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Why does Pam Stout reject sound ideas? Our highest Lord Packer explains
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NARRATIVE AND CONDESCENSION! Why does Pam Stout reject sound ideas? Our highest Lord Packer explains: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MARCH 4, 2010

Glenn Beck over Maddow: Are you happy? We just dumped the first part of this post, the part concerning Rachel Maddow’s “fact-check” of Orrin Hatch’s op-ed piece! Many liberals thrilled to Maddow’s report on Tuesday night. (Click here, read the comments.) Our mileage massively differed.

That said:

On his own program, one day before, Glenn Beck had played the fool in a way which was startling even for him. He went on and on—and on and on—about all the Communists surrounding Obama. As usual, Van Jones served as the hook. Most people have never heard of Jones, because, whatever his merits may be, he’s a minor player:

BECK (3/1/10): You see, Van Jones is just a piece of the puzzle. You have to find out what the extreme goal is. He's just one small witness in a large case.

You see, it's not personal. It never has been. It's about the extreme goal. What is the president's agenda, his extreme goal?

The president needs to ask these things: Does he believe in these things? Communist revolutionary, defending convicted cop killer, believes the free market system is dead, believes government and businesses are poisoning the minority, 9/11 truther, replace the system of oppression.

The president was to most progressive far-left senator in the Senate—even further than Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist. He had a communist childhood mentor, sought out a Marxist professor, several. He said in his words, "I sought them out."

He went to a Marxist church—surprisingly didn't know that for 20 years. Meanwhile, he must have absorbed something because he told Joe the Plumber it was good to spread the wealth around.

He's now having government take over banks, car companies, and now, we find out this weekend that he knowingly—knowingly, according to Van Jones—a question we've been asking since June: Did he know that he was hiring this? The answer now is yes. He did.

If it’s mordant humor you like, we do recommend the passage about the Marxist church and Obama’s aside to The Plumber. That was a gong-show squared.

It went on from there-and on and on. In his next segment, Beck studied tape of someone he said he’d never heard of (for obvious reasons), someone who wants a Communist overthrow. These segments ate up more than half his program—and 2.8 million people were watching, just at his 5 PM broadcast alone. (At 9 PM the following night, 850,000 people watched Maddow “fact-check” poor Orrin.)

Beck’s lunacy raises serious questions because of the size of his audience. Mainstream news organizations don’t want to go there; in fairness, the weirdness of his “analyses” can be a bit hard to treat, especially in a news report. We’d planned to spend more time on Beck today—but we spent a lot of time on Maddow’s subsequent fact-check.

We have dropped our post about Maddow’s “fact-check.” Are you happy? Ain’t tribal life grand?

NARRATIVE AND CONDESCENSION (permalink): We’ll admit it—our analysts eye-rolled a bit at Steve Benen’s language this week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/10). We agreed with much of what Steve said (about the need for health reform.) But Steverino! We recalled the time, long ago, when liberals joshed other liberals for their love of “correctness:”

BENEN (2/28/10): When I read pieces like this, I sometimes just shake my head at public opposition to reform. We know the system is broken; we know we pay too much and get too little. We know the Republican attacks against reform proposals are wrong. Given the mess we're in, the demand for comprehensive reform should be overwhelming.

And yet, the resistance to sound ideas is fairly intense.

The efficacy of the right-wing noise machine is really a sight to behold.

“The resistance to sound ideas is fairly intense,” Steve said. “Say you want a revolution,” the Beatles eye-rolled, four decades ago.

That said, there actually is big opposition to health reform plans, and before that to the stimulus package. Where does that opposition come from? In the case of Keli Carender, opposition to the stimulus came from a generally sensible notion—from the idea that “it didn’t make any sense to be spending all this money when we don’t have it” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/10).

With regard to the stimulus, we don’t agree with that thinking ourselves. But you surely can see where it comes from.

