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Print view: Walker has lost, a cable host said. The very next day, he acted
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WHAT WE’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT! Walker has lost, a cable host said. The very next day, he acted: // link // print // previous // next //

Three cheers for Digby’s down payment: Someone named Parton shot and scored with this op-ed piece in The Hill, a newspaper which is widely read by Capitol Hill insiders.

That someone, of course, is Digby (click here). In large part, her piece concerned the Millionaire Pundit Values which have helped make a joke of our national discourse for a good many years.

“I'm wondering how Digby ever got this past the editors at The Hill,” one commenter sensibly wondered.

We think it’s great that Hill readers were exposed to this biting presentation. That said, we also commented on one point—on Digby’s claim that Americans “almost certainly have no trouble understanding that anyone who makes a living on national television is nowhere near average” in income.

Do voters really understand the wealth of the press corps’ opinion leaders? Beyond that, do they understand the circles in which these duckies swim? We doubt it—in part, because the press corps works so hard to keep such matters obscured.

The obvious first example:

The late Tim Russert always sold himself as a humble, working-class kid from Buffalo. This helped the public learn to admire him—and to trust his factually-bungled crusade about the need to rein in Social Security. Very few voters ever heard that Russert summered in a $6 million home on Nantucket—that he hung out there with the NBC gang, including near-billionaire Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric and the mentor who built Russert’s career. Welch is, and was, a conservative Republican—and he was Russert’s island pal, along with the rest of the NBC island gang.

Did voters know these things? Of course not! They didn’t know because the press corps itself would never tell them—and because career liberal journalists sell their souls to further their own careers.

The story of the Jack Welch crowd is an amazing journalistic nugget. It’s very funny and very revealing; almost certainly, it helps explain how George W. Bush ended up in the White House. But so what! This striking story has never been told—not even in “liberal journals.”

Over the past dozen years, the rules of engagement were fairly clear. Liberals were allowed to rail about Rupert Murdoch. The Jack Welch thread disappeared.

That said, the Nantucket gang is still out and about—along with the players who always agreed to look the other way.

Just this week, we’ve watched career liberals help the repurposed Chris Matthews batter Newt Gingrich around. (Some of his rants have been right on the mark. Yesterday, he staged a rant which was badly inaccurate, in classic Matthews fashion.) Unfortunately, Matthews was part of the Jack Welch island crowd too, though his cottage only cost $4.4 million. And how odd! For two solid years, when Welch was the boss, he was savage and profoundly dishonest in his attacks against Candidate Gore.

As you may recall, Candidate Gore (“a man-like object”) didn’t “have his gender straight.” Matthews was endlessly troubled by “this protean new person, this new man-woman, whatever the hell he’s trying to become.” The most remarkable insults rained down for two years, and then well beyond. (Weeks after 9/11: “He doesn’t look like one of us,” Matthews told Don Imus. “He doesn’t seem very American, even.”)

With apologies, Joan Walsh never said boo about any of that. David Corn, whom the analysts love, simply sat and stared. (Today, of course, Matthews hates all that talk about people who don’t seem very American—as he always should have.)

Today, Walsh and Corn honored cable players; they’re invited to go after Gingrich with the repurposed Matthews, who is no longer owned by Jack Welch. Then too: How many Iraqis lie in the ground? How many American soldiers?

Matthews savaged Gore for two years, in the ugliest possible ways. Why did so few “liberals” speak? Do we still have to ask?

In one way, Millionaire Pundit Values have become outmoded. Increasingly, our discourse is run by billionaires, a point we’ll discuss next week. (The Kochs are just one part of this story.) That said, Digby’s piece was a wonderful start to an ugly, much larger story—though many people have agreed that we mustn’t tell that tale.

Many people continue to surprise their commenters, playing appropriate Village games. The pay-offs are extremely large—much larger than folk have been told.

WHAT WE’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT (permalink): Tuesday evening, Rachel Maddow thought she knew what was what.

