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HEY RUBES! The professors took our society’s saddest song and made it that much worse: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2011

The two Krugmans/the two Chris Matthews: “One day won’t make a difference,” the New York Times editors say today, referring to Obama’s jobs speech.

But first, they devote their featured editorial to the one day they say doesn’t matter. Just click here.

Does it matter if Obama speaks next Wednesday, as opposed to next Thursday? At this point no, not really—though Wednesday would have been better. After all, Obama has literally had two years to devise and advance jobs proposals. But today, the editors screech and yell about that one day—about the one day they say doesn’t matter—because it gives them a chance to yell about the vile John Boehner.

So it goes when weak-minded elites devolve into tribal warfare.

And uh-oh! We had a similar reaction to Paul Krugman’s new column!

Krugman is a giant when he writes about policy; he isn’t as strong about politics. Today, he’s in a bit of a tribal fury himself. But for our money, something basic is missing:

KRUGMAN (9/2/11): “Have you left no sense of decency?” That’s the question Joseph Welch famously asked Joseph McCarthy, as the red-baiting demagogue tried to ruin yet another innocent citizen. And these days, it’s the question I find myself wanting to ask Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who has done more than anyone else to make policy blackmail—using innocent Americans as hostages—standard operating procedure for the G.O.P.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Cantor was the hard man in the confrontation over the debt ceiling; he was willing to endanger America’s financial credibility, putting our whole economy at risk, in order to extract budget concessions from President Obama. Now he’s doing it again, this time over disaster relief, making headlines by insisting that any federal aid to the victims of Hurricane Irene be offset by cuts in other spending. In effect, he is threatening to take Irene’s victims hostage.

Throughout the column, Krugman suggests that Cantor is “threatening to take Irene’s victims hostage,” engaging in “blackmail.” But he offers no quotation in which Cantor has made such a threat.

Cantor has said that federal aid to victims of Irene should be offset by cuts in other spending. We think that’s a dumb idea—but has he threatened to withhold disaster funding until his demand is met? For ourselves, we haven’t seen such a demand—and Krugman doesn’t provide one.

When the Times reported this topic on Wednesday, it reported no such demand. “In an appearance on Fox News this week, Mr. Cantor promised to find the money for the storm aid,” Carl Hulse reported. Has Cantor really made that threat? If he has, shouldn’t it be in this column?

Doggone it! The progressive world loses its MVP when Krugman gets tribally overheated—when the policy Krugman makes way for his tribal twin. That policy writer is very valuable. With that in mind, we’ll suggest that you recall what Krugman wrote about Obama and Social Security back in 2007.

A bit of background:

After reading this recent blog post, we went back to review what Krugman said about Obama in 2007. We came upon a painful column from November 2007. In that column, Krugman criticized Obama for the way he was pimping the “crisis” in Social Security. At the time, Obama was bashing Hillary Clinton because she wouldn’t make the same bogus statements.

Krugman was right on the money that day. But the part of the column we thought you should see concerned a current rhetorical matter. Rick Perry called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” in his fiery book last year, and he’s getting semi-pounded for it. But other people got there first. Just consider this gruesome part of Krugman’s painful column:

KRUGMAN (11/16/07): To understand the nature of Mr. Obama's mistake, you need to know something about the special role of Social Security in American political discourse.

Inside the Beltway, doomsaying about Social Security—declaring that the program as we know it can't survive the onslaught of retiring baby boomers—is regarded as a sort of badge of seriousness, a way of showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are.

Consider, for example, this exchange about Social Security between Chris Matthews of MSNBC and Tim Russert of NBC, on a recent edition of Mr. Matthews's program ''Hardball.''

Mr. Russert: ''Everyone knows Social Security, as it's constructed, is not going to be in the same place it's going to be for the next generation, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives.''

Mr. Matthews: ''It's a bad Ponzi scheme, at this point.''

Mr. Russert: ''Yes.''

But the ''everyone'' who knows that Social Security is doomed doesn't include anyone who actually understands the numbers. In fact, the whole Beltway obsession with the fiscal burden of an aging population is misguided.

Awful! Last year, in his book, Perry called Social Security a Ponzi scheme. But so did the high-ranking Matthews and Russert, back in 2007.

Today, Matthews is a liberal hero. He’s been repurposed by the suits. He plays you every night of the week, sending race thrills up your leg. Joan comes on to praise his greatness. The profits and pay-checks roll in.

