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Daily Howler: What was Brooks' major complaint? You aren't allowed to know that
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YOU AREN’T ALLOWED TO KNOW THAT! What was Brooks’ major complaint? You aren’t allowed to know that: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 4, 2009

Jonathan Chait has seen rivers: Maureen Dowd has long been the dumbest of all; she proves it again with this morning’s column. Poor lady! She cuts and pastes John McCain’s cri de coeur about “earmarks” in the new federal spending package—spending measures which account for less than 1.9 percent of the bill’s total spending. (According to Dowd, these “earmarks” total $7.7 billion—in a $410 billion package.)

By the way: How much of that 1.9 percent is actually wasteful spending? Dowd makes no attempt to say. Instead, she follows a well-worn path, listing provisions which may sound silly if confronted on the fly. Quoting McCain, the lady soon finds herself railing at “offensive pork” such as this:

DOWD (3/4/09): $650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi.

Beaver management! Tee-hee-hee-hee! But is that spending actually wasteful? (It represents one 640-thousandth of the total spending.) Dowd doesn’t have the slightest idea. And of course, she never will.

But so it goes as a D-plus elite continues its dim depredations. And uh-oh! Yesterday, Jonathan Chait offered this worthwhile post about an astounding bungle. (For the record, Jamison Foser had explained the bungle about four hours before.) “I've seen a lot of dumb news reports in my life, but I'm not sure anything can quite match this one from ABC News,” Chait wrote, politely failing to mention the name of history’s dumbest reporter. That name belonged to Emily Friedman. We’ll assume an editor approved her report, but that worthy must go unnamed.

How cosmically dumb is our D-plus elite? As you can see from Chait or Foser, Friedman seemed to have little or no idea how marginal tax rates work. Midway along, she quoted “a financial adviser,” Gary Schatsky, who politely let her know that the sky is up, the grass is green, and the earth isn’t actually flat:

FRIEDMAN (3/3/09): Because we have a marginal tax system, said Schatsky, what Obama's plan means is that the amount of tax you pay on each incremental dollar is higher only when your income is pushed into a higher tax bracket.

“Said Schatsky!” Gruesome but perfect. By the way: If you didn’t know how marginal tax rates work, you most likely still didn’t know after reading that jumbled prose. Friedman didn’t seem to know about marginal rates coming in. But even after speaking to Schatsky, she still had a very hard time explaining how the mystery works.

So it goes as a stunningly hapless elite attempts to explain your world.

For the record: Responding to yesterday’s torrent of ridicule, ABC News is now offering an “updated version” of Friedman’s report; if you want to read the original version, we suggest that you just click this. For ourselves, we’ll offer one last suggestion about this report, which is (alas) only semi-astounding, given the work this D-plus elite has churned for so many years.

Suggestion: Take a look at the reader comments below ABC’s “updated version.” These are the original comments, and they reflect the massive ignorance of the American public—who, of course, are doomed to read the work of people like Friedman. More than 900 comments are available as we type today. But uh-oh! If you sift through the first several hundred comments, you will encounter very few readers who commented on Friedman’s cosmic bungling. Fairly quickly, readers entered gong-show disputes about “class warfare” and the like. But along with hapless Friedman herself, very few of Friedman’s readers seemed to know how marginal tax rates work! And needless to say, by just the fourth comment, we had descended to this:

COMMENT 4: It's proven that when marginal tax rates are reduced, tax revenues actually increase. The democrats are too proud to accept this reality.

There we went again! Let’s take a guess: “JJSmith” has heard that nonsensical claim for years, uncorrected by the fellows who drive our career liberal discourse. As we’ve told you, again and again: The career liberal world has sat on its hands for decades now as strings of inane talking-points get dispensed. And guess what? Voters believe that these claims are correct! They’ve never heard them corrected or challenged—not by the floundering mainstream press, not by our “liberal” organs.

Chait has “seen a lot of dumb news reports.” But we’ve seen a lot of dumb work too. We read The New Republic.

YOU AREN’T ALLOWED TO KNOW THAT: Many liberals reacted, with fire, to yesterday’s column by David Brooks. Brooks offered “A Moderate Manifesto,” in which he sadly complained about Obama’s budget.

But what was Brooks’ major complaint? Rubes, please! On the devolving liberal web, you aren’t allowed to know!

