THE WISDOM OF COLONEL SHERBURN! Twains bumptious colonel killed poor Boggsthen described us modern liberals: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, APRIL 18, 2011
How big are Ryans tax cuts/Weve seen this movie before: Incredibly, your DAILY HOWLER just keeps getting results!
On-line, the headline says this: As in 1984, we need the courage to raise taxes. Unfortunately, some of that ancient courage is lacking, proving again that the liberal world has lost the debate about taxes.
If you read Mondales entire piece, he discusses raising taxes on upper-end earners only. He doesnt just avoid generalities. He avoids discussing middle-class tax increases, the kind of tax hikes a wave of liberal analysts, including Paul Krugman, have said will be required.
Did Mondale lose the election, but win the debate? We dont mean to criticize Mondale, but we think thats just wrong. In the days since Mondale told the truth, career liberals and Democrats have utterly failed to construct a vision which can compete with the drown the government vision driving the bulk of our public discussions.
Our career liberal leaders have utterly failedbut we rubes still cheer them on. After all, theyre part of our tribetheyre on our side! Or so we persistently think.
Speaking of taxes, does anybody understand the size of Paul Ryans proposed tax cuts? We dont understand, but we have an excuse:
We read the New York Times.
How big are Ryans tax cuts? An array of accounts has appeared in the Times since the Badger State boy with the bedroom eyes unveiled his budget proposal. For starters, heres what Krugman wrote in last Fridays column:
According to Krugman, the Ryan plan calls for $2.9 trillion in tax cuts, presumably over ten years. But this may have surprised the average Times reader. On that very same day, in a front-page piece, reporter Landon Thomas wrote this:
Thomas reported from London on the British economy, but his account seemed to be taken from other Times dispatches. Four days earlier, Jackie Calmes had offered this in a front-page news report:
More specifically, Thomas seemed to be using a figure which had appeared in a Times editorial. Unfortunately, the editorial board cant seem to make up its mind about the size of those cuts. Consider these dueling banjos:
How big are Ryans tax cuts? If youve been reading our greatest newspaper, you have a wide array of choices from which you can make your selection.
More remarkably, if you read the Washington Posts news reports and editorials, you may not think that Ryan has proposed tax cuts at all. Consider:
On the Posts op-ed page, a string of columnists have battered Ryan, sometimes describing the size of his alleged tax cuts. (Dana Milbank, April 6: The GOP plan reduces the government's revenues by $4 trillion over 10 years because of tax cuts. E. J. Dionne, April 7: Note that this $4.3 trillion [in spending cuts] almost exactly matches the $4.2 trillion he proposes in tax cuts.) But in the Posts reporting, in its editorials, the notion that Ryan has offered tax cuts has tended to appear in brilliant disguise when it has appeared at all. On April 6, the editors were willing to say only this: Mr. Ryan proposes a long-overdue overhaul of the tax code. But he balks at the notion that additional revenue is needed to underwrite the needs of an aging society. That pretty much makes it sound like Ryans plan is revenue-neutral. In that same days front-page news report, Lori Montgomery took a similar tack. She did note that Ryans plan would offer sharply lower tax rates to corporations and the wealthy. But she explained the whole shebang like this:
Not intended to help reduce the deficit? Again, this makes it sound like the tax overhaul might just be revenue neutral.
In the Posts reporting and editorials, we can find few statements that Ryan has proposed tax cuts at alland no attempts to quantify the size of any such cuts. On Saturday, Paul Kane did report that the House GOP plan would lower taxes on individuals and corporations (click here). He later referred to the plans tax cuts for corporations and other tax reformsbut he made no attempt to account for the size of such cuts. Post reporting and editorials have tended to trumpet the size of the Ryan spending cuts while downplaying talk of tax cuts.
How big are Ryans tax cuts? If you read the Times, youve been offered a wide array of accounts. If you read the Post, you may not be sure that the sleepy-eyed solon has proposed any tax cuts at all.
Weve seen this horrible movie before: Truly gruesome things can occur when the harlequins known as Americas press corps spill from their tiny VW bug, attempting to discuss the size of Republican tax cut proposals. Consider what happened in August 2000 when the gang tried to discuss Candidate Bushs proposed tax cuts.