Governor Walker’s office had released some e-mails. They seemed to show that Walker was willing to compromise on his plan to slash collective bargaining rights for many Wisconsin state workers. All over MSNBC, the various massively overpaid hosts didn’t seem to see that this story didn’t exactly make sense. In fairness, it wasn’t just Maddow.

All over MSNBC, overpaid hosts misconstrued these events—but no one was more certain than Maddow, the Sister Aimee Semple McPherson of liberal TV hosts. As she frequently does, she went on the air and stated her view with absolute certainty and self-assurance. We liberals got plates of warm comfort food.

And of course, Maddow was wrong:

MADDOW (3/8/11): Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Hey, Wisconsin? You won! There has been no ceremony, there has been no applause yet, there has been no formal surrender ceremony—but I am telling you, you have won! Congratulations, Wisconsin.

After 22 days of protests in the state that is the cradle of the rights of Americans who work for a living, after 22 days of protest against Republican Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to strip union rights in Wisconsin, the governor has started to crumble. The governor has started to cave. The governor has started to do what he said he would never do.

Embarrassing, but typical. According to Maddow, Governor Walker had “started to crumble”—had “started to do what he said he would never do.” She played tape of Walker, several weeks earlier, saying there was “no room to negotiate” on the attempt to “balance the budget.” Then, she continued her dance:

MADDOW: “No room to negotiate.” That was Governor Scott Walker, more than two weeks ago, insisting, as he did repeatedly, that he was not willing to negotiate. He was not willing to budge on union stripping.

But as it turns out, that after picking this fight, after saying he would never negotiate, Governor Walker is negotiating now.


Then came news today that Scott Walker’s own party, the state’s senate Republicans caucused today, and the news from that caucus was not good for the governor. Remember, the governor can only afford to lose three Republican senators and still get his union-stripping bill passed. And three Republican senators have now made public comments that the Republican governor should compromise.

And so, after 22 days of escalating protests, after effectively locking down the state capitol, after the video footage of the Democratic state assemblyman being wrestled to the ground by police officers as he tried to go to his office, after the country and the state and even Republicans in his own state turned against him, Mr. “I Won’t Negotiate” admits he’s negotiating.

These e-mails—Governor Walker’s office releasing e-mails to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today, e-mails that show him caving on key parts of his big union-stripping bill, offering modifications, offering compromises. Budging.

This, of course, is not over yet. Senate Democrats in Wisconsin have not returned to the state capital. These begrudgingly e-mailed offers from the governor are not the same as legislation being withdrawn or new legislation being introduced. But essentially, Governor "I Won’t Budge" has been forced to budge. He lost this one.

And more importantly, he lost it on the substance. And he lost it publicly in a very big way. And the longer it goes on, the worse he loses it.

It is all over but the shouting. Wisconsin, you won!

“Can we just take a second to let that sink in for a moment?” Maddow theatrically asked. Then, she paused to let it sink in, making a cooing noise, theatrically staring to the heavens and letting us ponder her greatness. (To watch this full segment, click here.)

“Wisconsin, you won,” Maddow exulted. (By “Wisconsin,” she meant those residents who shared her position.) With great certainty, she told viewers that Walker had “started to crumble”—that a bunch of e-mails “show[ed] him caving on key parts of his big union-stripping bill.”

“He lost this one,” Maddow announced. Twenty hours later, Walker stripped Wisconsin public unions of bargaining rights, pushing his bill through the state senate by a vote of 18 to one.

Question: Had Walker really “started to crumble?” Did those e-mails really show him “caving on key parts of his big union-stripping bill?” Were his offers “begrudgingly e-mailed?” Like Maddow, we have no idea if Walker ever contemplated making concessions—but we did know there was something odd about the release of those e-mails. Tuesday night, all over MSNBC, overpaid hosts gave the impression that Walker had been forced to release those e-mails—that he surely wouldn’t want you to see their very embarrassing contents. No one seemed to recognize how unlikely that story was—how unlikely it is that a governor can be forced to release such e-mails in real time, as negotiations continue.

