democrats have got to learn that treating the members of the Church of the Savvy with the contempt they deserve is not smart. Using the internet to go around them or through them to take your message straight to the voters only works to the degree independents and waverers aren’t getting other messages and the mainstream media still deliver those other messages to millions of people. And if those other messages don’t include your take on things or sympathetic accounts of your take, all those millions of people hear is Republican spin and the retelling of the current pet narratives and conventional wisdom constructed over liquid lunches by journalists and pundits who don’t like you.
It’s been clear for a long time that the President and the Press Corp do not get along, to put it mildly. I’ve wondered how that came about and who’s fault it is. This article at Rolling Stone by former Obama campaign and White House spokesman Reid Cherlin clears a few things up.
Reporters in the press corps and aides handling the President’s press operations really can’t stand each other.
They routinely get into screaming arguments.
And I blame this on the White House. It’s their job to keep the press on their side at least to the point of wanting to get the President’s positions straight. It shouldn’t matter that they don’t like you. They should do their jobs anyway. But they’re only human with, in addition to the normal allowance of flaws and foibles, a set peculiar to themselves, starting with extra-large egos.
And I blame the President even more. Not just because he’s the boss and shouldn’t let this go on. But because he’s made a practice of seeking out reporters he thinks have gotten a story wrong and telling them how they’ve goofed up in front of other reporters.
He’s a former teacher. He should know better. No one likes to be corrected, especially in public. They don’t appreciate it. They don’t learn from it. They sure as hell don’t thank you for it.
“Gosh, teach, I guess I’m an idiot. Thanks for pointing that out. I’m a better and smarter person for it.”
They resent it. They resent you.
But then he was a law professor. Maybe his teaching model was John Houseman’s character in The Paper Chase and he thinks “Here’s a dime. Call your mother and tell her you’re not fit to be a lawyer” is an effective motivational speech.
Of course they got it wrong! They don’t know what you know. They’re not experts, even if a few of them can justly pride themselves on having some expertise. They need to be prepared, given lots of background, have it explained to them three times beforehand, not left to figure it out on their own afterwards when instead of asking you because you’ll be busy and they’ll be on deadline, they’ll hash it out in a hurry with each other, which is bound to lead to a less than perfect understanding of the key points and issues. And these are not on the whole brilliant people. Journalism is not a field that attracts geniuses or, for that matter, rewards genius. Being too smart can actually work against you. It often results in minute taxonomic descriptions of individual tree species complete with Latin names while whole forests are left unobserved.
(See what I mean?)
This doesn’t mean they aren’t smart.
You have to be smart to do the most important part of the job, collect and organize facts and put them in the form of an interesting and well-written story. But they’ve been promoted above their level of competence. Political journalists aren’t just reporters. They’re “analysts.” They have to turn out “think pieces.”
Jake Tapper may be (or may have been) a smart reporter, Chuck Todd was smart (and may still be smart) with numbers, but neither is a deep or profound thinker.
And then we’re talking about a company of prima donnas.
They worked hard to get to the top of their profession and they’ve impressed themselves every step of the way. They think that years of accumulated experience, of having filled their mental attics to the rafters with facts and figures---never mind how much of it is just trivia---and history---never mind of much of that is actually gossip---and imbibed the wisdom of so many acknowledged statesmen and women---never mind how many of them were frauds and how much of that wisdom was merely folk, conventional, or received---has made them at least the equal of any mere President in knowledge and intellectual muscle. They’re vain, egotistical, and self-important, qualities that routinely reduce geniuses to idiots and, like I said, they’re not geniuses to begin with.
Add to this that a great many of them went to Ivy League or Ivy League caliber schools and that’s done to them what such elite educations have a way of doing, filling graduates with a sense of entitlement and privilege.
We plebes with degrees from state schools call it being spoiled.
And, along with everything else, they’re insecure because of their elite educations. After all, their former classmates went on to be lawyers, doctors, scientists, and bankers and stockbrokers and hedge fund managers raking in the dough in sackfuls. No wonder they’re prickly and easily wounded. Deep down, well, probably not all that deep down, they must feel like dopes and suckers and outright failures in comparison.
This is not how they see themselves, of course.
But that’s what should make it easy. The trick is to convince them you see them as they like to see themselves.
As smart. As important. As insiders. As players.
Start by keeping them well-fed, well-lubricated, and well-taken care of by pretty and polite young women and pretty and polite young men. For your own part, give them more than just the time of day. Talk to them like they’re smart. Talk to them like you’re interested in what they think. Sit down with them and let them tell you what you need to do. Smile and nod appreciatively. Frown thoughtfully from time to time. Make them think you’re really going to take what they say into consideration. Come back later and pretend you have. Say things like “I passed along what you said to the Secretary of State” and “I was talking to Senator so and so’s chief of staff and she said the Senator was thinking along those exact lines.”
You’re a politician, for Tammany’s sake! This kind of harmless hypocrisy should be second nature.
Whatever you do, don’t show your contempt, even if they deserve it. Especially if they deserve it. The ones who most deserve it are also the ones who are most likely to run whining about it to the Republicans who will be all to glad to smooth their ruffled feathers.
Just to be safe, make a point of telling them what they want to hear or of telling them what they need to hear in a way that flatters their egos.
“Did you hear what the President said? That’s pretty much exactly what I was saying to him the other day.”
So that’s what I’m hoping Clinton was doing in her interview with Goldberg, because, God help me, it’s not what I what I want to hear. In fact, a lot of it makes me much less happy than I was at the prospect of voting for her.
But that was bound to happen. And it won’t be long before she says something else that renews my enthusiasm. It’s always up and down with your candidates when you’re a liberal Democrat. And a politician’s gotta do what a politician’s gotta do, and often that means pander.
Politicians who don’t have to pander to some constituency are politicians who don’t need or want the votes of anybody but the faithful.
Clinton needs to pander to the press corps.
And that’s what I think she’s doing just by giving Goldberg all this access. I’m sure she believes a good deal of what she’s saying, although much of it’s claptrap, but it’s the phrasing and emphasis that matters. She’s putting it in a way Goldberg probably likes because it’s how he’d put it himself. She’s telling him what he wants to hear, that she believes force or the threat of it is the answer to all our foreign policy problems, that when she’s President she’ll be as bloodthirsty and as willing to send other people’s children to fight and die as the next guy, the next guy being either Lindsey Graham or John McCain, and---a very important point---she doesn’t like Barack Obama any more than Goldberg as his pals in the press do.
Maybe it’ll work. Or help a little anyway. But she’s forgetting something.
She’s a Clinton.
There are rules against that.
First rule: If a Clinton does it, says it, thinks it, or can be suspected of wanting to do it, say it, or think it, it’s wrong.
Read the whole interview at the Atlantic, Hillary Clinton: ‘Failure' to Help Syrian Rebels Led to the Rise of ISIS.
And be sure to read Cherlin’s piece at Rolling Stone, The Presidency and the Press.
Updated with information passed along by professional Goldberg-watchers, of which there is at least one, me:
This has been gnawing at me since I read the Goldberg’s interview with Clinton. Did you notice how proud he is of having sources among “professional Clinton-watchers” and how happy it makes him to pass along what they’ve told him about what they think she’s thinking as facts?
Professional Clinton-watchers? This is a job? Does it pay? Where are their offices? At think tanks? At universities? Are there endowed chairs in Clinton-watching?
You know what we rubes in the hinterlands call people like “professional Clinton-watchers”?
What I said above about Clinton needing to sound tough to please “serious people” like Goldberg? Found this post from 2008 while I was rummaging through the archives, It’s not serious foreign policy if it doesn’t kill people.
