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Print view: When it comes to that thirty-year war, the biggest clowns have been us
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CLOWNS ARE US! When it comes to that thirty-year war, the biggest clowns have been us: // link // print // previous // next //

Imitation of life/you will see nobody laugh: We’re living in truly gruesome times. The sheer stupidity of the discourse has reached this comical point: in this morning’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd actually lectures someone about correct intellectual procedures! “This is what passes for intellectualism on the right,” her tut-tutting sub-headline says:

DOWD (9/15/10): This fear-mongering is ugly. D’Souza and Gingrich employ the tactics the Bush administration used to get us into Iraq—cherry-picking, insinuation, half-truths and dishonest reasoning.

If the conservatives are so interested in psychoanalyzing father and son relationships, why didn’t they do so back when W. was rushing to avenge and one-up his father by finishing what daddy started with Saddam?

You know times are bad when Maureen Dowd comes out against insinuation, half-truths and dishonest reasoning! In her next paragraph, she shows Newt Gingrich the right way to play. Cherry-picking is very bad. Psychoanalyzing father and son seems to be A-OK!

The lunacy of Gingrich and Dinesh D’Souza is truly a thing to see. But then, the lunacy of Dowd has been a force in the culture for decades. Unfortunately, no print journalist has been more influential over the past twenty years, dating back to her days as a Times “reporter.” And no print journalist has been dumber. On Sunday, before she got angry at Newt, Dowd was back to calling Obama “Barry”—and she compared him to a “valley girl,” the gender-nut conduct to which she turns when she’s peeved with a Major Male Democrat. John Edwards was “the Breck girl.” Al Gore was “so feminized that he’s practically lactating.” Obama has been compared to a long string of “debutantes” and “girls.”

D’Souza and Gingrich are flat crazy nuts. Dowd has been so for years.

A broken discourse is all around you, driven by many dysfunctional players. That said, it’s endlessly baffling to see the way the emerging liberal world increasingly likes to reason. We were struck by this Steve Benen post, in which liberal readers were encouraged to imagine that Democrats got royally shafted by bookers on the Sunday programs in 2009. For unknown reasons, Benen discussed an extremely weak study done by a law student at George Mason University. To read this very weak study, click here. Steve himself thundered thusly:

BENEN (9/15/10): The same study reported on the members of Congress who appeared the most frequently on any of the five main Sunday morning shows. Only four lawmakers made it into double digits—Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Jon Kyl—and they're all Republicans. (The list didn't include Newt Gingrich because he's not currently in Congress.)

The GOP congressional leaders made 43 Sunday show appearances. The Democratic leadership made 11 appearances.

Note the context here—the study only monitored 2009. In other words, in the immediate aftermath of the most successful Democratic election cycle in a generation, at a point in which Democrats had their biggest House and Senate majorities in decades, and with the Democratic agenda shaping the policy landscape, the Sunday shows still relied heavily on white, male, senior, and Republican guests.

Wow! Even in 2009, the Sunday shows “still relied heavily on…Republican guests” (whatever that means). As he tried to establish his murky point, Steve gave us a single statistic to chew on: “The GOP congressional leaders made 43 Sunday show appearances. The Democratic leadership made 11 appearances.”

Outrage was quickly expressed in comments, as liberals denounced the way the corporate media crapped all over our poor abused kind. Unfortunately, Steve forgot to include a basic statistic from the study: Among congressional guests on the Sunday programs, 48 percent were Dems, 50 percent were Republicans. That is a rather even distribution—and it doesn’t count the many appearances by Democrats from the Obama administration, a category for which there is no Republican counterpart. In short, this study gave no indication that Democrats got shafted in 2009. But Steve ran out a 43-to-11 statistic, and the belly-aching started.

(Quick note: From Steve’s post, it isn’t clear who he means by “congressional leaders.” But might we make the world’s most obvious statement? If Pelosi and Reid don’t appear on these shows, it surely isn’t because they aren’t invited. Neither one is especially good on TV. Other Dems get sent in their stead.)