How thoroughly can unpleasant claims get airbrushed away on the liberal web? Consider Ed Kilgore’s response to Brooks. We were linked to Kilgore by Steve Benen, who praised his “terrific response.”

Kilgore starts right at the beginning, quoting Brooks’ opening paragraph. Here’s the part which Kilgore presents. So far, all is appropriate:

BROOKS, AS QUOTED BY KILGORE (3/3/09): We [moderates] sympathize with a lot of the things that President Obama is trying to do. We like his investments in education and energy innovation. We support health care reform that expands coverage while reducing costs.

So far, all is appropriate. But as Kilgore continues, he says this: “So what’s the big beef? It’s just all too much.” And then, Kilgore continues to quote from Brooks—from Brooks’ second and third paragraphs. But uh-oh! As Kilgore “quotes” again from Brooks, we note there has been a deletion:

BROOKS, AS QUOTED BY KILGORE: [T]he Obama budget is more than just the sum of its parts. There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor—caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once....

We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.

By the use of that ellipsis, Kilgore signals that something has been deleted. But what has Kilgore left on the floor? Brooks’ principal criticism! Here’s the full text of those paragraphs, just as Brooks wrote them. We highlight what Kilgore deleted:

BROOKS, ACTUAL COLUMN: But the Obama budget is more than just the sum of its parts. There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor—caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.

So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see. We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.

In a trivial point, we’d say that Kilgore’s ellipsis is located in the wrong place. But the significant problem involves the text which Kilgore has “edited” out. In that “edited” passage, Brooks raises one of the two major claims which drive his column. Indeed, he offers some version of this central complaint at three separate points in his piece:

BROOKS (paragraph 3): So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see.

BROOKS (paragraph 7): The U.S. has traditionally had a relatively limited central government. But federal spending as a share of G.D.P. is zooming from its modern norm of 20 percent to an unacknowledged level somewhere far beyond.

BROOKS (paragraph 13): Moderates are going to have to try to tamp down the polarizing warfare that is sure to flow from Obama’s über-partisan budget. They will have to face fiscal realities honestly and not base revenue projections on rosy scenarios of a shallow recession and robust growth next year.

Which part of “Obama is using phony projections of growth” didn’t Kilgore understand? If we “edit” this claim from Brooks’ column, Brooks’ column makes much less sense. But neither Kilgore nor Benen mentioned this central claim by Brooks—and Benen then puzzles and scratches his head about Brooks’ “very frustrating column.” Poor Benen! He’s puzzled by Brooks’ desire to move a bit more slowly than Obama; Brooks favors “moderation for moderation’s sake,” he frustratedly ends up deciding. And of course, Brooks’ reasoning doesn’t make a great deal of sense—if you “edit” out the passages which explain his thinking quite clearly.

Are Brooks’ fiscal criticisms correct? Is Obama using “rosy scenarios” about future growth? If we consider the matter “realistically,” will his budget produce trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see? Is it true that Obama’s plan will take federal spending, as a share of GDP, to previously unknown levels? We’re not sure, in part because of people like Kilgore and Benen. In this recent editorial, the Washington Post came down on Obama’s side—but only to an extent:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (2/28/09): So, does the Obama administration's forecast breach its honest budgeting promise? No doubt, the relative optimism—as opposed to, say, actual cuts in entitlement programs—accounts for much of the deficit reduction after this year's all-time high (in nominal terms) of $1.75 trillion. And equally plainly, any president has to be especially careful about voicing pessimism, lest he prove self-fulfilling.

But while upbeat, the administration's forecasts are within the range of reasonable possibilities, according to economists we consulted. As the White House points out, Mr. Obama's forecasters had the advantage of inside knowledge of upcoming policy moves. The administration is clearly banking on the success of the $787 billion fiscal stimulus package, as well as on its still-emerging plan to shore up the banking system. And, as Christina Romer, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said Thursday, "all forecasts are subject to a substantial margin of error.”

But that's just the problem. We live at a time of extraordinary economic distress and extraordinary economic uncertainty. Most of the surprises lately have been on the downside...

The Post goes on to say that Obama’s “upbeat forecasts” are somewhat “unsettling.” David Brooks is less optimistic. He says that the forecasts are wrong. Within the obvious logic of his column, that explains why he thinks Obama should slow things down, even though he “sympathizes with a lot of the things Obama is trying to do.”