Make sure you follow the link to Melissa McEwan’s post in which she deals with an LA Times “think piece” dismissive of then Senator Clinton’s claims of having foreign policy experience because she frivolously focused women’s and children’s issues.
Something very like this dismissiveness is bound to come up again next time out when she runs on her record as Secretary of State which as Tom Watson has written about includes a lot of focus on those frivolous issues affecting women and children. The serious people will say this proves she’s not one of them. Tom calls this her greatest credential.
Dear Mr President,
I don’t care about the fragile egos of the prima donnas in the Washington Press Corps, but I’m afraid I think you should. Is it that hard to spoil them just a little bit? I know they’re annoying and ask a lot of stupid, lazy, trivial, and irrelevant questions and I know that half the time, when they do ask one worth answering seriously, they can’t comprehend it when you answer in detail. I understand why you think you don’t need them. But you really do.
You need them to shut up and stop whining about their hurt feelings. You need them to listen up and pay attention and stop talking over you, as it were, that is, stop reporting what they’ve told each other over lunch what you really meant and what you really think and what it all means. You need them to actually want to do their jobs and report the news. And to do that, you have to make them feel like insiders. They think of themselves as players. They believe their reporting has influence---not on their general readers and viewers, whom they only care about as discrete clicks, but with the real insiders and players.
The sense of being insiders and players they don’t get from you they get from Republicans who are only to happy to indulge their vanities and inflate their egos simply by pretending to like them.
So, please, Mr President, coddle them a little. Do a little spoiling. You don’t have to pretend to like them. Just pretend to think they matter.
Just so the rest of us can hear what you’re saying without having to strain to listen through their preening and their pouting and their carping and kvetching and their sulking and their whining.
PS I could go on and on but, as usual, Charles Pierce is ahead of me and quite willing to go on and on in his own distinctive idiom, although he’s addressing the prima donnas themselves and not annoying the President with his rants: “Jaysus, will these people never stop whining?”
And precisely how is my ability "to independently monitor" what the government is doing compromised by the fact that [Insert name of press corps prima donna here] doesn't get a glimpse of Millionnaire X in his tux, bending over the shrimp tray and staring down the blouse of the server?…
Let me share a lesson I have learned from my time as a sportswriter. Are you sitting down? Pens at the ready? OK, here it comes.
NOBODY GIVES A FCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Trust me. I know from lack of access. I know from unhelpful media liaisons. But here's the thing. Your audience simply doesn't care. Your audience expects you to work around it, and to inform it anyway. There's something else I learned in clubhouses and locker rooms, too: your subjects, be they nose tackles or presidents, have no obligation to make your lives easier. (For a master class in this basic truth, I refer you to Professor B. Belichick, Route 1, Foxborough, MA.) The obligation runs one way -- you to the public. And, by the way, if your complaints about access affect your coverage of the administration in other areas, you are unprofessional and should be fired.
(I wrote most of this post Wednesday morning intending to publish it by the afternoon. But you know how it goes.)
Always impressed by how journalists and pundits covering an election night can know what the results mean before the sun comes up and their last cup of coffee’s gone cold on their desk.
But lots of them know already what happened in Virginia’s 7th Congressional district Republican primary and why House Majority Leader lost to Tea Party challenger and “liberal college professor” Dave Brat.
They all know. They don’t all agree.
Which makes me suspect they’re all just giving it their best guess and trying to pass it off as “analysis”. Ain’t I the cynic?
My favorite guess, though, is that Cantor lost to a coalition of personal complacency and smart-aleck Democrats sneaking in to vote in the open primary.
Have to wait for the polls to see how much of an effect those sneaky Democrats had---it already appears not much---but complacency definitely cost him.
Cantor lost because he didn’t get enough votes. I mean, he and his campaign workers didn’t go out, round up their supporters, and bring them to the polls, and that includes Cantor himself. According to Ezra Klein, on primary day, Cantor wasn’t back home rallying the faithful. He was in Washington, fundraising for the general election in the fall. Brat got his voters out to vote. There weren’t a lot of them. Just enough of them.
Hmmm, says the Press Corps. Can’t be that simple. An election like this has to mean something or else why do we do we need political journalists?
Let’s find another narrative.
How about immigration reform?
The most commonly shared best guess that I’ve seen is that Cantor lost because he wasn’t sufficiently hardline on keeping out the you know whos. That sounds like Cantor, doesn’t it? “Give us your tired, your poor…” If that’s the case, that voters in VA07 thought Eric Cantor was too welcoming, it goes to show that you can’t be angry enough, hateful enough, frightened enough to keep the love of the Republican Right Wing base, which is another way of saying the Tea Party faithful, who were supposed to have been chased back under their rocks by the sensible, reasonable, responsible, moderate, establishmentarian Republicans. I’ll get to that.
One thing there does seem to be universal agreement on, the secondary story here: Cantor’s defeat has shocked the folks back in Washington.
Nobody saw it coming.
His was supposed to be among the safest of safe seats.
Lindsey Graham, it was acknowledged, had some work cut out for him. Mitch McConnell too. But I’m not sure people in DC even noticed Cantor was being challenged in a primary. Like I said, Cantor acted like he didn’t notice either.
But I suspect another reason for the surprise, especially among pundits and journalists, is that the Tea Party uprising was, like I mentioned, supposed to have been put down by the sensible, responsible Republicans.
The pundits and the journalists know about polls showing the Tea Party’s unpopularity---they’ve heard of them, at any rate. I’m still not sure they bother to read polls even after Nate Silver showed them how it’s done with all his math and stuff back in 2012. But the fact appears to be that the Tea Party is unpopular everywhere except where it is popular. You don’t have to read a lot of polls to figure that out.
You want to see the Tea Party in action? Get out of D.C. Visit the states where Republicans control the state houses. All the craziness coming out of those places is not due to moderate establishmentarians fearlessly fighting to find common ground with Democrats.
Now look at who’s the current front-runner for the Republican nomination.
No, Mr Pundit, it’s not Jeb Bush.
It’s Ted Cruz.
But the Tea Party is on the run!
People know this because they’ve been told so…by sensible, responsible Republicans.
Like Mitch McConnell.
As if there is such a thing anymore as a sensible, responsible Republican.
I don’t know why, but the Washington Press Corps persists in believing there is and, like believers in ghosts for whom all houses turn out to be haunted, they keep finding them.
One thing that makes this easier is their definition of a sensible, responsible Republican apparently doesn’t include being responsible.
Responsible Republicans aren’t Republicans who vote responsibly on issues like combating global warming, balancing the budget, creating jobs, protecting women’s health and well-being, controlling gun violence, immigration reform, and so on. Responsible Republicans are Republicans who would, they swear, vote responsibly if only the Democrats would compromise by inventing positions for Republicans to take that were both responsible and still conservative, that is, that did not cost money, raise taxes, benefit the Democratic base, or, well, actually solve anything.
Basically, a responsible Republican is a Republican who can sound sincerely disappointed about how Republicans are given no choice by those Democratic bullies in Congress and the really arrogant one in the White House but to vote irresponsibly.
Then there’s that word moderate. It’s used as if it means “not guided entirely by ideology; willing to consider others’ points of view and compromise; not stubbornly partisan”. What it really is is a description of people who moderate. They moderate their voices. Moderate their rhetoric. Moderate their demeanors. It’s a way of saying without saying, “Here’s someone who won’t embarrass me by acting as if his politics and his views on a given issues matter.”