Reviewing such widespread public opposition, Steve marveled at the efficacy of the right-wing noise machine. We stand with Steve on that. But we would add an additional question: Over the years, how good a job has our side done, telling people why it makes sense to spend big bucks in a recession?
Steve noted the lack of sound ideas. How much of that is on us?

Today, we’d like to suggest two ways our side fails to help people like Carender (or Pam Stout) develop those good sound ideas.

First, we often get whacked in the war of the narratives. Over the weekend, we were led to this interview with Noam Chomsky by a link from Digby. (For Digby’s post, click here.) Hungrily, we fact-checked Chomsky’s claim about a news report in the New York Times the day after the final Bush-Kerry debate.

We found no report like the one Chomsky described (for Chomsky transcript, see below). But we did emit low mordant chuckles at this passage from Adam Nagourney’s report on that final debate:

NAGOURNEY (10/13/04): Repeatedly, the two men returned to the issue of health care, which ranks near the top of voters' concerns. Mr. Kerry said Mr. Bush let the American health care system deteriorate on his watch, with the cost of coverage soaring and the number of uninsured climbing to 45 million. He promoted his plan as a realistic effort to build on the existing system, and dismissed the idea advanced by the Republicans that it was an attempt at a government takeover.

“It's not a government plan,'' Mr. Kerry said. ''The government doesn't require you to do anything.'' In fact, Mr. Kerry's plan would try to expand coverage and hold down costs through an array of subsidies and tax credits for employers and workers. He would also expand public programs—Medicaid and the State Childrens Health Insurance Program—to cover more low-income children and adults.

But Mr. Bush persisted in his accusation that the Kerry plan would lead, inexorably, to government-run health care, a point disputed by health care experts. “We have a fundamental difference of opinion,” the president said. “I think government-run health will lead to poor quality health, will lead to rationing, will lead to less choice.”

Nagourney challenged Bush this day. But please note: Though Kerry’s proposals were different from Obama’s, the counter-narrative was the same: Kerry was promoting government-run health care, which would lead to rationing. This is a time-honored narrative, one which resonates strongly with millions of voters. For the record, it doesn’t resonate strongly with us; but it does with others.

Why does that narrative work? What do voters think when they hear it? Why do they lack our own sound ideas? Down through the decades, how good a job has our side done at exploring these basic questions? And how good a job has our side done at constructing alternative narratives? In that passage, you see Kerry advancing our side’s standard narrative: 45 million lack health coverage. (Obama scaled that number back last year, due to immigration awkwardness.)

Our side tends to lead with that narrative. How well do you think that narrative works? If we’re actually trying to pass health reform, is that the best way to communicate, to persuade, to spread our sound ideas?

We’re just asking.

“Government-run health care!” The sound of those words scares people away. Do you think our side has asked people why? Do you think our side has busted its keister trying to articulate sounder ideas?
We’re just asking.

In our view, our side rarely asks people about what they’re thinking. This brings us back to recent profiles in the New York Times about those Tea Party adherents. These people lack our sound ideas—but why is that? In a more rational world, it seems that our side might ask.

In his lengthy profile in the Times, David Barstow, for whatever reason, chose to feature Pam Stout, a 66-year-old Idaho woman. It sounded like she has been influenced by Glenn Beck, though Barstow’s profile was sketchy.

How does Pam Stout see the world? What do others around her think? We’d be curious to see her interviewed. But within the aeries of High Manhattan, a high noble lord had a different reaction to Barstow’s report in the Times. At the New Yorker, his highness, the noblest Lord of Packer, condescended to ponder the mind of the hapless commoner Stout. In this passage, our highest lord shows how his noble kind has undermined progressive movements for lo, these many years:

PACKER (2/23/10): Glenn Beck delivered the keynote speech at the CPAC conference over the weekend. He spoke for almost an hour, and I watched so you don’t have to. In a recent Times story about the Tea Party movement, Beck’s Fox News show comes up again and again as the bolt of lightning that illuminated the dark sky of Obama’s America for the—mostly aging—people who are turning to radical anti-government politics for answers. One of them is a sixty-six-year-old woman from Sandpoint, Idaho, named Pam Stout.

