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BUTTRESSING BOEHLERT! When Eric Boehlert quotes us, we listen. And then, we add a key point: // link // print // previous // next //

ONE MORE DAY OF DELAY: Yes, we will return to our narrative about the flag-burning bill and amendment; we think it provides a wonderful look at the shape of our recent mainstream discourse. However, someone sent us a piece of data which we haven’t been able to verify yet. It sharpens the story, and we don’t want to proceed without it.

We hope to do Part 3 tomorrow. No, this story isn’t important—unless you want to understand the way the group formerly known as the mainstream press corps shapes the public’s story-lines and bungles the public’s affairs.

THE COMMISSAR SPEAKS: Race has played a fascinating, sometimes unfortunate role in the current Democratic campaign. This morning, the commissar helps us know how we may discuss this subject. As is often the case with such leaders, the commissar doesn’t quite tell us who or what he is talking about. Typically, commissars don’t like to limit the reach of their helpful pronouncements:

THE COMMISSAR (5/7/08): There's nothing wrong with studying these [electoral] percentages in terms of demography. Nor is there anything wrong with Democratic strategists recognizing that their candidates need to win this or that percentage of white voters to win. But creeping in the shadows of these conversations about how Democrats can no longer manage to win the white vote and are only saved from political oblivion by running up big margins among African-Americans is a little disguised assumption that African-American votes are somehow second-rate.

I don't think there's any getting around that.

Does anyone have any idea who or what the commissar means? To which “conversations” he refers? We would guess that he may be referring to the recent conversation between Paul Begala and Donna Brazile. If so, then it’s presumably Begala who has carried the “little disguised assumption” that “African-American votes are somehow second-rate.” We don’t think there’s any getting around that—if that’s who the commissar meant.

Of course, we don’t know if that’s who he means. Wisely, he has chosen not to tell us which “conversations” have broken the rules.

Of course, commissars—of various kinds—are pretty much constantly with us. Once, they took the form of the classic pot-bellied southern sheriff, saying “We know what to do with your kind around heah.” They took the form of the wire-rimmed friend of Mao, helping us think through our re-educations. (The Beatles discussed this variant.) This new commissar seems to understand the rules: He would only reduce the scope of his power if he specified who he was talking about. When he keeps it vague, we’re all put on notice! Please check with me for permission before you try to talk about race.

(And with my Paypal participants.)

Who is the commissar talking about? People! He talks about you.

NO ONE DID IT BETTER: Please get permission before you speak! No one expressed the notion better than commissar-friendly journo John Judis, in the wake of Bill Clinton’s “Jesse Jackson” reference. For us, this is one of the silliest—and most instructive—sound-bites of this whole campaign:

JUDIS (1/31/08): It would have been fine, of course, for a political scientist or a journalist to make the observation that Hillary Clinton stood little chance in the South Carolina Democratic primary running against a black candidate. And it would have raised no eyebrows if he or she drew comparisons between Barack Obama's win and Jesse Jackson's 1988 victory. But Bill Clinton is a master politician who calibrates the exact effect of his words upon an audience. And as Clinton well knew, linking an opponent to Jackson, as former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms used to do regularly in his campaigns, is a surefire way to stir some white voters up against him.

See? It would have been fine if Judis’ group had said it. When Bill Clinton said it, not so much!

(Shorter Judis: People like me are allowed to discuss this. We’re sorry, but other people are not. If they do, we’ll mind-read their “calibrations.” It’s sad, but it’s really their fault.)

Of course, Judis’ high-minded ship of ghouls also mind-read Sergio Bendixen. You see, Bendixen did a very bad thing—he answered a question from Ryan Lizza—and the ghouls could discern his calibrations too, just as they’d done with Bill Clinton! He was “sending a dog-whistle,” they all somehow knew. Later, many members of their own tribe made the same point Bendixen had made. That was quite different, of course.

For us, our education on race in the Dem campaign was driven by this January 16 Tapped post. Barack Obama was “a fog of a man,” Richard Cohen had said in the Post. We thought Cohen’s claim was weak—no surprise there. But to learn what Cohen “clearly” had meant, go ahead—just read that remarkable post. When you’re done, steel your courage—sift through the comments too. Some of the comments struck us as sharp. Some of them seemed quite amazing. (Playing the commissar, we won’t say which of the comments are which.)

Certainty is one of this group’s strongest assets! This morning, the commissar “doesn’t think there’s any getting around” the presence of that “disguised assumption.” Back then, a writer could tell what Cohen had “clearly” meant.

“There’s nothing wrong with” these discussions, the commissar says. But you might want to check with him first.

MATH IS HARD: For the record, we agree with the thrust of Harold Meyerson’s column; in fact, we’ve agreed with his point for a long time. Barring a complete disaster for Obama, we don’t see how Clinton could get the nomination. We’ve thought that for quite a long while. (Although we began to wonder a tad in the past few weeks.)

That said, we had to chuckle at Meyerson’s use of those data. Yesterday, we saw the New York Times draw some shaky conclusions from deeply underwhelming numbers. (The Times-Picayune was much more careful.) But honest to God: On the meta level, you just have to shake your head when you see people reason like this:

MEYERSON (5/8/08): By breaking forcefully with Wright and by refocusing on the economy, Obama came through the worst patch of his campaign to do better among white voters than he had in Ohio and Pennsylvania—primaries that had preceded Wright's press club outburst. Obama pulled down 40 percent of the white vote in Indiana, an improvement over the 34 percent he won in Ohio and the 37 percent he won in Pennsylvania. He also won 37 percent of the white vote in North Carolina, which, notwithstanding the in-migration of Northern whites to the Research Triangle, is still a Southern state.