The “study” presents no serious evidence that Dems got shafted. But Steve cherry-picked a helpful statistic, and the loud sobbing began. This sort of nonsense is becoming more common as liberals learn to love playing the victim card, as the very dumbest conservatives have long done. But then, weak liberal muscles can be seen all around—a point to which Ezra Klein drew attention with this insightful post. (Headline: “Democrats turn to meaningless word games.”) We’ll recommend the whole post, which is short. But the sad state of modern liberal reasoning was best captured here:

KLEIN (9/15/10): Sigh. Whether you think this is a good idea, a bad idea or a totally meaningless waste of time—and you can guess which view I hold—it's worth remembering that Democrats have known about the expiration of these cuts for 10 years now. If they wanted to create their own middle-class tax cut to replace Bush's expiring program and make sure they got the credit from the voters, they could've done that. If they wanted to begin calling them something different, they could have started the process last year. Instead, we've now been talking about the Bush tax cuts for months and the big plan is to suddenly change how Democrats refer to them in press releases?

Spot-on, though Ezra is off by a year. The Bush tax cuts were proposed in 1999; the expiration date was proposed and passed into law in 2001. Nine years later, for good or for ill, Democrats have no alternate proposal—other than the plan to drop Bush’s cut in the marginal rate, affecting households which earn more than $250,000. In truth, Dems and liberals don’t really have any sort of new tax plan. But now, as Ezra notes, we’re arguing about the idea that we should “rebrand” what we call these tax rates.

There’s a term for that—imitation of life. Imitation of policy. Imitation of politics.

(Meanwhile, please note the “difference” between the two parties. It all comes down to this burning question: Should the highest-earning households pay 35 percent on their marginal income, or should they pay 39 percent? Pathetically, that represents the extent of American tax “debate”—and yet, we pretend a big fight is on. You live in Potemkin times.)

Essentially, Gingrich and D’Souza are insane. But Dowd has been a visible nut for years—and our emerging liberal world increasingly argues like children. Your culture is in a vast, deep hurt. The most obvious symptom: Nobody much seems to notice!

Maureen Dowd lectures today on intellectual practice—and you will see nobody laugh!

Dowd through the years: On Sunday, Dowd started with some of her standard, inane word games—and with a bit of race play:

DOWD (9/12/10): How did the first president of color become so colorless?

And how can Obamicans can Obama?

The president is everywhere, trying to get more aggressive and recapture some of his “Yes we can” mojo in an effort to fend off the rebuke that’s barreling toward him from voters this fall.

We were curious. How often has Dowd used the term “mojo” before? The answer: Six times. She used it first in August 2000, when Candidate Gore had just shot to the top of the national polls. In reaction, Dowd pictured Gore before a mirror, talking to himself and admiring his muscles. As was required by Prevailing Group Narrative, Naomi Wolf was brought in right away:

DOWD (8/23/00): Me, Myself And Why

Great balls of fire!

Alpha Al, you the man. You got your mojo. You are looking goooood!

Hey you, handsome front-runner in the mirror, give me a high five! Yesssssss! You've got the cool, clear eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth.

“Alpha Al” was a mocking reference to Wolf, who had taught Gore to be an “alpha male” in the press corps’ Prevailing Group Novel. And before she was done, Dowd went there again. Gore was still admiring himself before the mirror:

DOWD: Ouch! I feel as if I pulled a muscle. I'll stop pumping iron for a moment and strategize. To keep the bounce going, I have to figure out what I did in Los Angeles that changed voters' minds.

What do I have now that I didn't have before? Which new me works best for me? Were they wowed by Wednesday's earth tones or Thursday's business attire? Do they prefer Al the Lover to Al the Fighter? L.A. Al must not revert to D.C. Al!

I must focus-group myself. The important thing is not to panic. There's a throb in my deltoid. I'll pop an Altoid. But I need a factoid.