Bushs plan had been released in December 1999. (Cokie Roberts bungled it instantly, with George Stephanopoulos covering for her.) By the spring of 2000, the plan had been thoroughly scored; the Bush and Gore campaigns agreed on the numbers, though they tended to present the numbers in different ways. (The Bush campaign was trying to downplay the size of the cuts.) But after the Democratic convention, Candidate Gore began attacking the cuts, and reporters began attempting to describe their size. At the Washington Post alone, an array of contradictory accounts appeared. Ceci Connolly changed her account about as often as normal folk change their socks:
Contradictory accounts appeared at the New York Times, sometimes on the very same page of the very same paper. And the AP filed an array of accounts, including this claim by reporter Sandra Sobieraj: Bush wants to reduce income tax rates to a tune of $1 trillion over 10 years. At the time, we thought that account was just flat wrong (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/8/00). Today, we can see that it was technically accurate but grossly misleading. For whatever reason, Sobierajs account advanced the Bushs campaigns attempt to downplay the size of the cuts.
Bush would cut taxes by $1 trillion over ten yearsno, by $1.6 trillion over nine! If you werent confused by Labor Day, you simply werent paying attention.
On October 3, Bush and Gore staged their first debate; the evening would change world history. A great deal of the argument turned on the wisdom of those proposed tax cuts. Indignantly, Bush accused Gore of using fuzzy math in his description of various budget proposals by Bush. Look, this is a man who's got great numbers, Bush indignantly said at one point. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet but he invented the calculator. (Audience laughter) It's fuzzy math! It's scaringtrying to scare people in the voting booth. Bushs claims were false, sometimes blatantly so; Gores numbers were perfectly accurate. But with very few exceptions, the press corps refused to say such things; they stuck to their pre-approved standard novel in which Gore was the worlds biggest liar.
The corps biggest stars rolled over and died. One night after this crucial debate, Ted Koppel spilled from a Volkswagen limousine to say this, on Larry King Live. King had just played the tape of the same Bush statement weve quoted:
It had been five months since the plan has been thoroughly scored. Koppel still had no idea.
In the Times, Bob Herbert trashed Gore for sighing at the debate, claiming Bush had done his best in discussing his budget proposals. On Sunday, November 5, Maureen Dowd wrote her final column of the campaign. She pictured Gore before a mirror, singing I Feel Pretty.
Two days later, Americans voted. In March 2003, the U.S. entered Iraq.
Weve seen this horrible movie before. By the way: Why is Koppel still allowed out in public? To make Dowd seem less inane?
One final piece of this noxious history: Five days after that great debate, Margaret Carlson told Don Imus why the press corps was clowning so. It was fun trashing Gore, Margaret said. It was greatly entertaining.
How did George Bush reach the White House? To listen in as Margaret explains, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/03.
PART 4THE WISDOM OF COLONEL SHERBURN (permalink): We liberals! Lets face itas a group, were just this side of hopeless.
Weve gotten our brains beaten out in the messaging wars of the last thirty years. Roughly speaking, this corresponds to the time in which the world of wealth and power began fighting back against the losses they had sustained in the New Deal and World War II.
With great clarity, Paul Krugman described this history in his 2007 book, The Conscience of a Liberal. Hacker and Pierson described the same pushback in last years book, Winner-Take-All Politics.
But do you see liberals discussing those books? Of course not! Books are hard! Yesterday, though, in the Washington Post Outlook section, you did see this call to action from activist Sally Kohn.
Kohns piece consumed the top half of Outlooks front page. Kohn is a liberal activist who believes the following:
Kohn believes that liberals have lost control of the conversation at least in the short term. She seems to believe that Democrats have to do something regarding the deficit for this reason alone. Why then did even the liberal Paul Krugman say this in Fridays New York Times?
My own view is that while the spending controls on Medicare [Obama] proposed are exactly the right way to go, he's probably expecting too much payoff in the near term. And over the longer run, I believe that we'll need modestly higher taxes on the middle class as well as the rich to pay for the kind of society we want.