The political press loves this about these moderates because it helps them play the She said/He said game without having to think about what He actually said, and that, it turn, lets them continue in their fondest dream about what goes on in Washington, that it is a game.
They can go on with their sports reporting without having to take sides.
They can keep up their Both Sides Do It dodge. Both sides turn the ball over. Ball sides talk trash. Both sides steal signs. Both sides do everything they can to win. Both sides have star players who can be cast as heroes or villains. Both sides are just playing for a trophy.
So the sensible, responsible, moderate Republicans told them the Tea Party was no longer a worry, and they swallowed it.
Never mind how those sensible, responsible, moderate Republicans actually vote.
Never mind that they rarely and barely say boo when one of their Tea Party colleagues or nominally fellow Republicans in Congress or back home says something like non-Christians are damned or homosexuals should be stoned to death.
Never mind that how sensible, responsible, moderate Republicans have beat back Tea Party challengers as been by un-moderating their rhetoric and championing views that are decidedly not sensible or responsible.
Never mind that the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives and the presumed next Speaker of the House was a Tea Party darling until he was deemed to be not Right Wing enough.
You’d think by now worshippers in the Church of the Savvy would have savvied that the Tea Party was not a spontaneous grassroots uprising of regular folks riled up by Rick Santelli’s CNBC rant against the irresponsible borrowers he blamed for crashing the economy and infuriated by the passage of the ACA. It was a well-financed, well-thought out, well-organized mobilization of forces already at work within the Republican Party making it the party of Right Wing Reaction. Tea Party types and sympathizers didn’t give up and go home. They were home. Are home. And they didn’t give up. They won.
Dave Brat isn’t just a Tea Party hero. He’s an up and coming Republican star.
This is interesting but probably academic. (Academic! Get it? I’m talking about Dave Brat who’s a college professor!) Brat ran a vociferously anti-banker, anti-Wall Street, anti-corporate money in politics populist campaign. He tied it in with the usual Tea Party rage against immigrants, but in sound, feeling, and, possibly, principle, it was old-fashioned populism of the kind that gives the elites of both parties nightmares.
And in this post at the New Yorker, David Brat, the Elizabeth Warren of the Right, Ryan Lizza writes that Brat’s message is being “embraced by Tea Party candidates around the country.”
I’ll believe it when I see it, but wouldn’t it be something?
The Tea Party Types have been steadily adding to their list of the people relegated to the status of THEM, the THEM who are not US and are responsible for whatever’s wrong with America at the moment, and it would be funny if they’ve finally hit on a THEM who are in fact responsible, the banksters and fraudsters of Wall Street and their pet journalists and bought and paid for politicians of both parties.
There are progressives looking for reasons to Stand With Rand. Maybe we’ll start seeing Tea Party types who want to Start Roarin’ With Warren!
That’s not me making my best guess, of course, or even a wild guess.
That’s me dreaming.
From Vox: 12 things to know about Dave Brat.
At the New York Times, Trip Gabriel and Richard Perez-Pena does a compare and contrast between Brat and his Democratic opponent in the fall, Jack Trammell, who is also his fellow professor at Randolph-Macon College and teammate on a faculty basketball team.
Kevin Drum agrees that the Tea Party has won, but he as he sees it that means FoxNews has won too.
More on Right Wing populism from digby, The American right wing populist strain was perfectly realized in David Brat's campaign.
Dear Mr Bruni,
After reading your op-ed in the New York Times the other day, about how our generation has screwed things up for the Millennials (known in some circles as our children) and we owe them an apology, I tracked down the two Millennials I know best, my college-aged sons, and told them they’re free to resent their not-rich grandparents for selfishly gobbling up Social Security and Medicare money to help afford themselves a comfortable and healthy retirement even though the old folks know that there might not be enough money left in the till for the young folks when they’re old folks themselves.
My sons wouldn’t hear of it.
So I told them they’re free to resent their mother and me for having had to buy a house we couldn’t really afford at a price it wasn’t really worth during the housing bubble and for their mother’s having lost her job because some venture capitalists bought up her company and set out to make it “profitable” by gutting the workforce and she’s having trouble finding a new one probably because of her age and gender and I work in academia which when I started out was a comfortably middle-class profession but has since discovered the benefits of temp workers and wage slavery so we don’t have the money on hand at the moment to pay their way through college and they’ll have to take out loans.
I also told them they can resent us because the crash that followed the bubble devastated the 401k’s the middle class of our generation’s forced to fund in place of real pensions because the banksters and Wall Street wolves figured out that was a good first step towards getting their hands on all the money and so we probably won’t have a lot of dough to help them buy their own houses and put their kids through college when the time comes.
They wouldn’t hear of that either.
I told them what you wrote, about how for “decades they’ll be saddled with our effluvium: a monstrous debt, an epidemic of obesity, Adam Sandler movies” and how thanks to global warming “In their lifetimes the Atlantic will possibly swallow Miami Beach” and they should resent not just their grandparents and parents, but their aunts and uncles, their friends’ parents, most of their teachers and professors, a lot of their neighbors, the nice lady who cuts their hair, their favorite clerk at the convenience store who works there as his third job because he needs the money to help put his Millennials through school and on and on.
Well, I left out the Adam Sandler bit because they kind of liked him in Bedtime Stories.
But, know what? They still wouldn’t bite.
Instead they insist on resenting oil companies that have bought and paid for politicians to do nothing about global warming…
And Republicans in Congress who’ve voted to protect and extend the usurious student loan industry...
And extremely profitable corporations that resist hiring, deny raises, scrimp on benefits, and think laying off thousands of workers is the greatest good they can do for the economy…
And elitist politicians and members of the media who make too much to collect Social Security when the time comes insisting that the only way to save Social Security is to cut it drastically as opposed to, oh, say, raising taxes even a little bit on themselves and thus making sure their parents will have even less money in their old age to help them out in their middle age, which they will be spending worrying about how they’ll get through their old age because, you know, Social Security was cut at the insistence of the above mentioned elitist politicians and members of the media.
They also suggested that any apologies due them might come first from fawning journalists whose sycophantic coverage in 2000 helped elect the budget-busting, two-unpaid-for-wars-starting, let’s-make-privatizing-Social Security-a-thing George W. Bush whose idea of an environmentally responsible energy company was ENRON.
That’s the trouble with Millennials. They don’t know how to blame the wrong people.
Yours in abject apology,
PS. I know how it pains you to use the words Democrat and Republican in your columns. But the parties exist and they do stand for things or in the case of the Republicans stand against doing anything about the problems “we’re” leaving to the Millennials.
Also, you might get a kick out of reading Dean Baker’s evisceration of the what passes for economics behind the points you’re trying to make in your column about Medicare and Social Security, Frank Bruni Is Angry That the Government Pays 1000 Times as Much to Peter Peterson as It Does to the Average Kid.
(Psst. Baker’s post title is sarcastic.)
This post is adapted from a Twitter rant I went on the other day. Longtime blogging colleague and regular visitor to Mannionville, Jonathan Korman, who blogs at his own place Miniver Cheevy, did a great and remarkable and very kind thing: He Storify-ed that rant.
Does #Hillary want to be attentive grandmother or presidential candidate. Can she do both? I don’t think she runs. If she does, never mind.— Jim Gardner (@Jim_Gardner) May 21, 2014
Anybody who brings up Hillary Clinton’s impending grandmotherhood, even for the human interest, but especially as if it has real political implications, needs to answer these questions:
How many grandchildren did Mitt Romney have as of 2012? Did you notice? Did you count? Did you care?
