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Daily Howler: McCain has been making the world's dumbest claims. Our side has largely allowed it
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STUPIDEST DISCOURSE EVER! McCain has been making the world’s dumbest claims. Our side has largely allowed it: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2008

Their second novel on Palin: The odd mental traits of the Village press corps are on full display in Gene Robinson’s column. In his puzzling piece, Robinson unveils his second novel about the now-great Sarah Palin.

That’s right! Palin has been on the national scene for nine weeks—and Robinson is writing a second novel about her. (For what it’s worth: Versions of this new, improved novel are now being pimped on MSNBC, the cable channel where Robinson works.) As he begins, he reminds us about the novel he conjured first:

ROBINSON (10/31/08): My view of Sarah Palin has changed in the two months since John McCain named her as his running mate. I'm guessing that McCain's view of Palin may be changing, too, and not entirely in a good way.

I thought Palin was a lightweight; she's not. I thought she was an ingenue; she is, but only as long as her claws are sheathed. I thought she was bewildered and star-struck at her sudden elevation to national prominence; if she ever was, she isn't anymore. I thought she was nothing but raw political talent and unrealistic ambition; it turns out that she has impressive political skills. I thought she was destined to become nothing more than a historical footnote; I now think that Democrats underestimate her at their peril.

Back then, Robinson thought Palin was a lightweight. Today, he declares that she’s not.

At any rate, that was the first novel Robinson wrote. Nine weeks later, he says he was wrong—that he mis-appraised Palin. But we think you know this celebrity press corps! Rather than do what a sane person would—wait to see how Palin develops—Robinson has a new novel to sell. “I suspect that in the coming years she will rediscover the flexibility and pragmatism that have made her a genuinely popular governor,” Robinson muses, comfortably conjuring the future. Then he offers the basic outline of this second Palin profile. In his first novel, the glass was 95 percent empty. Nine weeks later, by some process, the glass is equally full:

ROBINSON: She has already become flexible enough to allow—or encourage—confidants to blame McCain's advisers for everything that has gone wrong. They kept her sequestered from interviewers. They bought her all those fancy clothes from Saks and Neiman Marcus when she would have been satisfied with a few odds and ends from her favorite consignment shop. They were reluctant to let the real Sarah emerge.

Some of McCain's people reply that she wasn't remotely ready for interviews, that she needed and wanted that high-end clothing, and that the real Sarah is a diva who seems to think she's the one at the top of the ticket. All of which is true—and all of which reinforces my belief that Palin is a much more formidable politician than I first thought.

That she wasn't ready to meet the national media became clear when she sat down with Katie Couric for those embarrassing sessions. But compare the bunny-in-the-headlights Sarah Palin of just a few weeks ago with the much more poised and confident Sarah Palin of today. Ignorance isn't the same thing as stupidity. When Palin talks about economic policy these days, her sentences don't meander into the Twilight Zone the way they once did. She has more to say about foreign policy besides the fact that Russia is just across the Bering Strait. She has learned much in a very short period.

And she will learn more. I predict we'll have Sarah Palin to kick around for a long, long time.

Do you see the way a novel works? When Palin encourages confidants to blame McCain for all her disasters, this can’t mean that she’s dishonest; that she’s self-serving; that she might be aggressive or a bit nasty. No! In Robby’s new novel, Palin’s a star! Therefore, when she lets her gang blame McCain, it can only reflect an appealing trait. And presto! In Robinson’s column, Palin’s blame game proves that she “has already become flexible enough” to engage in such conduct.

And, of course, she’s smarter, much better. “When Palin talks about economic policy these days, her sentences don't meander into the Twilight Zone the way they once did,” the scribe proclaims. “She has more to say about foreign policy besides the fact that Russia is just across the Bering Strait.” Frankly, we have no idea what Robinson means—what particular statements he has in mind. And sure enough—he gives no examples. Writing a novel is like that.

If McCain is defeated next week, will Palin become a capable, competent national figure? Like Robinson, we have no way of knowing. But note the basic things he ignores to enable his new, upbeat novel. In fact, Palin’s performance to date has been a disgrace, in ways the scribe disappears:

Dishonesty: Palin has been baldly dishonest during her run on the national stage. She arrived in late August, telling stories about herself which were as absurdly inaccurate as any tales ever told by a pol. Her story about the Bridge to Nowhere may be the most ludicrous tale ever told; her e-Bay tale wasn’t far behind, and we’ve never gotten clear on the facts about that chef—the one who got fired when Palin went home for the summer. But then, she displayed the same sort of bizarre dishonesty in the wake of the punishing Troopergate report. To date, Palin is the delusional liar the press corps pretended Al Gore was. But so what? This small problem has been disappeared from Robinson’s new, friendly novel.