Why does Krugman favor spending controls on Medicare and modestly higher taxes on the middle class? Does he favor those things because at least in the short term, liberals have lost control of the conversation and have to play by the rules that the extreme right has made up? To all appearances, thats what activist Sally Kohn thinks. But then, Kohns piece is littered with the type of foolishness with which we liberals flatter ourselves. She starts with a list of liberal lamentsObama bailed on the public option!then turns to a standard account of why we have failed through the years:
We liberals are simply too tolerant! This resembles the joke about the candidate who is asked to describe his own character flaws. My biggest problem is that Im sometimes too honest, the pol forthrightly says.
Kohn goes on to say that our dedication to tolerance has turned us into a gang of suckers. But she never so much as considers the possibility that Obama bailed on the public option because he couldnt get it passed. (For the record, we dont know why he bailed.) And soon, shes citing the kinds of brain research phrenologists and racial cleansers have applauded down through the ages. This is completely foolish:
To Kohn, size matters, at least when it comes to the amygdala, the part of the brain that tolerates uncertainty!
Question: Do you think Kohn has the first clue on earth concerning these social science research issues? Almost surely, she does not. (Most recently, the amygdala research tracks to British actor Colin Firth, who said, I took this on as a fairly frivolous exercise: I just decided to find out what was biologically wrong with people who don't agree with me. The resulting study was conducted on 90 British students.) But so what? From a very important media platform, Kohn dithers about who has better sex. (We do!) Inevitably, she presents an overall view which largely favors her own gloried tribe, which is more likely to be open-minded, flexible and interested in new ideas and experiences. By the way: Do you really think that conservatives are more trustworthy? Absent a very detailed study of the research, why would anyone with an ounce of sense sign up for that belief?
So it goes when a liberal activist get her chance, on a very large stage, to argue for her own tribe.
Kohn, of course, is only one person. But over the past decade or so, we liberals have persistently vouched for our own superior smarts and goodness, even as we get eaten alive in the political wars. We have dragged our numbskulls out on the stage to discuss conservatives limbic brain structure; in our comment sections, we persistently rage about the obvious dumbness of those who are kicking our keisters in the public debate. We have swallowed such patent nonsense, even at our high amateur levels.
Have we liberals lost control of the conversation in the short term? Please! We lost control of the conversation long ago, in virtually every major area. Sadly, we havent turned out to be smart enoughor honest enoughto see how our failure works. Read this Digby post from last month if you want to understand your sides thirty-year failure to construct winning responses to the other sides disinformation campaigns.
Digbys post concerned the status of the Social Security trust fund. She reprinted an accurate but technical explanation from Paul Krugman, the liberal worlds MVPbut even at this very late date, Digby doesnt see how useless Krugmans (accurate) explanation is within the public debate. Digby is good at spotting the racistsbut she still doesnt understand why people are confused about Social Security.
That doesnt make Digby a bad personfar from it. It does help explain why your side has lost so many debateshas given so much political ground in the past thirty years. The other side had good clear disinformation. Despite our obvious well-known brilliance, we still dont have good clear replies.
Krugman has been our sides MVP. But for the most part, our liberal career leaders are part of the press and political Money Cultureand they endlessly act like it. We amateurs havent been able to see the way we get played in the process. We stumble, fumble, flounder and failand we keep following the lead of very weak leaders. We also keep insulting the citizens whose help we will need to turn the tide against plutocrat power.
For these and other reasons, we often find ourselves thinking about Mark Twains ineffectual mob.
Mark Twains ineffectual mob assembles itself in chapter 21 of Huckleberry Finn, a well-known American novel. (For the full text of what follows, just click here.) In an Arkansas river town, a loud but harmless fellow named Boggs has arrived from the hinterland for his little old monthly drunk. (How harmless is Boggs? I wisht old Boggs 'd threaten me, 'cuz then I'd know I warn't gwyne to die for a thousan' year, one wag jests as Boggs roars up the street.) On this occasion, Boggs declares that hes come to town to kill Colonel Sherburn, by whom Boggs says hes been swindled. Calmly, Colonel Sherburn tells Boggs that he must stop his insults by 1 P.M. When Boggs absent-mindedly fails to comply, the colonel shoots him dead as Boggs daughter looks on. (A nastified variant of this tale occurs in Clint Eastwoods Pale Rider.)