Brooks’ analysis may be wrong, but it makes perfect sense—until Benen and Kilgore start “editing.” To all appearances, the gents decided that you, the rubes, needn’t worry your heads with Brooks’ real argument. Right smack-dab in paragraph 3, Brooks explained his thinking quite clearly. But liberal readers just wanna have fun. So it got “edited” out.

Brooks makes a second major criticism, accusing Obama of fostering some sort of class resentment. To our mind, Brooks’ case is weak on that score, but his claims about those “upbeat forecasts” deserve to be sifted and aired. If Brooks’ judgment is actually right, it’s a serious problem with Obama’s budget. If Brooks’ judgment on this matter is wrong, liberals should know how to explain it. This claim will be widely made.

But rubes, you don’t have to worry your heads if you live on the liberal web. What was David Brooks’ principal claim? Rubes! You don’t get to know that!

Worst “liberals” in the world: It would be hard to overstate the way the emerging “liberal” world is becoming a small, crabbed duchy built around propaganda. And of course, nobody runs the liberal rubes quite the way Olbermann does! Sorry, but this award from Monday’s show was deeply uninformed—unintelligent:

OLBERMANN (3/2/09): Our runner up [for worst person in the world], Mary Matalin, went on the Today Show and got Governor Bobby "let me tell you a story" Jindal in more hot water. "He`s the greatest public policy innovator in the country today," she said. "Bobby Jindal has made more progress in Louisiana in the shortest period of time in the history of the state, probably in the country. Education reform, ethics reform; everything that put Louisiana down in scale is now one of the top states in the country."

The annual report card on education in the states by Education Week for 2007, Louisiana 21st best. The annual report card on education in the states by Education Week in 2008, Louisiana 35th best. This comes from a press release issued in January by the Louisiana Department of Education.

Sorry, but that’s hugely stupid—and it should be insulting to any progressive who wastes his time watching this program. We don’t know if Matalin can support her claims about Jindal and education reform. But we’ll guarantee that Olbermann—our own Maureen Dowd—lacks the first clue about the subject, and about those Education Week rankings, which aren’t quite as simple-minded as the simple-minded host might desire. Tomorrow, we’ll run you through the High Irrelevance of those rankings for those who want to judge Matalin’s claim. For today, just understand: As you thrilled to this foolish award, you were being treated like fools. Olbermann had no idea whereof he spoke. He just wanted to throw raw meat, thus letting the herd slobber hard.

Sad. But Jindal has become the latest Quayle/Gore ever since he gave that groaning speech. Yesterday, we said we’d respond to one part of Frank Rich’s Sunday column. And so, away we sail.

As usual, Columnist Rich was grandly posed as the world’s Most Racially High-Minded Man. With his standard clairvoyance, he just knew why Jindal was being promoted by his party:

RICH (3/1/09): If you’re baffled why the G.O.P. would thrust Jindal into prime time, the answer is desperation. Eager to update its image without changing its antediluvian (or antebellum) substance, the party is trying to lock down its white country-club blowhards. The only other nonwhite face on tap, alas, is the unguided missile Michael Steele, its new national chairman. Steele has of late been busy promising to revive his party with an “off-the-hook” hip-hop PR campaign, presumably with the perennially tan House leader John Boehner leading the posse.

“Perennially tan”—that was cute! At any rate, according to Rich, Jindal was being thrust forward for one reason only—because he has a “nonwhite face.” But then, inside the world of this fat, stupid man, a certain narrative will always obtain: By rule of law, every move by the GOP must reflect racial bad faith. No other possibility will be allowed—and that crabbed interpretation will be jammed into every story.

Of course, the Republican Party has a lot of bad racial history. But then, Rich has some brain-damaged history too. For example, he spent the entire year of 2000 insisting that Bush and Gore were two indistinguishable peas in a pod. Our question: Given his proven, world-class bad judgment, could there be currents within the GOP that have escaped his ken?

Let’s consider the path by which Jindal first achieved political prominence.

It happened in January 1996, when Jindal was just 24. At that time, Louisiana Governor Mike Foster appointed Jindal secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals; the post gave Jindal control over 40 percent of the state budget. Years later, when Jindal was elected governor, the New York Times’ Adam Nossiter recalled this remarkable episode:

NOSSITER (10/22/07): After [Jindal was a Rhodes Scholar at] Oxford, a well-paid stint at the Washington consultants McKinsey and Company was followed by an interview for the job of secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals with the newly elected Republican governor of Louisiana, Mike Foster, in 1995. Mr. Jindal was 24; it was the biggest department in state government, and it was in serious financial trouble. He got the job despite Mr. Foster's initial skepticism, made cuts and restored the department to financial stability; Louisiana still has one of the highest percentages of uninsured, however.