Ain’t life in a failing culture grand? For ourselves, we think progressives need the just-the-facts Krugman, not his less helpful twin.

By the way, has Cantor made that threat? Like other readers of Krugman’s column, we still aren’t sure.

Special report: Imagine all the people!

EPILOGUE—HEY RUBES (permalink): How many tea party supporters are actually snarling racists?

(Oh sorry: How many tea party supporters “had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and still do?” In our emerging liberal culture, euphemism must be served!)

How many tea party people are racists? Here at THE DAILY HOWLER, we aren’t really sure. According to recent surveys, there are perhaps forty million such people in all. We still haven’t spoken to most of them.

Of course, it’s easy to get an answer if you simply imagine all the people in the tea party clan. That’s what Kevin Drum’s commenters did (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/31/11). Their technique led to analyses like this:

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.

Still, we weren’t entirely sure. Do all tea party supporters want to treat everyone who isn't a white man like crap? Or is it just a very high percentage?

Determined to answer such questions, we turned back to that pair of professors! On August 17, Professors Putnam and Campbell published their op-ed piece in the New York Times—a piece which helped us answer these questions through the use of highly rigorous academic technique. The professors don’t imagine all the people; they go out and interview samples, using all their skills and powers.

Imagination can hang—this is science! As you may recall, the professors ended up offering this assessment of the folk in the tea party movement:

PUTNAM AND CAMPBELL (8/17/11): So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.

More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006—opposing abortion, for example—and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics.

As they tried to define the tea party, the professors went directly to race—even though they said that other factors were “more important.” But once again, we were a bit puzzled. How many tea party supporters “have a low regard for immigrants and blacks?” Is it all the tea party folk, or just a very large number?

How many people have that low regard? The professors did tell us that tea party folk have a low regard for immigrants and blacks “compared to other white Republicans.” In this way, they managed to slime “other white Republicans” too. But still, they never quite got around to explaining how many people in these vile groups hold that low regard.

Alas! In a piece which was highly disrespectful of the killing role race has played in our society, the lofty professors failed to define their sweeping claims—their insinuations. Nor have they bothered, right to this day, to release their alleged presumed data—data which would let us see the degree to which tea party responses to racial questions differ from responses given by other groups.

So you see, it isn’t just commenters to web sites who play it fast and loose with race claims—with the most serious claims a person can make in our culture. Even our loftiest professors play such games—with the permission of the New York Times op-ed page, of course.

What did Professors Putnam and Campbell learn about tea party views about race? There is still no way to know. In response to complaints, the lofty fellows did let a minion release the text of the questions they posed to their respondents (click here). For example, this is the text of the one lonely question they asked about immigrants or immigration:

PUTNAM/CAMPBELL SURVEY QUESTION:

Do you think the number of immigrants from foreign countries who are permitted to come to the United States to live should be increased a lot, increased a little, left the same as it is now, decreased a little or decreased a lot?

-Increased a lot
-Increased a little
-Left the same as it is now
-Decreased a little
-Decreased a lot

Does the word “permitted” mean that this question refers to legal immigration? Just a guess—different respondents will understand this question in different ways. (For ourselves, we wouldn’t answer a full-of-air question like that.) But at any rate, that is the only question respondents were asked about immigrants or immigration. But so what? On the basis of responses to that one airy question, the professors were able to tell us that tea party members “have a low regard for immigrants,” to some undisclosed degree.

This leads to a second question, of course: How many non-tea party people gave the “wrong” answer to this question? How many Democrats gave the “wrong” answer, for example? Here too, there is no way to know, because the data have not been released. For that reason, there is no way to measure the degree to which the tea party people differ from other groups.

Discussing our nation’s most serious topic, these professors have done lazy, careless, inexcusable work. Were we in charge of Harvard/Notre Dame, we would kick them onto the street before they returned from sabbatical! And yes, the response rates really do matter, if you want to know what tea party people are actually like. Let’s recall an earlier survey by an associate professor.