Jim Gardner is a long time TV anchorman in Philadelphia and my sources in Philly tell me he’s regarded as the Ron Burgundy of the City of Brotherly Love and I shouldn’t take him seriously.
And the “But she’s going to be a grandmother!” concern trolling seems to be fading, possibly because it wasn’t going anywhere with the public because most normal people are long used to the idea that grandmothering isn’t what it was back in the Beave and Wally’s day and that some grandmothers aren’t available for free babysitting at a moment’s notice because they have things to do like run for President of the United States, possibly because somebody looked at a calendar and noticed the baby’s going to be born a full two years before Election Day and by the time the Grandmother-in-Chief takes office he or she will be a daily photo-op toddling about the White House, at which point the pundits and analysts can waste bandwidth and airtime asking---just asking, mind you---if maybe the opportunistic Clintons are too obviously exploiting their grandchild to advance their insatiable political ambitions.
As many have pointed out, the hand-wringing, eyebrow-raising, and brow-furrowing over Hillary’s becoming a grandmother is inherently sexist, and not-by-the-way nobody’s asking where Grandpa Bill’s going to be during all this. My guess is as close to his grandchild as he can possibly be and that he’ll never let the poor kid out of his hands if he can help it, and the only times Chelsea will get to hold her baby is when she wrestles it away from her father who’ll be proudly assembling a collection of t-shirts and coffee mugs that boast for him “World’s Most Doting Grandfather!” in dozens of languages presented to him by the many world leaders he encounters on his global travels.
“Chels, mind if I take the baby on an little outing?”
“Sure, Dad. Where are you going?”
“See ya!” Zip. Out the door.
So, yep, it’s sexist. But something else is at work, as well.
Another application of the Clinton Rules.
Cast your mind back to the summer of 2008. Remember how the announcement that Sarah Palin was signing on as John McCain’s running mate came almost simultaneously with the announcement that she was going to become a grandmother?
I don’t remember there being a lot of wondering how she could run for Vice-President and still be an attentive grandmother. I remember there being some jaw-dropping and disgusted head-shaking over the idea that the party of Family Values was about to treat us to a nationally celebrated shotgun wedding. I remember some partisans and their toadies in the Press Corps trying to sell it as something warm and fuzzy that would humanize Palin and endear her to other women. I don’t remember anyone saying she should have told McCain, “Sorry, John, I can’t be a heartbeat away from the Presidency right now. I have to stay home in Alaska and help Bristol and Levi with the baby.”
For that matter, I don’t remember there being much concern that Palin had young children of her own still at home, one of them an infant with Down’s syndrome, who might need their mother’s time and attention more than the country needed a Vice-President Palin.
I do remember there being a general disgust as Palin blithely used Trig as a prop every chance she got, but that disgust didn’t seem to be shared by the Press who covered her as if she was all that and more. They never got around to noticing that Palin’s Grizzly Mama act was repellant and that she was generally unpopular among women voters, just as they don’t notice how popular Hillary Clinton is among women.
But then the National Press Corps is still mainly a Boys Club and women’s opinions and issues that matter to women don’t often cross their collective minds as they put together this week’s narrative.
So, yep, I say again, it’s sexist. But it’s also the Clinton Rules at work.
The Clinton Rules were identified by Atrios back in 2006 and he laid them out in this post. Your should read it. But boiled down the Clinton Rules amount to this: Everything a Clinton does should be covered as suspect, sleazy, opportunistic, probably corrupt, disqualifying for high office, and as if no one else in the history of American politics has had the gall to do that very thing whatever it is, like run for President while being a grandparent.
I’ve heard liberals and Democrats express concern about Hillary’s running because of the Clinton Rules. The prospect of having to watch the rules applied again and again over the course of the next two years dismays and disheartens them. I’d see their point, except that the Clinton Rules are expandable, easily applied to any Democrat and every Democrat. Whoever else you would rather see run---and, by the way, there is no one else---he or she would be subject to the Clinton Rules, as soon as Hillary was out of the way.
And if your alternative survived and won, the Obama Rule would come into play, which is that every problem that comes up on his watch must be covered as if it’s going to prove he’s as at least as incompetent as George W. Bush and will be the undoing of his Presidency until…it turns out that’s not the case at all, at which point it’s all to be quickly forgotten while the Press Corps moves on to covering the next problem as if it’s going to prove etc etc Katrina Watergate Benghazi yadda yadda.
Off to the big city for the presentations of the 2014 Hillman Prizes for Journalism. I’ll be tweeting from my seat in the front row at the New York Times Center, maybe even doing a little live-blogging starting around 6 PM. You can follow along on Twitter by checking in at #hillman2014 or jumping into my feed or you just sit right here and watch the action unfold in the Twitter widget over in the left-hand sidebar.
The winners are, as usual, a diverse and impressive bunch, starting with the great digby, Heather Parton, who is being given this year’s prize for Opinion & Analysis.
You can sample the work of the other winners online too:
For Book Journalism: Ira Katznelson. Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time.
For Broadcast Journalism: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Bud Bultman, Roni Selig, Melissa Dunst Lipman, Carl Graf, Saundra Young. “Weed: Dr Sanjay Gupta Reports” CNN.
For Magazine Journalism: Jonathan Cohn. “The Hell of American Daycare.” New Republic.
For Newspaper Journalism: Pat Beall. “Private Prisons: Profit, Politics, Pain”. The Palm Beach Post.
For Web Journalism: Craig Welch and Steve Ringman. “Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn” The Seattle Times and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. (Great video with this one.)
Sometimes I think we’d have a better political press corps if the Clintons had never come to Washington and driven them all out of their collective minds.
In a typical bit of backstage gossip that reporters Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman no doubt thinks is another fine example of a “legitimate scouring of her record undertaken by responsible reporters” Politico wastes bandwidth to report that Hillary Clinton hates the Washington Press Corps.
Ok. Forget Politico. This is just Politico being Politico, trolling for page views, courting Drudge, paying back Republican sources, assuring themselves and the corporate lobbyists who buy them lunch they aren’t in the tank for Democrats.
But the fact is the Clintons, and Democrats in general, are terrible when it comes to handling the Press and that’s a failing. It’s got to be fixed. There are a number of reasons it’s always bad news for Democrats, but one of them is Democrats don’t go out of their way to put reporters in the mood to report any good news.
I know. They are trivial-minded, shallow people with colossal egos who think they know more about how the game’s played than any politician who ever was. They think it’s a game, period. And they’re not in it to be informed or to inform. They’re in it to entertain and be entertained.
Talk to them about numbers and their eyes cross. Try to engage them on the issues or explain policy and they yawn. Insist that any of it really matters, that people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake, and they sneer, they scoff, they essentially tell you to pull the other one. Then they follow up with a cynical question about the latest polls, which they haven’t actually studied because, you know, numbers, and go off to write a story that equates policy with strategy and is all about how it will play out in the elections, careful to give lots of space to the opinionizing of some Republican hack and to quote an anonymous “Democrat”or “friend” or “veteran of past campaigns” saying that you’ve got Democrats worried, confused, depressed, feeling bullied, feeling afraid, feeling defeated, or feeling just plain mad.
You want to tell them to go to hell and they deserve to be told to go to hell but you can’t tell them to go to hell because they will simply write story after story that in one way or another tell you to go to hell back.
You have to treat them as their vanity tell them they deserve.
This is not hard. Here’s how you deal with them.
Get them drunk on good booze.
Keep them drunk.
Feed them well.
Surround them with pretty young things.
Every now and then feed them bits of juicy gossip “off the record.”
Every now and then give them something really newsworthy “off the record.”
From time to time, take one or another of them aside to ask, “What do you think I should do about X?”