There’s nothing new about Mrs. Stout. She’s a familiar figure in American life, always latent, but coming to the surface in national emergencies. Richard Hofstadter described her mental world in detail. In the seventeen-eighties she lived in Sheffield, Massachusetts, during a period of tight credit and land foreclosures and was sympathetic to the farmers’ uprising known as Shays’ Rebellion that began there. In the eighteen-fifties she was a non-voting constituent of Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. In the eighteen-nineties she was the wife of a Nebraska farmer who joined the People’s Party and voted for William Jennings Bryan and free silver. In the nineteen-thirties desperate poverty drove her to fall for the simple solutions of Huey Long’s left-wing demagoguery, or Father Coughlin’s right-wing demagoguery, which often sounded similar. In the nineteen-fifties she listened avidly to radio personalities like Fulton Lewis, Jr., and Walter Winchell, thought President Eisenhower was a knowing agent of the Communist Party, and was a passionate supporter of Senator Joe McCarthy. In 2001 she knew that the Bush Administration orchestrated 9/11. In 2008 she showed up at Sarah Palin rallies.

And she recently signed up for a class on Twitter—but that’s another story.

You’re right—Packer’s vapidity is striking. (“I watched so you don’t have to.” Snore.) More astounding was his high condescension. Some liberals just can’t see this trait. We’ll assure you that others can.

Packer goes on to consider the inanity of Beck’s presentation at CPAC. But not before he worked to make sure that people like Stout wouldn’t be listening.

If you can’t see the astounding condescension marbled through that text from our noblest lord, we will only make this suggestion: Spend your time on something other than national politics. You will always defeat progressive causes. Millions of voters will smell your tone—and flee your sound ideas.

In our view, they’ll be wrong when they take flight. But that’s the way the world tends to work outside Manhattan’s aeries.

What Chomsky said: This was the exchange (with Amy Goodman) which set our Nexis whirring. The interview in question occurred last April. Click here.

For the record, the final Bush-Kerry debate took place on October 13, 2004. We couldn’t find a report like the one Chomsky described, though some such report may be there:

GOODMAN (4/13/09): FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, did a study of the week leading up to the White House healthcare summit of the networks and how they were covering single payer, the issue of like Medicare Plus, and I think they found that absolutely—that almost—there was almost no representation in the media of a single-payer advocate—

CHOMSKY: Yeah.

GOODMAN: —and almost the only mention was someone blasting single payer.

CHOMSKY: Yeah, yeah. That’s because it has no political support; only the majority of the public. It’s the same as the media commentary in 2004. In fact, if you take a look back at the end of the last electoral campaign, Kerry-Bush campaign, in October 2004, right before the election, there was a debate on domestic issues. I think it was maybe October 28th or so. Just take a look—read the New York Times report of it the next day. It was very dramatic. It said Kerry never brought up the idea of any government involvement in healthcare, not, you know, Medicare Plus, but any government involvement, because it is not politically possible and lacks political support—just the population. Well, that—

GOODMAN: What studies show you the population wants this?

CHOMSKY: I mean, there’s been poll after poll, goes back, in fact—

GOODMAN: So, what do you think is going to break through?

CHOMSKY: Well, it’s a problem of the general dysfunction of formal democracy. I mean, there’s a very substantial gap between public opinion and public policy on a host of major issues. And on many of these issues, both parties are well to the right of the public, international and domestic.

Does the population want single-payer? We’re not sure. What would the population want after the population was told that single-payer was “government-run health care,” which would “lead to rationing?”

As Steve said, the right-wing machine is quite effective. Question: Who on our side has addressed these matters down through these many long years?

The other side’s narrative seems rather strong. What is our side’s story?