Why was this scrawny, Indian-American runt named to that post at age 24? Let us take one small little guess: Governor Foster didn’t appoint him to gain advantage from his race or ethnicity. You might even say that Foster, in a deep southern state, looked past issues of Jindal’s ethnicity in making such a surprising appointment. In July of that year, Foster described the decision to Elizabeth Mullener of the Times-Picayune:

MULLENER (7/7/96): Bobby Jindal was a hotshot business consultant in Washington, D.C., last winter—advising multinational corporations, making his way nimbly up the ladder, pulling in more money than most 24-year-olds who don't play basketball. Then he got a call from Mike Foster's transition team back home in Baton Rouge.

The team was impressed with the plan Jindal had been circulating to improve health care in Louisiana, and asked if he could come down for an interview...

After sailing through the first round of talks, Jindal got carted off to Franklin the next day, where the governor-to-be was receiving visitors in his office.

For 1 1/2 hours, in a relaxed, freewheeling conversation, the two men talked about health care—about reforms in mental-health services, about bringing in outside auditors, about the pros and cons of managed care. They agreed on most things, disagreed on some. When it was over, Foster offered Jindal the $75,000 job as secretary of Health and Hospitals.

As they shook hands on the deal, Foster threw in a foreboding fillip: "If you can do this, you can do anything."

Foster remembers the interview well.

"I was skeptical," he says. "His age! Who in the world could take over the biggest department in state government at that age? It was fraught with the most problems. It was faced with a shrinking budget. It had fraud. It was poorly managed.

"Even though he came highly recommended, I wasn't enthused. But after I met him, I was convinced he was worth the gamble. He's an unusual young man. Louisiana is lucky to have him here.”

For ourselves, we’d have to tip our hat to Foster—and to the voters of Louisiana, including many Republicans, who elected Jindal to Congress in 2004, to the governor’s office in 2007. As far as we can tell, we’d never vote for Jindal ourselves. But his appointment and subsequent elections are part of a great American story, a great unfolding American story which also includes the recent success of the current American presdient. It’s just like Rich to insist that this story has to be built around racial bad faith. In fact, the evidence suggests that Republicans have always liked Jindal for what they see as his giant competence. Here’s Bill Walsh, in the Times-Picayune, just after Jindal’s appointment:

WALSH (1/6/96): Bobby Jindal...could easily have been mistaken Friday morning for a Louisiana State University student who had wandered into Gov.-elect Mike Foster's news conference.

Instead, the 24-year-old was the center of attention.

Calling him a "genius" and trying to deflect any skepticism about his age, Foster announced Jindal would run the $5.6 billion Department of Health and Hospitals, the state's largest agency.

By mid-afternoon, as word of the appointment spread among DHH's 13,500 employees, Jindal was being referred to as "Doogie Howser" after television's whiz-kid doctor of a few years past.

But Foster was quick to stress Jindal's credentials as a Rhodes scholar, the author of highly praised academic documents in his field and a health-care consultant making a six-figure salary in the private sector.

"He knows more about health care than most people know in a lifetime...two lifetimes," Foster said. "He is a young man with a big, big job ahead of him.”

Good for Foster, a southern white Republican who was willing to pick the person he apparently thought would be best.

Jindal gave a very poor speech in response to Obama last week. But the story of his appointment and subsequent election is a tale of American progress—and it involves the conduct of a lot of southern white Republicans, starting with Governor Foster. People like Rich will always insist that you should feed on the most bitter gruel. You see, Frank Rich is one of the world’s worst persons. Readers tend to get dumber, and more ugly, by reading his crab-hearted work.

We wouldn’t vote for Jindal ourselves. But Foster nudged an American story along when he made that unlikely appointment. Later, Bayou State voters did the same. We hope they keep on keepin’ on—and we hope that consummate creeps like Rich will one day cough on their gruel.

Tomorrow, more on that Education Week survey. And by the way, What Would Obama Do? Would he sneer at Jindal, the way Rich did? Or might he say the things we just said? What kinds of attitudes explain the high respect in which this man is held?