From time to time take one of them aside to say, “Great story you did on Y.”
Keep asking, “Can I freshen that drink for you?”
Even better, ask, “Can I have Allison/Jason freshen that drink for you?”
Never let on that you are smarter than they are.
More important, make sure Allison and Jason never let on that they are smarter than they are. No fifty year old Pulitzer Prize winner wants to be told a twenty-three year old political science major knows more than he does, especially because it’s probably true.
There’s an irrationally hopeful part of me that keeps expecting that one of these days Paul Ryan will pop up in front of a camera and instead of announcing yet another version of his basic Starve the Little Children budget he’ll say, “Hey, folks! Guess what, I’ve been kidding all along. These ‘budgets’ of mine are jokes. I just wanted to see how appalling I could make them before the Political Press Corps noticed they don’t add up, they don’t even make sense, they certainly aren’t intended to be helpful and that rather than being the serious, thoughtful, center-right grown-up Republican they’ve been trying to present me as I’m a dangerous goofball and Right Wing tool. Doesn’t look like that’s ever going to happen. I could propose turning poor old people into Soylent Green and the Sunday talk show bobbleheads would only wonder why no Democrats were willing to even discuss a compromise with me on it.”
Jared Bernstein on Ryan’s latest:
Just a few points here. I could, and will and do, go deep in the weeds on this sort of thing. But here’s pretty much all you need to know: his cuts to Pell grants–college tuition assistance for students from low-income families–comes under the section called “Expanding Opportunity.”
Strengthening the safety net is actually block granting SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid. “Ending cronyism” is repealing Dodd-Frank. Orwell would blush.
Hat tip to Brad DeLong.
Here’s why. This passage from Baker’s account of the 2000 Presidential election in Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House:
After thirty-six frenzied days, it was over. The final tally showed Bush and Cheney winning Florida by 537 votes out of nearly 6 million cast and winning the Presidency with 271 electoral votes, one more than the minimum needed.
Notice what’s missing?
The national popular vote.
Which Gore won by over half a million votes, 50,999,897 to 50,456,002.
Baker devotes 17 densely packed pages to covering the weeks from election night through the Supreme Court’s decision to give Bush the Presidency and only on the 17th of those pages does he get around to mentioning, in an aside, without numbers, that Bush lost the popular vote.
He also doesn’t mention that while Bush got 1 more electoral vote than he needed, he only got 5 more than Gore, (271-266), while if Gore had taken Florida he’d have had 21 more than he needed and had 45 more than Bush, 291-246.
In other words, Baker doesn’t think it’s worth bothering to note that in the battle over the Florida election results Gore was fighting to assert a decisive popular and electoral victory and Bush was fighting for a dubious 1 vote win in the Electoral College. Meanwhile, he portrays Gore as the petty and spiteful sore loser who took too long to accept reality.
I’m not going to get deep into Baker’s account of the Supreme Court decision, except to quote this from Days of Fire:
But however reasoned or flawed its findings may have been, the Supreme Court did not elect Bush and Cheney; it stopped a a recount process that would not have changed the outcome. Two extensive recounts conducted later by media organizations showed that Bush and Cheney would still have won even if the hand recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court or the more limited recount in four Democratic counties sought by Gore had gone forward.
The first independent recount was conducted by the Miami Herald and USA Today. The commission found that under most recount scenarios, Bush would have won the election, but Gore would have won using the most generous standards.
Ultimately, a media consortium—comprising the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Tribune Co. (parent of the Los Angeles Times), Associated Press, CNN, Palm Beach Post and St. Petersburg Times—hired the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago to examine 175,010 ballots that were collected from the entire state, not just the disputed counties that were discounted; these ballots contained undervotes (votes with no choice made for president) and overvotes (votes made with more than one choice marked). Their goal was to determine the reliability and accuracy of the systems used for the voting process. The NORC concluded that if the disputes over the validity of all the ballots statewide in question had been consistently resolved and any uniform standard applied, the electoral result would have been reversed and Gore would have won by 107–115 votes if only two of the three coders had to agree on the ballot. When counting ballots wherein all three coders agreed, Gore would have won the most restrictive scenario by 127 votes and Bush would have won the most inclusive scenario by 110 votes.
Subsequent analyses cast further doubt on conclusions that Bush likely would have won anyway, had the U.S. Supreme Court not intervened. An analysis of the NORC data by University of Pennsylvania researcher Steven F. Freeman and journalist Joel Bleifuss concluded that a recount of all uncounted votes using any standard (inclusive, strict, statewide or county by county), Gore would have been the victor. Such a statewide review including all uncounted votes was a very real possibility, as Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, whom the Florida Supreme Court had assigned to oversee the statewide recount, had scheduled a hearing for December 13 (mooted by the U.S. Supreme Court's final ruling on the 12th) to consider the question of including overvotes as well as undervotes, and subsequent statements by Judge Lewis and internal court documents support the likelihood of including overvotes in the recount. Florida State University professor of public policy Lance deHaven-Smith observed that, even considering only undervotes, "under any of the five most reasonable interpretations of the Florida Supreme Court ruling, Gore does, in fact, more than make up the deficit". Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's analysis of the NORC study and media coverage of it supports these interpretations and criticizes the coverage of the study by media outlets such as the New York Times and the other media consortium members.
Also, as Baker tells it, Bush’s team fought for their guy lawyer against lawyer, always tough, always determined, but always fair and on the up and up; he doesn’t appear to have heard of the Brooks Brothers Riot, Katherine Harris, or Jeb Bush’s disenfranchisement of over 12,000 legitimate potential Gore voters. He deals with Palm Beach County in a note and makes its sound as though Gore’s losing West Virginia and Tennessee counts as something more than a disappointing bit of historical trivia. And his version of the Presidential Debates is the National Press Corps’ version from 2000. Never mind that the overnight polls favored him, Gore lost because he sighed a lot and rolled his eyes. The War on Gore continues.
What it comes down to is that Baker, who up until this point had been avoiding editorializing and any analysis that might cross the boundaries of critical opinion, goes out of his way to validate Bush’s election and push the idea that the better man won.
As I wrote the other day, in the first of what's probably going to wind up being half a dozen posts on the book---it's a big book!---Portrait of the politcian as a sour young man, given that Days of Fire is an insider account of the Bush-Cheney Administration and Baker seems content to report what his sources told him without editorializing or much in the way of hard questioning, so I'd expect it to be more sympathetic to Bush and Cheney than I’d like or think they deserve. But if it keeps on like this then it’s going to be an even harder read than I thought, because the last thing those two need is another apology from another Beltway Insider journalist.
I’m going to soldier on, though. I’ll report in from the field as I go.
"uncounted votes". That's the phrase to keep in mind. Not the undervotes or the overvotes or the ones who were illegally disenfranchised, but the many votes that, to this day, have never been counted at all. How can that happen?
Read John Lantigua’s report on the Brooks Brothers Riot in Salon, Miami’s Rent-a-Riot.
The image below with some of the rioters identified is from TruthMove.
Dear Reince and all other Republicans,
We’re very sorry you recognized your base and what your party has become in our Tweet about how that Cheerios ad drives Right Wingers crazy. As you know, as upstanding members of the Liberal Media the thing we fear most is that Republicans will accuse us of being liberal. Therefore, we’ve fired the person responsible for the tweet and offer our most abject apologies. We promise that whenever you or any other Republican appears on one of our shows we will pretend you aren’t what you are and don’t represent the people you represent and the points of view you’re expressing are sane, moderate, open-minded, and intended to help move the country forward.