Demagoguery: Going beyond even her running-mate’s conduct, Palin has behaved like a deeply unprincipled demagogue in the past few weeks. How does a novelist handle that fact? Simple! She was just following orders!

ROBINSON: I should make clear that I believe Palin is wrong about basically everything, at least to the extent that we know what she really believes. The McCain campaign gave her a job to do—slash, burn, fire up the base, accuse Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists," accuse Obama supporters of not living in "pro-America" parts of the country—and she went out and did it. McCain's campaign rallies often have a sense of purpose and duty about them; Palin's have a sense of electricity.

See? In this novel, it simply can’t be that Palin has behaved like a world-class demagogue. Instead, “the McCain campaign gave her a job to do;” she was just following orders! We have no idea why Robinson wants to frame Palin’s reprehensible conduct this way. But this is how new novels emerge—and this new novel is being recited in several MSNBC precincts. (On today’s Morning Joe, for example, where Mika and Chrystia were simply too frightened to challenge Joe the Anchor.)

Professional misconduct: The weekend after Palin was named, we read the background material concerning the “Troopergate” nonsense. We thought then what we think today—this involves the oddest sustained conduct we’ve encountered at the gubernatorial level. And sure enough! Three weeks ago, Alaska’s Joint Legislative Council found that Palin had violated the state ethics code in the course of her long campaign to get her former brother-in-law fired. Result? Palin immediately started lying about what the report said. How does Robinson fit this in his novel? Simple! It doesn’t get mentioned.

Puzzling ineptitude: “Ignorance isn't the same thing as stupidity,” Robinson correctly says. We assume that Palin isn’t “stupid”—although she has made some of the oddest statements ever seen on the national level. Question: If Palin returns to Alaska’s State House, will she emerge, a few years from now, as a lucid, well-informed national figure? We don’t have the slightest idea—and we don’t know why Robinson thinks that he does. But novelists don’t delay gratification. Rather that wait to see what emerges, Robinson tells us what he “suspects.” Two months after being wrong, he “predicts” how this tale will turn out.

Why is he typing this second novel? We don’t have the slightest idea. For ourselves, if we had bungled a novel eight weeks ago, we might consider waiting a while before we started dreaming another. We might even consider waiting to see how the future turned out! But this cohort observes no such restraints; this cohort tends to live through its Group Novels. And as we told you, many figures at MSNBC are now reciting this kinder/gentler, all-new-and-improved, cleaned-up Sarah Palin tale.

Earlier this week, we gave you the word: These people—the Robinsons—savaged your interests during the age of conservative power. During that era, they recited ugly tales about both Clintons, then they turned their guns against Candidate Gore. And we warned you: They could do it again. But we wouldn’t have guessed that a new, silly novel could have rolled off the line quite this fast. Why has Robinson made this odd flip? We can’t tell you—but let’s take a guess. Is deference to power involved?

STUPIDEST DISCOURSE EVER: Steve Benen asked a very good question. Let’s review it again:

BENEN (10/29/08): Has there ever been a more inane presidential campaign? (Steve’s emphasis)

It’s hard to give a definitive answer—but this may be the stupidest discourse ever. Consider the plight of Emily Daywalt, a voter who’s 19 years old.

E.J. Dionne describes Daywalt’s plight at the start of his column this morning. He met her at a Palin rally in Pennsylvania, this campaign’s pivotal state:

DIONNE (10/31/08): SHIPPENSBURG, Pa.—Emily Daywalt decided to go to the first political rally of her life because she wanted to cheer Sarah Palin, who was here a few days ago to inspire the faithful. Daywalt said she likes that Palin "hunts and that she believes in God and that she is a strong, independent woman."

But ask the 19-year-old from South Mountain, Pa., why she is voting against Barack Obama, and she homes right in on John McCain's closing argument. Obama, Daywalt said, "wants to spread the wealth," which she interprets as meaning that he'd "give it to people who don't do anything."

“For all of the McCain campaign's relentless use of guilt-by-association techniques, the 2008 campaign is concluding on a remarkably substantive argument,” Dionne says as he continues. We can’t imagine why he’d say that after thinking about Daywalt’s plight.