Now, we were back to the “earth tones,” around reference to Wolf. For the record: In 2007, the New York Times filed a formal correction about this fictional claim. In 2007!

Maureen Dowd is essentially out of her mind. She has been a cancer for years. These taunting columns from 2000 explain how Bush reached the White House.

But this morning, Dowd is lecturing somebody else about correct intellectual practice! Because you live in a broken world, no one will say this is nuts.

Special report: Thirty-year war!

PART 2—CLOWNS ARE US (permalink): When Digby went to Albertson’s, she stumbled upon an important discussion (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/14/10). Then again, she stumbled upon her nation’s most mundane discussion.

She stumbled upon a widespread discussion. It has been the norm for years.

A check-out clerk and two shoppers were discussing the sad state of Social Security—and none of the three had the slightest idea what they were talking about. All three had been thoroughly disinformed about the program over the past many years. In that, they were like tens of millions of fellow citizens. As public surveys have long made clear, discussions like theirs have been occurring all over the country for at least twenty years:

DIGBY (9/10/10): The check-out guy, a union member who went out on strike with all the other grocery workers in LA a couple of years ago, was chit-chatting with a woman who was checking out about $400.00 worth of items. So they had a long time to talk. The woman was saying that there's no money left in the social security system, that they'd spent it all. The clerk said, “Yeah, I heard that too, there's nothing left.” The women went on to tell this horror story about how her mother died and when she went down to sign up for her mother's social security, they told her she wasn't entitled to it because she was over 18. (She was in her 40s.) The clerk and the two people ahead of me gasped and said "you're kidding" and "what happened to all that money she paid in then?" The clerk sagely replied, "it went into the congressmen's pockets that's what happened."

At this point I couldn't take it and I interjected that nobody has ever been entitled to inherit their mother's social security and they all insisted that you used to be able to do it. All three of them. I wasn't going to get into that absurdity in the grocery store, so I just said, "Look, the most important thing is your social security and it will be there for you unless you let your representatives mess with it right now. You should tell them you don't want them to do anything to social security." The clerk looked at the other customers and sort of wryly laughed, saying “I don't think that's right. It's not what I've heard." The woman whose mother had died recently said, “It's not true. When I went down there to collect my money they said there wasn't any left in the system. I want to know what happened to all my mother's money.” The other person (also in her 40s) said, "all I know is that everybody says there won't be any money there for us.”

What Digby told the trio was accurate, once she managed to get past her pique at the absurdity of their remarks. Digby told them Social Security would be there as long as Congress didn’t “reform” it. But the check-out clerk simply laughed at Digby. “I don't think that's right. It's not what I've heard,” he said. The other two shoppers agreed, based on what “everybody says.”

There won’t be any money left by the time they retire, all three of these people “have heard.”

There won’t be any money left! If we think about how Social Security works, this belief makes no earthly sense (barring some sort of national meltdown). Tens of millions of people go to work every day; every two weeks, payroll taxes are taken out of their paychecks and sent to the federal government. That money is used to pay the benefits of current Social Security recipients. Simple story: As long as American workers are working, this system will never “run out of money.”

There will never be a time when there is “no money left.”

Under current projections, a day will come, decades in the future, when the system won’t be able to pay full promised benefits, absent some new infusion of money. But it makes no earthly sense to imagine a day when there will be “nothing left.” This basic notion makes no sense—and yet tens of millions of American voters have come to believe it. That said, there’s an obvious reason for their ignorance. This truly is what “everyone says.” This is what they “have heard.”

Alas! When people say this is what “everyone says,” they are speaking with savage accuracy. They are describing the fruits of a thirty-year war—a punishing war of disinformation which has proceeded with stunning success, in large part due to the dumbness and moral squalor of us, the nation’s liberals.