We hope you’ll forgive us and continue to give our spouses, family, and friends jobs, pick up the tab at lunch, invite us to your parties, and pay us exorbitant fees to speak at those wonderful expensive dinners and functions we couldn’t afford to attend otherwise because we have kids to put through the Ivy League colleges your recommendations helped them get into.
PS. We can’t promise about Rachel but maybe she’ll give us an excuse to fire her soon.
I’m no fan of Matthews. Nothing personal. I’m no fan of any TV talking head shows mostly because I think all they do is stoke angers. I can’t bear to listen to Matthews’ yelling but more than his yelling what I find hard to take is that he’s a sentimentalist.
This actually makes me like him more than I do most of his colleagues who either go in for cheap cynicism or sophomoric ironies.
But Matthews seems to have gained his world view from Frank Capra’s movies and the paintings of Norman Rockwell, entirely missing the point that Capra and Rockwell were both saying Too bad people really aren’t like this, but it wouldn’t it be nice if they were? Listen to Matthews, even when he’s hopping mad, and you can’t miss it. He thinks we all live in Bedford Falls.
When I want to think life is like a Frank Capra movie or a Norman Rockwell painting I watch a Frank Capra movie or look at Norman Rockwell’s paintings.
I don’t buy books by Chris Matthews.
His Kennedy bio, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, was just another visit to Camelot. The sentimentality of this new dual portrait of Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan is breezily and fatuously announced in the title, which I know Matthews may not have chosen himself. Reagan never answered to “Gipper.” It was an advertising slogan cynical members of the Press Corps parroted to help peddle an image of Reagan as a wise in his folksy way, genial but tough when he had to be father-figure that nobody in Washington bought except, apparently, a young aide to Tip O’Neill named Chris Matthews.
The premise of Tip and the Gipper, that politics worked in the 1980s because O’Neill and Reagan could put aside partisan differences and hash out compromises for the good of the American people, doesn’t jibe at all with my memories of the time. Politics worked when O’Neill and other Democrats in the House and the Senate got together to keep Reagan from getting what he wanted and forced him into accepting things he didn’t want.
Here’s the odd thing though.
If I hadn’t already decided to give Tip and the Gipper the skip, Greenberg’s review wouldn’t have convinced me to. In fact, it might have made me want to read it.
There are things in it that strike me as being as basically wrong as calling Reagan the Gipper.
Starting with this:
The problems begin with the false symmetry Matthews sets up. He paints Reagan and O’Neill as mirror images: two “larger than life” “Irish-American” politicians, titans of their parties, standard-bearers for their worldviews. But O’Neill wasn’t “larger than life” (only large). Nor was he a notable spokesman for liberalism as Reagan was for conservatism — or as Barney Frank and Ted Kennedy were for liberalism. Even the most powerful House speakers haven’t rivaled the president in importance.
Greenberg should have tried out that paragraph in certain precincts around Boston.
Tip O’Neill didn’t appear on the national stage as Speaker of the House in 1981 any more than Reagan made his entrance in the 1980 Presidential election. O’Neill became a “titan” of his party as Democratic Majority Leader during Watergate. There’s really no defending the phrase “larger than life” but if any politician of the last third of the 20th Century could be accurately described as larger than life, and not just large, ha ha, it was O’Neill. And someone who’d be happy to tell you so is Barney Frank, who during the Reagan years wasn’t the “notable spokesman” for liberalism he would become. He was a very junior member of Congress whose influence, to the degree he had any, was due to his being the protégé of Tip O’Neill who was grooming him to become the first Jewish Speaker of the House. The reasons Frank never became Speaker are obvious but he almost didn’t last out the eighties as Congressman at all. He survived “coming out of the room” as O’Neill put it and the scandal that attended it because O’Neill protected him. There’s no being glad of Barney Frank without being glad of Tip O’Neill. When Reagan came to Washington, he wasn’t met by just some “old-style, steaks-and-cigars Boston Irish pol”, as Greenberg would have it. He was met by the Democratic politician who may have been most instrumental in running Richard Nixon out of town.
Greenberg gets to the central fallacy of Matthews’ book by pointing out that O’Neill and Reagan squared off against each other from the start, although I’m not sure that his one example is all that telling as evidence of O’Neill’s less than larger than life status or that he and Reagan didn’t spend Reagan’s Presidency in affable deal-making.
But on the key legislative issue of Reagan’s presidency — the 1981 fight over his budget, which slashed taxes on the rich — O’Neill simply got rolled. Spooked by the president’s popularity, which surged after he was shot by John Hinckley in March of that year, O’Neill failed to compete with Reagan in the new age of media politics. Worse, he also came up short in his supposed strong suit — riding herd on his caucus — as scores of Democrats, fearing the tax-cutting bandwagon, defected to back the Reagan bill. The consequences — skyrocketing budget deficits and debilitating inequality — have plagued us ever since.
Those tax cuts happened right at the beginning of Reagan’s first term when he was flush from his trouncing of Jimmy Carter and the economy was still a wreck from years of double-digit inflation, slow economic growth, and stubbornly high unemployment. It’s hard to oppose tax cuts under any circumstances, let alone those doleful ones.
(To be fair to Greenberg, who is a professor of history, journalism, and media studies and Rutgers University, the review reads like something that started out much longer and was haphazardly trimmed to fit by a hurried and distracted copyeditor with no real knowledge of the subject at hand.)
The real question is what happened over the course of the next seven years?
And basically what happened is what didn’t. Reagan wasn’t able to bring about the Reagan Revolution movement conservatives hoped for.
Not that he didn’t do damage.
It’s just that without Democratic opposition---obstructionism?---led by O’Neill the Reagan Years would have looked a lot like the George W. Bush years. Just as a for instance, Reagan wanted to go to war, at least by proxy, in Central America. He wanted to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and replace them with Right Wing militarists. That didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen not because Reagan and O’Neill put aside their differences. It didn’t happen because Reagan lost the political battle to O’Neill.
Central to understanding what was going on between Reagan and O’Neill is Iran-Contra, which is not a story of the happy triumph of bipartisanship.
Reagan and O’Neill did practice the art of self-interested hypocrisy. But that’s what it was on both their parts, hypocrisy. They pretended to get along despite their differences in order to maintain their sanity as much as anything else. But the differences mattered to them. They were both intensely partisan and both fighters by nature.
But there were other factors at work shaping their relationship, one of them being Reagan’s health, which was not good.
Reagan was genuinely of the Right. But he wasn’t as ideologically committed to Reaganism or Reaganomics as his disciples would have and as they are. He was pragmatic and he was something else. Old. His image as a man who somehow defied age was an image. His brave and cheerful response to the assassination attempt inspired affection and admiration among people who loathed his politics but really the wound took a lot out of him, physically and mentally. It aged him. He didn’t recover like a young man. It’s likely he never truly recovered. And then there was his Alzheimer’s. It’s clear now, and should have been then, that in his second term he was already drifting away.
Throughout almost the whole of Presidency, Reagan didn’t have the physical energy or mental focus necessary for a sustained ideological battle. What may have looked to the young Chris Matthews like a willingness on Reagan’s part to cut deals and make compromises may very well have been evidence that Reagan just didn’t have the stamina left to care.
O’Neill was on the way out the door himself, as it happened.
In other words, what Matthews is remembering as a golden time in American politics was in reality a tale of two old men wearing out in public.
Maybe I’m being sentimental.
Let me add this.
The reason sentimentality has to be guarded against is that it often also nostalgic. Nostalgia is pernicious because it causes us to see people and events out of time, that is, apart from the circumstances and conditions that made them what they were and as cut off from things they themselves caused in the present.
