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IN THEIR LIVES, THEY’VE LOATHED THEM ALL! Drum’s readers responded with rage, as people always have done: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 31, 2011

Is it time for Kornacki to go: The culture of the useless professor was on display in yesterday’s Times. You see, one of them perfesser fellers had spotted some “bogus quotations”—from the 1850s or so!

You’ve read the column a thousand times. The New York Times let you read it again! In the process, you received your latest dose of lofty Times op-ed culture.

That’s right, people! Someone had misquoted Thoreau—and one bold professor was there to fight back! For ourselves, we had a particular reaction to one part of his column. When we saw him use the term “bogus quotation,” we were brought up short—because of the way we’ve been whiling away our afternoon hours.

In the afternoons, we’ve been finishing chapter 6 of How He Got There, our book about the gruesome, history-changing press coverage of Campaign 2000. That chapter deals with the press corps’ conduct in December 1999 (and thereafter), when they pretended that Candidate Gore had told a big LIE about the Love Canal toxic waste problem of the late 1970s.

The coverage of Candidate Gore in Campaign 2000 teemed with “bogus quotations;” we’ve typed that phrase a good many times in the past several weeks. The invention of the bogus Love Canal quotations (plural) set the GORE LIAR theme into stone; rather plainly, that journalistic theme, built from a series of bogus quotations, decided Campaign 2000. But sure enough! The professors didn’t notice the problem back then, even as it led to Candidate Gore’s defeat.

The coverage teemed with bogus quotations, as we noted from March 1999 on. We don’t recall hearing the professors say so, then or now, even though those bogus quotations led to Bush’s ascension. Then and now, we’ve heard from none of this fellow’s colleagues—although in fairness, they may have been in France at the time.

Yesterday’s column was hackneyed, pointless, lofty—a perfect expression of Times op-ed culture. But then, with few exceptions, the professors have failed you down through the years. So have the career liberal “journalists.”

This raises an obvious question: Is it time for Kornacki to go?

Salon has been an embarrassment of late—a primer in the haplessness of liberal intellectual culture. Kornacki made a fool of himself with his piece about Mitt Romney, sexist—a piece which occasioned much complaining from his intelligent readers (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/29/11). But good God! Yesterday, Kornacki topped himself with a second groaner—another piece which correctly produced a great deal of reader pushback.

The background is largely pathetic. Two lamebrain mainstream news orgs asked a few rather dumb survey questions. Kornacki, a career player who will move on some day, of course said this made perfect sense:

KORNACKI (8/30/11): The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is almost upon us and the commemorations are well underway. So it’s probably not surprising that someone would commission a poll asking Americans how different they think world would now be if their country’s response had been guided not by George W. Bush but by Al Gore.

What is surprising is what the poll, conducted by "60 Minutes" and Vanity Fair, found: A clear majority of Americans—56 percent—don t really think anything would be different. This includes 62 percent of independents, 57 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of Democrats. Even among Democrats, only 44 percent say they thought the world would be a better place now if Gore had been in the White House back then.

The question or questions seem dumb enough, though Kornacki never quite explains what the questions were. (It seems there were at least two.) But Kornacki took the questions and ran! His headline may be the dumbest ever, on the politics and on the merits:

“Why President Gore might have gone into Iraq after 9/11, too”

Good god, but our liberal intellectual leaders are dumb! On the politics and on the merits, this is one of the dumbest pieces we have ever read.

On the merits, Kornacki makes a sad attempt to reason his way through his topic. As he continues, he notes a fairly significant fact, but quickly cuffs it aside:

KORNACKI (continuing directly): If the numbers seem startling, it's because the "global war on terror" that Bush chose launch in the wake of 9/11 has long seemed like an especially vivid affirmation of the truism that elections have consequences. You could argue that virtually any president would have signed off on the invasion of Afghanistan immediately after 9/11, but Iraq was a war of choice, and as Bush was making his case for it in the fall of 2002, Gore’s was perhaps the loudest voice in American politics saying, "No!" The question of whether the world would be much different today has President Gore been in power seems like an open and shut matter. How could it not be?

And yet, there actually is a strong case for the public’s skepticism.

In the run-up to war, Gore was loudly saying no. But so what? In a hapless piece, Kornacki tells us that he might have waged war on Iraq anyhoo—and he even seems to suggest that this is the question the public was asked.

On the merits, Kornacki’s analysis is just sad, a fact you’ll have to confirm for yourselves. On the politics, his judgment is astounding. Gore is a major liberal leader—and he got it right on Iraq! But why wait for Fox to tear him down, as they’re constantly trying to do? In a hopeless bit of counterfactual reasoning, Kornacki performs that task for them!