And thats where the mob comes in! After the town entertains itself by reciting the tale and viewing the body, a fiery lynch mob assembles itself, apparently inspired by a fellow named Buck Harkness. The mob swarms up toward Sherburn's house; once there, they visit their fury on the colonels fence. Then there was a racket of ripping and tearing and smashing, and down she goes, and the front wall of the crowd begins to roll in like a wave, Huck explains. But uh-oh! Just then Sherburn steps out on to the roof of his little front porch, with a double-barrel gun in his hand, and takes his stand, perfectly ca'm and deliberate, not saying a word.
What follows is one of the most comical portraits ever set to parchment. Colonel Sherburn mocks the mob, informing them theyre a gang of cowards. And sure enough! Soon, the mob turns tail and runs, fleeing back toward town:
Youll have to admitits hard not to think of the way we liberals flatter ourselves on our fiery blogs, calling the roll of the nations racists and saying how stupid the other side is. But lets get back to the colonels remarks. As it turns out, Sherburn has lived in the north and the south. He knows how people are:
Again, its hard not to think of the way our blogs and cable shows tell us were brave moral giantsbrave moral giants who are very smart. But the colonel wasnt finished yetand by now, the mob was nervous:
I could a stayed if I wanted to? In short, Huck broke all apart and went tearing off too, though he knew how to put a good face on it.
One hundred years later, Harper Lee created a similar scene, in which a single man talked down a whole mob. (Helped by the innocence of his adorable daughter.) But in Lees scene, that lone man was Atticus Finch, the most moral white man in the whole town. And the lynch mob was wrong in every waywrong on the facts; wrong in their motives; wrong in their preferred procedure. Lees famous book has helped millions of people think through the meaning of race in America. That said, Twains scene is a bit more complex and perhaps a bit more evocative. In his case, the mob is basically right on the merits of the caseand the lone man who talks them down has just killed a defenseless man, before his daughter, for no better reason than that he needed killin.
Clicking around on line this weekend, we think we learned this:
As Twain originally wrote that scene, Colonel Sherburns friends had to help him escape from town. Twain then put the book aside; at some point he added a note suggesting that Sherburn should end up getting lynched. But after three years, he returned to the book, creating the scene as it now exists. Just a guess: It may have taken a while for Twain to see that in this case, as in most such matters, a humorist is better off letting his scenes go with the joke. Three years later, he removed the traces of his own moral disapprobation and gave us a wondrously comical scene in which the standard lynch mob gets turned on its eara scene which lets us ponder the ways real people actually act.
In the very next paragraph, Huck is suddenly at the circus, where people from the same town show a different side of their character. They suspend disbelief in a different way; soon, Huck describes a scene in which everybody clapped their hands and went just about wild. (With everybody just a-howling with pleasure and astonishment.) Even here, Huck misunderstands what is happening several times. But he does display his good moral sense. Huck feels pity for the ringmaster, mistakenly thinking that he has been humiliated.
Despite his earlier misconduct, Colonel Sherburn had good sound advice for that ineffectual mob. Your newspapers call you a brave people so much that you think you are braver than any other people, he told themwhereas you're just AS brave, and no braver. That same advice might just as well be handed to us liberals. Weve been tooken about a million times over the course of the past thirty years; weve been tooken by our career intellectual leaders and by our own failures to comprehend. But have you ever seen even one liberal leader ask Frank Rich why he pimped Candidate Bush the way he did, trashing Candidate Gore in the process? And do you recall what you brave liberal leaders did when they saw Keith Olbermann spout[ing] misogynist garbage?
Of course! They broke all apart and went tearing off every which way! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/28/11, to recall how brave your side is.
In our view, the liberal world would be well advised to learn from the colonels vast knowledge. We are no better than all the restand in the long run, we will need a bunch of of their votes to affect real change in this country. We liberals might actually get some things done if wed stop believing in our own greatness. If wed kick the keisters of people like Kohn, who cant stop playing phrenologist with everyone elses noggins.
Weve had our keisters kicked for forty yearsand we still think were the cocks of the walk! So smart! So moral! So tolerant! So open-minded, flexible and interested in new ideas and experiences!
Mark Twain knew all about us! Tomorrow, a brand-new special report concerning our vast racial greatness.
Starting tomorrow: Ed Schultzs well-hidden hour