HOW TO BUILD A LOSING MOVEMENT! Progressives cant build a winning movement with flyweights like Maddow in charge: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 2011
The harsh bigotry of high expectations: Aw heck. Lets talk about something constructive for oncenot that it leads anywhere.
On May 28, the New York Times published this front-page report about the best age for kindergarten. According to a range of experts, many kids are being pushed into kindergarten even though theyre just too young.
(Headline: Too Young for Kindergarten? Tide Turning Against 4-Year-Olds.)
This morning, a K-12 art teacher from Gotham offers a sane reaction:
According to this teacher, some kids are being asked to do too much from their very first days in school. They are developmentally unable to perform the tasks that are being asked of them.
What happens to kids who get treated this way? The Times second letter comes from a CUNY professor:
If children are asked to do too much, they may become so frustrated that they turn off school at a very young age.
In our experience teaching in Baltimore, this sort of thing happens all the time with kids from low-literacy backgrounds, even with older children. They are constantly asked to read books they cant yet read, to do math they cant yet do. They become frustrated. Theyre embarrassed; they cry. What do you think youd do?
From a million miles away, journalists, experts and candidates have often prescribed raising standards. They would make the work harder for these kids. Or somethingits never real clear.
In our experience, they do this from many miles away, not knowing what they do.
Visit our incomparable archives: In her Los Angeles high school, Gabriela was asked to do too much. For our five-part treatment of a superb news report, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/1/06.
PART 4HOW TO BUILD A LOSING MOVEMENT (permalink): This weeks pitiful Meet the Press did produce one good outcome. It was good to see the Posts Ruth Marcus get battered around.
During the programs discussion of Medicare, Marcus played all the scripted cards. Quite plainly, she said Democrats have engaged in Medi-scare in opposing the Ryan plan. Sadly, this approach worked in the recent New York House race, she regretted to inform David Gregory.
Marcus never bothered explaining what was wrong with Democrats claims about Ryans plan. We were simply told that they were dissembling, just as Bill Clinton did in the mid-1990s. (This too is a bogus, scripted claimbut it rolled off Marcus tongue.) Most egregiously, Marcus issued these scripts from one of the liberal seats in the four-pundit panel. This gave the impression that everyone must agree that the Dems are dissembling again.
That said, Marcus has always been a mess when it comes to fiscal issues. This time, though, she got smoked, by several liberal pundits.
Hurrah! Steve Benen wrote Hurrah! Steve Benen wrote this clear, accurate post about Sundays Medicare segment. Benen even named Marcus by name, assigning her the featured role in the soul-crushing discussion. Paul Krugman then quoted a chunk from Benens piece, and Marcus got named once again.
There was more to come.
On Wednesday, Marcus swung back into action, fancying herself a dramatist. As these Dowd-chasers often do, she offered this imaginary conversation between Obama and Ryan. This practice almost guarantees that no one will have the slightest idea what point the pundit is trying to make. That said, Marcus seemed to make all kinds of weird suggestions in her deathless one-act play. In response, Benen smacked her by name once again. So did Jonathan Chait.
Amazingly, this is unusual practice. Marcus is a major Washington press corps insider. Shes a fixture at the Washington Post, a newspaper which has traditionally given good jobs at good pay to many career liberal writers. Through most of the past twenty years, people like Marcus were free to churn any conservative bullroar they pleased, knowing that our liberal careerists would politely look away.
Nor has this egregious practice been confined to big stars at the Post. Marcus has always been awful on fiscal matters, but then again, so was Tim Russert, the long-time host of Meet the Press. Russert specialized in scripted misstatements about Social Security; he spewed these misstatements around for a decade. But Meet the Press builds press corps careers. When did you see your fiery heroes challenge the gong-shows of Tim?
(Russert was recruited for his journalistic career by right-wing CEO Jack Welch. Liberals agreed not to say this.)
At any rate, it was a very good thing this week when Marcus got smacked around by name. Progressives cant build a winning movement by deferring to players who undermine the publics grasp of budget issues. Does Marcus know how wrong she has been? We dont have the slightest idea. But liberals have to learn to kick up at these high-ranking players.
Marcus is awful on Medicare. But then again, so is Rachel Maddow, our latest progressive TV star. You cant build a winning movement this way.
What has been wrong with Maddows work? Lets return to what Chuck Schumer said in the one sane segment on Sundays Meet the Press.