Even if Matthews was right about the relationship between Reagan and O’Neill, it has to be seen as a product of the political conditions of the time, and there’s no making it a model for our political moment without recreating those conditions and undoing the political history of the last twenty-five years.
Some things happened since the days Tip and the Gipper hoisted beers together and those things were brought about by things Ronald Reagan did.
Greenberg points out something that can’t be pointed out enough when talking about Ronald Reagan. Yes, the man could be genial. That warm chuckle and the twinkle in his eye were genuine signs of a sunny disposition and affable nature. But he had a mean streak.
And it infected his politics. It was there in his talk about Welfare Queens. It was there in his callous indifference to the AIDS crisis. It was there in his dismissal of all the small Midwestern farmers facing foreclosure and the ruin of their and their families’ and their communities’ lives as “the inefficient.”
And with a warm chuckle and a twinkle he sold that meanness to the nation. Government is the problem, he said, but the problem was that government, liberal government, was based on the idea that we’re all in this together.
Nonsense, the Gipper chuckled and twinkled, we don’t owe anything to each other, we’re all in for ourselves, and the object of government to the degree it has one is to keep out of the way of the selfish and greedy.
Reagan himself wasn’t able to enshrine that in legislation because Tip O’Neill wouldn’t stand for it.
It had to wait for the arrival on the national stage of another larger than life politician.
All Reagan’s heirs have had as their goal to out-Reagan Reagan in meanness.
But Newt got their first and paved the way for the rest of them.
As you could probably tell, the reason I resent Greenberg’s characterization of Tip O’Neill is that it’s a challenge to my own probably sentimental view the man. That view is the product of two things, his actually having been my Congressman for during the first four years of Reagan’s Presidency and my having read at a too impressionable age Jimmy Breslin’s How the Good Guys Finally Won: Notes From an Impeachment Summer, still to my mind one of the best books about Watergate, although sentimental as only Breslin can be.
Just got around to reading all of Richard Cohen’s now notorious “gag-reflex” column in the Washington Post. Have to say that for the first six paragraphs it’s not offensive. I even agree with it. It sounds like something I could have written myself. In fact, I have written it myself or, at least, variations on Cohen’s themes here. That the Radical Right and Religious Right Wings of the Republican Party have taken over the GOP, that Ted Cruz has made himself the hero and tribune of those wings, putting himself in the best position to win the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016 over any and all challengers especially a “moderate” like Chris Christie, that Christie’s landslide re-election as governor of New Jersey will count for nothing with the voters who will decide the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary and thus decide the front runner for the nomination and probably the likely winner, those same Radical Right Wing and Right Wing Christians who are rallying around Ted Cruz.
But then Cohen misses the point of his own argument.
It begins with his noting that the Right Wing Christians want to nominate one of their own and Cruz is one of their own and Chris Christie definitely isn’t and probably won’t do a good job of pretending he is. Mitt Romney had to repudiate his Mormanism. Rick Santorum is nominally a Catholic but he knows how to talk like a Right Wing Christian and does it so well that it’s probable that in the matter of his religion he thinks and believes like one to the point that I doubt his belief in transubstantiation and the efficacy of good works.
But Christie is made of sterner stuff. He may not be the most devout Catholic in the pews every Sunday, but he’s not likely to pass as an evangelical Protestant. Even if he can force himself to mouth the words, the Fundamentalists will sense how he’s repressing his own gag reflex. And there’s where Cohen begins to go off track.
He leaves out a word.
Which means he leaves out another reason the Evangelical Right won't take to Chris Christie.
For forty years and more, the so-called liberal media has been assiduously failing to notice this about the Religious Right. They’ve been determinedly presenting the Right as just folks, well-meaning conservative types, who may be a step or two behind the times and given to occasional lapses that reveal their quaintly old-fashioned views, but essentially decent-minded with their hearts in the right places who really don’t mean what they say, they just get grumpy or forgetful some times is all, but they can be excused for a lot because when all’s said and done they are the real regular Americans.
Except, when all’s said and done, they actually hate most other regular Americans.
Catholics live in cities and have ethnic sounding names. Catholics are Kennedys. Catholics believe in transubstantiation and the efficacy of good works.
Catholics are others, part of the THEM and the Republican Right is united in one thing. Hating on THEM.
The Republican Right is a tribe of bigots and haters and since the Right controls the Party then, effectively, as Cohen the Republican Party is a party of bigots and haters.
Now comes Cohen’s notorious paragraph:
Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
As Ta-Nehisi Coates says, no one thinks Cohen is confessing to his own nausea at the thought of a white man married to a black woman. He’s talking about the Tea Party types who we know are sickened by the thought. And enraged. And frightened. Just remember the reaction to the Cheerios ad this past summer.
But here’s the thing. He’s just said that the people who think like this aren’t racist.
He calls them “people with conventional views.”
But being sickened, enraged, and frightened at the thought of a bi-racial couple isn’t conventional. It hasn’t been conventional for going on two generations, at least. And even when it was conventional it was also racist. Racism itself was conventional. There are surely old people who still hold views that were “conventional” when they were very young, but those people’s views aren’t conventional today. They’re hide-bound, calcified, atrophied, ignorant, and racist. And anybody who isn’t old, and I mean well-over seventy, who holds those views can’t claim they’re just conventional.
It’s that exculpatory “conventional” that undoes Cohen. With it he is excusing racists. But he’s actually gone further. He’s excused a political party actively pursuing a racist agenda. “Today’s GOP is not racist.”
Cohen isn’t the only member of the Village Media in denial about the racism fueling the Republican opposition to everything President Obama tries to do. He isn’t the only one plugging his ears when Republican politicians boast about what they intend to do with their voter suppression efforts. He isn’t the only one refusing to see the Confederate flags waving at rallies. And while I haven’t seen Cohen doing it himself, if he has, he wouldn’t be the only one blaming the open contempt Republicans show for the President not on them but on the President’s “aloofness,” that is, on his refusal to grovel and shuffle and otherwise show them he knows his place in their company.
You are either a fool or a liar if you claim not to see how much of what is going on is intended to humiliate the black man who had the nerve to become President.
They’ve just announced they’re going to impeach Eric Holder and, never mind their trumped up charges, they’re going to do it just to show Holder he’s been uppity. But the fun for them includes another chance to embarrass the President and show him who are the real bosses in their America.
Cohen is on track to make this point in those first six paragraphs, and then he ignores the thrust of his own argument to go out of his way to give Republicans an excuse to deny what’s happened to their party.
Cohen’s column is headlined “Christie’s Tea Party Problem.” But the Tea Party isn’t just Chris Christie’s problem. It’s every Republican’s problem, because, as Cohen says, the Tea Party is running the Party and the Tea Party is a tribe of bigots, haters, and racists who don’t happen to hold “conventional views.” They are radical reactionaries who are trying to re-establish white supremacy as the law of the land.
Watch how pictures like this get used in the upcoming Republican Presidential campaign.
Ta-Nehisi Coates handles this much better than I have: Richard Cohen in Context.
Make sure you read all of Cohen’s column.
For the most of the last five years I thought the most historically important fact about Barack Obama was that he’s our first African American President.
Turns out, that’s nothing.
In the last few weeks I’ve learned that the most historically important fact about him is that he’s the first politician to ever break a promise or make one on which he couldn’t deliver.
Live and learn.
Ok, on the one hand, most of this is just the same amateur psychobiography that's been the Village conventional wisdom on Barack Obama since he started running for President and that's always boiled down to self-important jackasses saying to each other, "He doesn't laugh at my jokes. What's wrong with him?"