In a recent post, Digby said she can’t imagine losing to “these clowns”—referring to “the collection of half-educated carnival clowns, throwbacks and morons the Republicans are putting up this time.” But in fact, the biggest clowns have been us over the past thirty years.

Oligarchic power has proceeded with skill, disinforming the American public. It’s our side which has been feckless and dumb. If it’s clowns you truly dislike, then sorry—the clowns have been us!

There won’t be money left for us! It’s one of the dumbest ideas in the world. And yet, this dumbest idea has taken hold as we liberals have sat and stared, making almost no attempt to challenge the disinformation. By 1995, vast percentages of the public believed the system wouldn’t be there for them. Intelligent people would have acted. Instead, the liberal world still sat and stared. Now, years later, we take delight in attacking the dumbness of voters!

In fairness, a few progressives have tried to respond to the war of disinformation. In 1999, Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot published Social Security: The Phony Crisis, a book which attempted to challenge the disinformation. In their dedication, they praised those activists who have tried to defend Social Security “against an avalanche of misinformation, disinformation, and powerful political and financial interests.” In their preface, the gents said this:

BAKER AND WEISBROT (1999): The Social Security system is currently threatened more than ever before in its 64-year history. The problem is not financial, economic or demographic—the standard projections provide no basis for serious concern about the program’s financial survival…The problem is that people have become convinced that the program is in serious trouble. As a result of a steady stream of misinformation, the public could possibly allow a program that it values immensely to be seriously undermined or dismantled.

The gentlemen knew a war was on—and they knew what type of war it was. But their book appeared in 1999, at a time when the liberal world was napping in the woods. Their book received very little attention—and no one attempted to follow up with simpler formulations than those the book sometimes provided. (Baker and Weisbrot are economists, not popularizers.) Result? Eleven years after this book appeared, the state of play is dire.

Things are just as those shoppers said: All I know is that everybody says there won't be any money there for us! That shopper’s statement was right as rain. Just consider the way a Big Famous Liberal performed just a few weeks ago:

Lawrence O’Donnell, a Hollywood “liberal,” was guest-hosting on Countdown. (Keith Olbermann was enjoying his latest well-deserved evening of rest.) Speaking with two different guests, O’Donnell rattled off a trio of the talking-points manufactured to drive along the war Baker and Weisbrot described.

How massively dumb is the liberal world? O’Donnell started by assuring Ashley Carson, a bright young progressive, that “when your time comes to collect, the money will not be there, according to all the projections that we have today.” It was just as that shopper said: All I know is that everybody says there won't be any money there for us!

Everybody does say these things, even our famous liberal heroes! O’Donnell went on to rattle several more bogus points, including the gruesome, pathetic old howler about how everyone died at 58 when FDR started the system (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/2/10). But within a few days of O’Donnell’s performance, Gail Collins had typed this howler in the New York Times: “The system is supposed to run out of money in 2037.” Two days earlier, Matt Bai had typed a longer, dumber version of same in a New York Times “analysis” (text tomorrow).

O’Donnell rattled a trio of points straight from the disinformation campaign. Next week, he starts his own nightly program—on our “liberal” channel! But more remarkable is the wall of silence that greeted O’Donnell’s absurd performance.

Digby loves to trash the voters, saying they’re “dumb as dirt.” And yet, this greatest known social arbiter said nothing about O’Donnell’s dumbness, for which he’ll be paid a large sum this year. You see, Digby kisses Joan’s fat ass, and Joan is constantly kissing Chris’. And Lawrence sits at Chris’ right hand! Ain’t life in the “liberal” world grand?

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the predictable way Digby’s commenters began attacking that trio of voters for the very dumb things they said at the store. We’ll see one commenter repeating something Bai said, with no one else seeming to notice that it too comes from that thirty-year war. But so what! We’ll see pseudo-liberals as they have their greatest good time, attacking the dumbness of average voters.

Each step of the way, one point will be clear: When it comes to past thirty years, the biggest clowns of all have been us.

Tomorrow: Clowns like us