Why had Walker released those e-mails? Yesterday, we clicked around for half an hour, trying to figure out what had happened—why those e-mails had been released. We never found a definitive account, but MSNBC’s overpaid hosts had already announced a pleasing conclusion, with Maddow trumpeting loudest. As of today, do you think their conclusion was accurate? Or did Walker perhaps release those e-mails to soften the blow of what was coming—to create a narrative in which he had actually tried to compromise?

Like the hosts on the One True Channel, we have no idea. But they thought they knew on Tuesday night, with Maddow seeming most certain. Walker had started to crumble, she pledged. Those e-mails showed that he had lost! And sure enough: One night later, after Walker struck, she seemed to be completely surprised by the way he had done it.

“Wisconsin” had voted on a new bill. This new bill contained the original bill’s provisions about collective bargaining, nothing more; this allowed the Wisconsin senate to proceed without a 20-member quorum. The possibility of this maneuver had been widely discussed, for at least a week (see below). But so what? One week later, despite her 17 staffers, Maddow seemed utterly clueless:

MADDOW (3/9/11): We need to begin with breaking news from Madison—breaking news from Madison, Wisconsin, which, of course, has been the center of American news for the past three weeks at least.

Tonight, the Republicans in Wisconsin state senate appear to have invented a new nuclear option for passing legislation with no notice, and no quorum, and no debate. They invented that new nuclear option today, and then they detonated it today.


If Republicans legally have this option of doing it this way, did they not have this option of doing it this way all along? Why didn’t they use it before? It’s not like Republicans were debating this thing on the merits all along.

Remember, they tried to arrest the Senate Democrats. They took over the Senate Democrats’ offices. They were threatening to send private security, essentially bounty hunters after the Democrats. They were taking their parking places.

But all along, they could have just done this anytime they wanted to and they just decided to do it tonight? Where did they find this rabbit? And what hat did they pull it out of?

Sad. Moments later, Wisconsin state senator Jon Erpenbach explained to Maddow that yes, “they could have done this from the very beginning”—but this fact had been widely discussed for a week. For one example, see this detailed report from the Daily Beast, in which John Avlon explained this possible approach. Avlon quoted a string of Wisconsin officials and experts who noted that Walker could take this legislative route.

Avlon’s report was posted on March 2—a full week before Walker acted. But one week later, the massively self-assured Maddow had no earthly idea:

AVLON (3/2/11): This means that if the collective bargaining were delinked from the budget measures and put forward as a separate bill, it could be passed with 51 percent of the legislators—and without Democrats’ participation.

"In layman's terms, what Article 8, Section 8 says is that if you don't have a fiscal bill, then a quorum is a [simple] majority,” Robert Lang, Director of the State of Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau, explained to me. “If the collective bargaining portion were delinked, I believe that could be accomplished."

"If he [Governor Walker] separated the collective bargaining issues into a stand-alone bill a simple majority would be sufficient for a quorum, which he would have with the Republicans," added Terry C. Anderson, director of the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Council…

This has dragged on so long and with all the continuing attention Wisconsin has received, I'm surprised this hasn't come up more in public," said Brett Healy, President of the Madison-based John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy.

Clicking around in our feety pajamas thingy, we knew about that a week ago. Maddow, with her 17 staffers, was thoroughly kerflubbled last night, as she went on the air.

We’re tired of banging Sister Semple around, but we thought this was worth presenting. Maddow is a very charismatic performer, and she’s creeping up in the ratings. Beyond that, she gave a good overview at one point last night of where things must go from here. But her political judgment is really quite weak; routinely, her certainly vastly outstrips her knowledge. Tuesday, she gave you a nice warm feeling. Sadly, though, she was wrong.

What do those staffers do all day? Plan those poll question thingies?