And, his golf game? Really? Didn't we get past this with Clinton and his fondness for mulligans?
On the other hand, a lot of it rings true and it fits with things I've been told by people who knew him at Columbia. And...while I'd like to think that refusing to make self-important jackasses feel their own importance even more isn't a character flaw, it is a political failing. Making self-important jackasses feel important is part of a politician's job at every level, from town board on up to the White House.
That said, here's Vanity Fair's Todd S. Purdum on President Obama, The Lonely Guy.
Self-containment is not simply Obama’s political default mode. Self-possession is the core of his being, and a central part of the secret of his success. It is Obama’s unwavering discipline to keep his cool when others are losing theirs, and it seems likely that no black man who behaved otherwise could ever have won the presidency.
But this quality, perhaps Obama’s greatest strength in gaining office, is his greatest weakness in conducting it. And as he ends the first year of his second term, that weakness seems to dog him—and to matter—more and more. At a time when the abrasions of office leave any president most in need of friends, Obama is the capital’s Lonely Guy.
Read all of Purdum's article at Vanity Fair. Quick note: Don't get me started on Thatcher and Reagan, but Tony Blair's "special relationship" with first Bill Clinton and then George W. Bush wasn't good for the United States or Great Britain either. And I don't know what Angela Merkel feels about it coming out what I'll lay odds she already knew---the Germans are no slouches at espionage themselves---I'm pretty sure that no matter what else she thinks of President Obama, she's just glad she won't be subject to any more surprise shoulder rubs from an American President.
Hat tip to David Frum.
Did Chris Christie win re-election in a big enough landslide that the National Press Corps can declare their great big man-crush the de facto President-elect for 2016 as they’re so obviously dying to do?
Or was his margin of victory only big enough to hand him the Republican nomination?
As if Ted Cruz and Rand Paul won’t have a thing or two to say about that.
I don’t expect the fawners and flatterers in the media to point out that having had the good sense to follow Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo’s lead on dealing with Hurricane Sandy isn’t enough of an accomplishment to build a Presidential campaign on, especially not a Republican campaign, or bother to find out if, as there's reason to believe, he's corrupt in exactly the way they were convinced Bill Clinton was in the days of their Whitewater mania, but will we have to wait until his first big temper tantrum on the campaign trail for the Media to feel safe pointing out that he doesn’t have the temperament or emotional maturity to be President?
How long before reporters and pundits grudgingly notice that he probably won’t carry New Jersey, that Garden State Democrats who voted to keep him as their governor likely won’t want him as their President?
I won’t hold my breath waiting for them to admit it matters that women really don’t like him.
And how long before Christie’s fans in the Press Corps finally come around to accepting the fact that the “grown-ups” are not going to save the Republican Party from the Tea Party crazies because that would mean saving the party from its own most dedicated voters.
As if Christie’s a grown-up, anyway.
Some of this sounds like the ranting of an aged widower with a gift for vituperation that he likes to exercise, drawling dictations for [his secretaries] to admire. [Twain] was too close to the scene and misled by the clamor in the daily newspapers, although he knew very well how deceptive the press’s outrages can be: how this week’s uproar…can have sunk into oblivion two weeks on. ---from Mark Twain and the Colonel: Samuel L. Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Arrival of a New Century by Philip McFarland.
As turmoil swirls, Sebelius takes hot seat—Edward-Isaac Dovere & Jennifer Haberkorn— Not so long ago, Sebelius was a popular two-term governor with bipartisan appeal. Now the HHS secretary is the face of a flop, a “Saturday Night Live” caricature and a woman for whom doing “well” at Wednesday’s House hearing would be not digging a deeper hole for herself and the botched Obamacare website launch. http://politi.co/1gZXfKb ---from Politico’s newsletter this morning.
The National political press corps just spent an entire month reporting on lots of bad news for Republicans. You know how that worries them. So it’s not surprising they seem about to spend the next month reporting on bad news for the President vis-a-vis Obamacare as a disaster in progress. Because, you know, balance!
Glitches in a less than brilliantly designed website equals shutting down the government and setting out to cause default on the national debt in the hopes that bringing the economy to the brink of collapse will show them.
Ok. The website is a disaster. Heads should roll. But on Monday Facebook got "glitchy" and my students couldn’t post the links to their blog posts on our Digital Commoners page before their deadline. Meanwhile, I spent the morning visiting three commercial websites looking for information it took me three minutes to actually read but an hour and a half to find following links that were less than helpful (when they existed. There’s almost nothing less useful than the FAQ page at any website.) I needed to visit a fourth website but I forgot my password and when I requested a new one I got a message promising an email was on the way to help me through the process. The email arrived twelve hours later. Just for a laugh, I checked our new insurance company's website to see if it had been updated to show they've expanded their coverage area to our neck of the woods and our family doctor is now in their network. It hadn't. And this was a relatively good and carefree day on the internet.
Again. The website’s a disaster and there’s no excuse for it. But every day even some of the best designed websites get overwhelmed. Downloads don’t download or open after they do. Orders get lost. Payments double post or don't post at all. Identities get stolen. Viruses get spread. Maintenance is being done when you need to get in there right now! No one seems to have anticipated your particular question or problem. There’s no easy way to contact a live human being. The site is just plain ugly. The layout’s confusing. Links are broken. Information's out of date. Instructions are unclear. Instructions are wrong. Instructions are gibberish! Servers crash. Pages hang. Browsers freeze. This stuff happens all the time and we live with it because we know through experience whatever the problem we encounter it will get fixed or we’ll figure out how to work around it.
As digby points out, despite the problems with the website, people who need health insurance will persevere because they need health insurance. The bobblehead assumption seems to be that people will get stymied and throw up their hands, saying, “My kids need to see a doctor but screw them, this is too frustrating.”
Whatever the situation or issue, the bobbleheads think all Americans are as soft and spoiled as they are.
Ok, once more with feeling. The website’s a disaster that shouldn’t have happened. But it did and now it’s getting fixed. And that’s pretty much that. Although it calls into question the competency of the people supervising the rollout, it doesn’t predict the future of Obamacare.
We’re not looking at a “train wreck.”
We’re looking at a skyscraper under construction.
Calling Obamacare a disaster or a failure already is like rubbernecking at a major construction site during the first week of construction, noticing that the rubble from what was demolished to make way for the new building is still being cleared away, looking down into the hole where the pilings have just been set, watching the delivery trucks backing up at the gates, listening to the architects and the contractors arguing over what needs to be done first today, hearing horns honking as the traffic backs up in the one lane that hasn’t been closed to make way for the cement mixers, bulldozers, dump trucks, and cranes, eavesdropping on angry neighbors complaining about the noise and dust and confusion and workers on a break grousing that somebody ordered the wrong gauge of wire or not enough pipes or didn’t hire enough guys from their local and a foreman coming over to holler about falling behind schedule, taking in all this mess and din and declaring that this skyscraper will never get built.
Or…if it does, it will surely collapse in short order.
If it doesn’t collapse, no one will want to rent any of the apartments or lease any of the office space.
Even if every office and apartment gets occupied, people won’t like the décor and there’ll always be lines at the elevators.
If they do like it and don’t mind the lines, it won’t matter, because in fifty or so years the building will have outlived its usefulness and be torn down and replaced by something else, so there’s no point in finishing it. Might as well stop construction and let the site sit empty for the next half a century and anybody who needed the place to live or the office space or anything the shops down at street level would have offered can just go find what they need somewhere else, don’t ask us where or how, or…
…they can just go suff.