In April 2010, Christopher Parker (University of Washington) released the results from his own survey. Parker’s work was almost pitifully poor. Here is a fair-enough summary from someone at Newsweek, via the Daily Beast:

NEWSWEEK (4/9/10): So a new poll by researchers at the University of Washington caught my eye. The findings are sure to fan the flames further. "People who approve of the Tea Party, more than those who don't approve, have more racist attitudes," says Christopher Parker, a University of Washington professor who directed the survey. "And not only that, but more homophobic and xenophobic attitudes." For instance, respondents were asked whether they agreed with various characterizations of different racial groups. Only 35 percent of those who strongly approve of the tea party agreed that blacks are hardworking, compared with 55 percent of those who strongly disapprove of the tea party. On whether blacks were intelligent, 45 percent of the tea-party supporters agreed, compared with 59 percent of the tea-party opponents. And on the issue of whether blacks were trustworthy, 41 percent of the tea-party supporters agreed, compared with 57 percent of the tea-party opponents.

To his credit, Parker managed to say that tea party people were only more racist, homophobic and xenophobic than members of other groups. (Apparently, the others were very bad too!) But please note what that distinction means: Even though many tea party people gave the “wrong” answers to Parker’s questions, quite a few tea party detractors gave the “wrong” answers too! (Parker compared responses by tea party supporters to responses by folk who oppose the tea party.) This helps us see that the differences here are differences of degree, even if we accept Parker’s view about which answers are wrong. But uh-oh! In this case, a closer look at Parker’s questions undermined his findings even further. After some of her standard screeching and yelling about all the “racists” with whom she’s surrounded, Joan Walsh calmed down long enough to respond to an informed critique by Cathy Young:

WALSH (5/3/10): On one point, Young is right. It's true that white Tea Party skeptics are more likely than white Tea Party supporters to say black people are trustworthy (57 percent to 41 percent), Young acknowledges. But then she compares the two groups' opinions of white trustworthiness, and finds that while only 49 percent of Tea Partiers say whites are trustworthy, 72 percent of Tea Party skeptics do. So when you compare white Tea Party skeptics' views of black and white trustworthiness, you find that more (72 percent) think whites are trustworthy than think blacks are (57 percent). Young's right, that is a little weird, and depressing. But it's also noteworthy that Tea Partiers don't seem to have a lot of trust in black or white people.

Uh-oh! Tea party supporters gave lower ratings to blacks on these measures—but they also gave lower ratings to whites! What happened to all their racism? Joan might not have found this outcome so “weird and depressing” had she simply considered the actual question respondents were actually asked. Young gave an incomplete description, but it took us well beyond the cursory description found in Newsweek:

YOUNG (4/25/10): The respondents in the UW poll were asked to rate on a 1-7 scale how intelligent, hardworking, and trustworthy they perceived "almost all" blacks (and, in separate questions, whites, Latinos, and Asians) to be. Whether the findings expose Tea Party bigotry hinges on two things: how the “Tea Partiers” opinions of blacks compare to their views of other groups, and how their answers compare to those of other, non-Tea-Partying Americans.

Respondents weren’t asked if they think black people (or white people) are intelligent or trustworthy. They were asked if they think almost all people in those groups can be so described; they had to rate that likelihood along a seven-point scale. This is a long-standing, standard type of question in social science research—but by accepted academic procedure, you’re supposed to compare the way a respondent rates his own demographic group to the way he rates other such groups. Parker didn’t do that, and people like Walsh started yelling about all the racists—but only about all the racists in the other tribe, of course.

That said, if you interpret the data in standard ways, the tea party responses betrayed no more racial suspicion than those of tea party opponents. Can we talk? As she screeched, cavorted and yelled, this pretty much made its way over Joan’s name-calling head.

Tea party supporters gave lower ratings to all groups. That said, they favored their own demographic group by roughly the same proportion as tea party opponents did. By the way, how would you answer the question they were asked? Would you say that “almost all” blacks (or almost all whites) are intelligent? Trustworthy? Where would you rate those groups on that seven-point scale?

For ourselves, we wouldn’t answer that question. It’s too full of air.

Back to the latest professors. We think they have behaved very badly in this current episode. Based on their column and their TV appearances, we’d make a second, heretical claim—we’d suggest that these professors just may not be all that sharp. We know, we know! They’re from the best schools! Wand we liberals love it when such professors let us shout our favorite claims at the folk in the other tribe. How can something that feels so good possibly be so bad?

Sorry. Our professors are often rather weak-minded. Have we really not noticed this yet?

Hey rubes, we hear the professors saying. Take our society’s saddest song and make it that much worse.

The plutocrats cheer when this piffle gets spewed. Helter skelter, they craftily say. Helter skelter! Divide and conquer!