What did Americans ever do to merit this sort of punishment from God? (Don’t answer that!) What did we do to deserve a political culture in which people this foolish get enshrined as our leading “liberal” journalists?

In our low-IQ political culture, Gore has been a big target for twenty years, dating to Earth in the Balance. Plainly, he always will be. It’s pathetic enough when Rush and Sean gin up these silly brain-dead discussions. Yesterday, Kornacki jumped in to help them.

There is one bit of good news here. As with Kornacki’s piece about Romney, so too with this groaning effort: Salon readers responded in force, trashing him for his miserable judgment and his weak analytical skills. If you want to restore your faith in the world, we’ll suggest that you read those comments, many of which are quite sharp.

The comments are sharp; Kornacki isn’t. What explains a “liberal” world which displays this balance of power?

Special report: Imagine all the people!

PART 3—IN THEIR LIVES, THEY’VE LOATHED THEM ALL (permalink): For our money, Kevin Drum made perfect sense as he tried to imagine all the people—all the people in the tea party movement, that is.

Jon Fasman had tried to imagine why the tea party folk are so darned nostalgic. Try though he might, Fasman simply couldn’t stop thinking that it was all about race.

We humans have always imagined the worst when we imagine the souls of “those people”—the souls of those in the other tribe. But Drum said he was “irked” by Fasman’s approach—and we think his reaction made sense. He listed many things for which tea party folk might be nostalgic (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/30/11). Sensibly enough, he said this after compiling his list:

DRUM: Again: the world is a complicated place. People have lots of motivations for the things they do, some of them shabby, some of them honorable, some of them merely personal preferences or products of self-interest. Focusing only on the shabby motivations is as unfair as pretending that they're mere inventions of your opponents' febrile imaginations. It's all there, it's all always been there, and it's all open for discussion.

Drum broke every rule in the book. Thinking about the other tribe, he said their motivations might not all be shabby. Why, some of their motivations might even by “honorable!”

No, really—that’s what he said!  

Is the world that “complicated?” Within the ugly, crabbed tribal mind, such thoughts have never been permitted. Quickly, Drum’s commenters swung into action, correcting his obvious error.

Some of the comments were snide. Some of the comments were harsher than that—and they went to all-race-all-the-time as the only possible explanation for the behavior and views of “those people.” But we can make one general statement: The world in which these commenters live is not “a complicated place.” In their brilliance, they are able to limn the world’s souls forty million at a time.

The commenters’ world is really quite simple. Just as it has always been, “those people” are all alike:

COMMENT: They're nostalgic for their infancy, to the degree they're really nostalgic for anything at all.

I think it's mostly just generalized malice dressed up in nostalgia, a nostalgia of what they thought was when everything was just perfect, just before potty training.

COMMENT: Conservatives, it seems to me, are terrified of change and see it as a threat. Liberals embrace change and see it as an opportunity. Our differences are basic, rooted in our fundamental world-views and our emotional responses to them.

COMMENT: …Look, older Americans: I'm sorry you can't hide your head in the sand anymore and pretend everything is hunky dory and America is the greatest and everything fits in its neat little box. I'm sorry the internet and television and cell phones have brought the ickyness of the world right to your front door. Oh, the horrah. Maybe instead of acting like everything was so much better back in the day you can acknowledge that life is messy, nothing is perfect, America is flawed despite its greatness, and maybe we all need to roll up our sleeves and work on making the nation better instead of pretending it all went haywire when X happened. Cripes I'm SO sick of this. I hear from older people that everything was fine until we startled using taxpayer $$ to buy schoolbooks for kids ... that happened in what, the 1940s? Get over it, people. Thing were not wonderful 30 or 40 years ago and got sucky when a black man entered the White House. There's always been good and bad. Change is what we're made of. Deal with it.

COMMENT: back then the teabaggers were young and sheltered from the harsh realities of the world. They want their youth back.

In the oldest analysis known to the race, the second commenter said that we in our tribe are smart, wise and good—and sadly, they in their tribe are not. In a harsher vein, the third commenter was able to see that it’s simply all about race. Drum’s readers weren’t reading the world as he did—at least, not when it comes to “those people.”

Other commenters stood in line, eager to testify to the fact that the world isn’t a complicated place:

COMMENT: Hey Kevin, I hate to burst your bubble, but:

"Every American" never attended church every Sunday (with the exception of Catholics- who, as you mentioned were a tiny minority during Boehner's childhood)

Old people have also been complaining about the content on TV since it was invented. (And new forms of entertainment—in this case, video games—have always been met with terrified yowling from the older generation. Remember the Pool Hall song from Music Man? Pool halls!)