Among whites without college degrees—that is, the white working class—he did better as well. While he won just 27 percent of that vote in Ohio and 29 percent in Pennsylvania, he won 34 percent in Indiana (and 26 percent in North Carolina, where the white working class is particularly Southern)...Obama, and his vision of a cross-racial majority, emerged strengthened.

We’ll root for Obama every step of the way. But really, that strikes us as daft.

First of all, Meyerson is using exit poll data—and exit poll data are inexact. Did Obama really win “40 percent of the white vote in Indiana” and “37 percent in Pennsylvania?” Those numbers are approximations. Yes, they’re the best data we have. But data like these aren’t written in stone—and the changes in vote count which Meyerson cites are really quite small to begin with. Did Obama “do better among white voters?” There’s no reason why he had to. But it isn’t real clear that he did.

Meanwhile, note a second point: Meyerson is aware that all groups of “white voters” aren’t equal. In particular, the white voter population in one of these states may differ from that in another—by education level, for example. Absent a very careful analysis, you may be comparing apples to kumquats when you compare these different groups. This is especially striking when you try to draw favored conclusions from very small changes in data.

Did Obama “do better among white voters?” We don’t know, and we don’t think it matters. Our point is a bit more simple: As always, it’s striking to see people “reason” this way at the top of our national discourse. Of course, on the very same op-ed page, George Will is still thundering, loud and proud, that Clinton told a big fat lie about the Cubs and the Yankees. It has been clear forever that this just ain’t true. But so what? Incredibly, this is the way our nation argues at the top of our discourse. And yes—nine years after this BS began, the Yankees are right in Will’s headline.

(On the same page, Dean Broder is outraged that Clinton drank beer—and it seems that the Dean didn’t catch Obama. This is the top of our discourse.)

Final point: We assume that Meyerson got permission for this discussion about racial voting. Since Meyerson is reaching a preferred conclusion, we assume the commissar won’t discern “disguised assumptions.” Not even “creeping in the shadows,” where commissars do love to work.

BUTTRESSING BOEHLERT: We know—you’re not supposed to quote someone who’s quoting you. But we think it’s worth adding one point to what Eric Boehlert says in his current post over at Media Matters. Boehlert discusses NBC’s refusal to let Arianna go on the air with her current book—a book which criticizes NBC News. What Boehlert says about this is primal—and we’d like to add one point:

BOEHLERT (5/7/08): The reason NBC/MSNBC's heavy-handed blackout of Huffington is so important is that it highlights precisely why so few prominent voices from the left openly criticize the media. They fail to do so because it's personally awkward to disparage their colleagues. But more importantly, they resist doing it because it comes with a professional price attached: If you present sustained, damning critiques of the media (and name names in the process), you run the risk of being locked out by those same media outlets, and at inopportune moments. Like when you're out trying to promote a new book.

Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler has written about these phenomena for years—why mainstream liberal columnists and pundits almost never tell you the truth about the media. And trust me, they don't. As Somerby has noted, there was almost universal, real-time silence from them back in 2000 when the press unleashed perhaps the most sustained, unfair attack on a U.S. presidential nominee in modern times. Virtually none of the A-list liberal commentators came to Al Gore's aid when it mattered most; when the press was at times depicting him as unstable and pathological. (Conservative pundits never would have stood by silently if their nominee were torn apart by the media like that.)

“Trust me, they don’t,” Boehlert says. (“Mainstream liberal columnists and pundits almost never tell you the truth about the media.”) And then, a crucial companion point: “Conservative pundits never would have stood by silently if their nominee were torn apart by the media.”

That’s a guess—but we think Boehlert’s almost surely right. Which raises a question: Why would conservative pundits have screamed if their candidate had been getting savaged? Our guess: Because conservative pundits can make a good living within the realm of the conservative press corps! They get hired, for good pay, by conservative entities. And they get paid to voice conservative views within the mainstream press.

Conservative voices can earn a living within the conservative press corps. But liberal voices earn their Jaguars within the mainstream press. Thus, liberals defer to the mainstream press—and conservatives are much more free to attack it. Over the past sixteen years, this has drastically tipped the scales against progressive and Dem Party interests.

Based on those assumptions, here’s the basic shape of your ongoing discourse:

Over the course of the past sixteen years, the mainstream press corps has increasingly become more Republican, more conservative, more wealthy, more corporate. On the presidential level, they have made secular saints out of several Republicans—and they have savaged Big Dems. How much of that reflects a structural change? How much of that has simply reflected a personal, crackpot war against Clinton/Gore? We’ll get a chance to ponder that question if Obama gets to the White House. But as these processes have played out, your liberal leaders have relentlessly kept their traps shut. The U. S. Army is in Iraq today because they deferred to the mainstream consensus—in 1999. When Ceci Connolly and the Post were blatantly savaging Gore.

Did young liberal superstars keep their traps shut, hoping for mainstream wealth and glory? We don’t have the slightest idea. By the way: Did you hear that progressive feminist Rachel Maddow thinks Chris Matthews is just super-brilliant?