With unusual clarity, Schumer said several major things about the Medicare debate. He said the Republicans, through Ryans plan, would end Medicare as we know it. In this key part of his discussion, he explained what the Dems want to do:
There are three choices on Medicare, Schumer said. Republicans want to end the program as we know it. Democrats want to preserve the benefits but change the delivery systems and not let some of the providers, like the drug companies, get away with so much.
All big Democrats want to do that, he saidfrom Obama and Clinton on down.
The fact that Democrats want to do that doesnt mean their approach is correct, of course. On the merits, would it be better to leave Medicare as it is? Wed love to hear that question discussed by people who know what theyre talking aboutby Paul Krugman or Dean Baker, lets say. Or by Robert Reich, who briefly discussed this matter on last evenings Last Word, saying the exact same things Schumer said in that clip.
In what ways is Medicare entangled with our deficit problems? Do we actually have a deficit problem? Should we just return to the Clinton tax rates? Wed love to hear such questions discussed on the meritsbut you dont get that from Maddow.
What do we get on the Maddow program? In the last two weeks, weve gotten a series of silly discussions in which Maddow seems to posit two choices about Medicare, not Schumers three. According to Maddows apparent framework, Democrats can vote to kill the program, or they can vote to leave it completely alone. Maddow has shown very little awareness of the third choice Schumer described. Nor does she seem to know that Schumer was right in his remark about party agreement. Rightly or wrongly, major Democrats do seem to agree on the approach Schumer describedan approach in which benefits remain unchanged while costs of the program are lowered.
Maddow has staged a series of clueless discussions in the past week. Serious liberals and progressives should be angry to see such fly-weight discussions conducted by Our Own Rhodes Scholar.
How clueless have Maddows discussions been? Consider what happened last Wednesday night, one day after the Democrats won that New York House election.
Maddow was clueless, as always. First, she interviewed Kathy Hochul, who had won that special election. To the extent that she was asked, Hochul basically voiced the same view Schumer would later express:
Maddow didnt ask for details. But soon, she was speaking to Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), whose rhetoric regarding Medicare she lavishly praised. Maddow asked a fairly clueless questiona question in which she seemed to say she had spotted some moles. In reply, Israel advanced the same position Schumer would later advance:
For good or for ill, thats the Schumer line. There will be no beneficiary cutsno talk about ending Medicare (as we know it). But there are common-sense ways to bring down costs, like getting rid of the GOPs kickback to Big Pharma.
Is this the right approach on the merits? Wed like to see Krugman or Baker asked. Is this the best approach on the politics? Thats a decent question too, depending on who you ask. In fact, there are many good questions a host might ask about the unfolding Medicare fight. Its just that Maddow doesnt seem up to the task of staging such discussions.
What did she do last Wednesday night? She helped us locate the traitors! In this remarkably dumb presentation, she cherry-picked from an interview with Nancy Pelosi, making it seem that she stood opposed to Reid on this matter. And then, she zeroed in on the traitor Clinton, who had said a few pointless words to Ryan that day, in passing:
To watch this whole segment, click this.
Was Reids approach more nuanced than Pelosis? Not reallyunless you cherry-pick Pelosis remarks in the way Maddow did. (For a full account of what Pelosi said, just click here.) Meanwhile, Maddows sense that Clinton had perhaps been overheard betraying the tribe struck us as surpassingly dumb. (For ourselves, we were most struck by Ryans first words, which suggested that he had never met Clinton before.)
In the eight days since she aired that report, Maddow has authored a series of clueless attempts to discuss the whole Medicare question. She keeps presenting two choices, not three; according to Maddow, Democrats can join Republicans in voting to kill Medicare or they can leave the program alone. But Maddow is hopelessly over her head in her current nightly assignment. She was sold to us by the corporate boys as Our Very Own Rhodes Scholar. But she isnt up to the task of discussing Medicare, on the merits or on the politics.
Is the Democratic approach right on the merits? Are they taking the best approach on the politics? We would love to see those discussions. But Maddow isnt up to the task. She is vastly over her head in her current assignment.
(At least she doesnt goose-step around calling Laura Ingraham a slut. Big Ed will be back on Monday!)
Above all, Maddows a self-adoring childand a superb self-promoter. Shes very good at building a clubhouse atmosphere; gullible liberals get the feeling that theyve been invited to join a very cool club. But once we get inside that clubhouse, the discussions are very dim.
It was good to see Marcus name-called this week. Maddow didnt do that, of course. She likes to hand us silly shit about what the Beltway press are doingwith no names mentioned, of course. She will name-call big players like Marcus when the purple cow flies past the moon.
In our view, Maddow has turned out to be a wasted draft pick. Progressives cant build a winning movement with flyweights like this at the helm.