Your "put up a shed" and "take away our guns" arguments are both utter utter straw men.

So the only complaint that is even somewhat legitimate and not based on racial or gender resentment is "The Big Three were the Big Three" and "kids should have to pray in school”—which is really just resentment and hatred of the wrong types of believers and/or atheists.

Face facts, these people are bigots or they're pining for ways of life that never existed (or both). Let's not pretend there is any legitimate nostalgia here.

The nostalgia isn’t “legitimate!” And the nostalgia which isn’t based on race is still of course based on hatred!

Before too long, it had to happen, as it always does—as it always has. As the commenters’ anger rose, Drum came under suspicion:

COMMENT: I think Kevin was/is granting far too much good faith to right wingers by offering up this list of grievances. I'm pointing out that despite going out of his way to portray these particular assholes in the most flattering light possible, that most of the complaints he has devised are STILL either fantastical, or the byproduct of gender or racial animosity.

That commenter can spot assholes forty million at a time! For a mind of this prehistoric type, it was only natural to wonder why Drum wouldn’t do the same.

As the comments continued to flow, the world became less and less complicated. Comments like the two which follow are actually drawn from the high-complexity camp:

COMMENT: Kevin's point isn't that conservatives are pining for real things necessarily, just that what they're pining for isn't as monstrous as all that. Perhaps it's all fantasy, but it isn't, or it need not be, specifically a fantasy about keeping non-whites down, just a fantasy about having a nice white life free of care.

COMMENT: Interesting you don't mention the older white conservative women. I think they're pining for a lot of the same things you listed. I agree that this isn't necessarily about bringing back slavery or segregation. To me, it certainly seems as if they're afraid that the time is very near when whites no longer automatically hold a majority in government. I think that, to the greatest extent, is the biggest fear - more so than gays having full rights.

When we liberals are thoughtful and generous, we concede that it isn’t necessarily about bringing slavery back! But when we get ourselves a snootful, we pen remarks like the ones which follow. We make it a point to tell the tribe that this whole thing isn’t complex:

COMMENT: "None of this is really my cup of tea, and as you'll note, lots of it is indeed bound up with racial, ethnic, and gender fears. But then again, lots of it isn't. ... The world is a complicated place."

Not really. Even the better part of the "nostalgia" which, at first glance, appears not to be "bound up with racial, ethnic, and gender fears" really is. This is so because old white male conservatives invariably blame its loss on those factors. For example, not being able to send your kids to college is blamed on all the aid going to minorities.

Virtually every part of the old white male conservative dream has been stolen by those pushing a "racial, ethnic, or gender" agenda. It's really not complicated.

COMMENT: "Jon Fasman joins the throngs of people wondering just what it is that older white conservatives are really nostalgic for:"

That's easy.

They miss the times when they could treat everyone who wasn't a white man like crap, when they could kill gay people without consequence, when they could rape women and force them to bear their rape babies, when they could openly discriminate against anyone/everyone that was as @#?!ed in the head as they are.

COMMENT: "The world is a complicated place."

There I think you hit the nub of the problem really for conservatives; they don't WANT it to be a complicated place. Everything just needs to have a simple solution. Bad economy? Just cut taxes! Schools in trouble? Just get prayer and faith "back" in the classroom, and dump all that complicated evolution stuff. Maybe it's a result of them being too young at those times to recognize the complexity back then, but they long for this mythic time of "simple solutions" supposedly in the past. Problem is because reality IS a complicated place, they want to cram it (and everyone) until they fit into that simplistic mold, no matter what harm they do. They want a childish world, so they act childish (which of course tends to mean "sociopath" in adults).

“That’s easy,” the second commenter said, as bigots have done through the ages. He or she explained that the tea party folk simply long for the days when they could rape women and such! Bringing the unintentional comedy in, the third commenter helped us see that “those people” want simple solutions! As always, we liberals are the nuanced ones, even as we make the world’s most sweeping generalizations. The other people are the ones who want everything in a “simplistic mold!”

The ugly souls of Kevin’s readers spilled out in their ugly remarks—remarks which were amazingly dumb by any sane calculation. Alas! As we liberals run through the streets of the web, behaving as people always have done, we make a joke of intellectual culture—and we make it amazingly easy for “those people” to be the bright ones.

Drum did get some very sharp comments from some of his readers this day—but most of the plainly intelligent comments came from the other tribe! Indeed, he himself disappointed us a bit early on, accepting a premise or two from heaven knows where.

Tomorrow, we’ll review Kevin’s small error. Also: Is Krugman nostalgic?

Tomorrow: There went the sun!

Friday: Professor Putnam’s lonely hearts club band