Once again, Daywalt is only 19 years old. And she has heard that closing assertion: Obama wants to spread the wealth! Almost surely, she’s also heard two noisy words yelled around: Obama’s a socialist! Communist!

Like millions of other voters, Daywalt has probably heard those claims. But does he know what those claims are based on? Has she ever heard the facts buried deep inside Hendrik Hertzberg’s new column? They appear in his paragraph 5—paragraph 5, out of seven:

HERTZBERG (11/3/08): The Republican argument of the moment seems to be that the difference between capitalism and socialism corresponds to the difference between a top marginal income-tax rate of 35 per cent and a top marginal income-tax rate of 39.6 per cent. The latter is what it would be under Obama’s proposal, what it was under President Clinton...

People, there’s your communism! McCain wants a marginal rate of 35 percent. Obama says no—39!

Our question: Do you think Daywalt has ever heard those numbers? Do you think her parents have heard them? Unfortunately, she isn’t going to hear those numbers when she reads Dionne’s column today. She’ll encounter a windy disquisition on a wide array of high-minded topics. But she’ll never encounter the pair of facts which might help her see how dead-dog dumb her nation’s discourse is. (It’s just as Benen said.)

Thirty-nine percent—versus 35? A very average Joe the Sports Fan would understand that those two numbers describe a close football game. Indeed, those numbers let almost anyone see how stupid McCain’s “closing argument” is; they let liberals explain the sheer stupidity involved in calling Obama a Commie. But go ahead! Review the work of your “liberal intellectual leaders.” Very few have included those facts in their attempts to tackle this matter. McCain has been making the most inane statements ever. And our consummate dumbness enables him.

Thirty-five percent? That’s “country first!” Thirty-nine percent? That’s “godless communism!” It’s hard to imagine a much dumber claim. But Emily Daywalt doesn’t know that, because we refuse to inform her.

This utterly stupid claim burst on the scene with the arrival of Joe the Plumber. Just like that, one of our smart ones—the Prospect’s Dean Baker—nailed down the consummate lunacy. He laid it out in just three paragraphs, one day after the last presidential debate. Important note: Someone earning $280,000 a year isn’t yet in the top tax bracket:

BAKER (10/16/08): Much of last night's presidential debate centered on "Joe the Plumber," Joe Wurzelbacher, a plumber who Barack Obama met while campaigning in Ohio. According to the New York Times, Mr. Wurzelbacher says that he is planning to buy a plumbing business that has profits of between $250,000 and $280,000 a year.

While this income would put Mr. Wurzelbacher above the threshold where he could expect to pay higher taxes under Senator Obama's tax plan, the increase in his tax bill would be relatively modest. Under Senator Obama's plan, the tax on income above $250,000 would increase by 3 percentage points from 33 percent to 36 percent. This means that Mr. Wurzelbacher could expect to see his tax bill rise by between $0-$900...

It would have been useful for reporters to explain the extent to which Joe the Plumber would see his taxes increase under Senator Obama's tax proposal. It is unlikely that this tax increase will seriously impair his plans for his business as Senator McCain implied.

In this case, Obama’s “communism” was captured in the difference between 33 percent—and 36. At the most, the change would amount to a $900 increase in this plumber’s tax bill. But here’s what McCain had said, in that last debate, to people like Emily Daywalt:

MCCAIN (10/15/08): I would like to mention that a couple days ago Senator Obama was out in Ohio and he had an encounter with a guy who's a plumber. His name is Joe Wurzelbacher.

Joe wants to buy the business that he has been in for all of these years, worked 10, 12 hours a day. And he wanted to buy the business but he looked at your tax plan and he saw that he was going to pay much higher taxes.

You were going to put him in a higher tax bracket which was going to increase his taxes, which was going to cause him not to be able to employ people, which Joe was trying to realize the American dream.

Now Senator Obama talks about the very, very rich. Joe, I want to tell you, I'll not only help you buy that business that you worked your whole life for and be able—and I'll keep your taxes low and I'll provide available and affordable health care for you and your employees.

For the record, Obama doesn’t “talk about the very, very rich” very often. But McCain was bull-sh*tting wildly this evening. Instead of telling Daywalt the truth, he told her that Obama would make Wurzelbacher “pay much higher taxes.” This “was going to cause him not to be able to employ people,” he quite absurdly said. At most, he was talking about nine hundred bucks. But he didn’t tell Daywalt that.

Baker presented the simple facts; this was a 36-33 ball game. (And that difference would only apply to the part of Wurzelbacher’s income which exceeded $250,000.) But alas! We had seen very few people lay out such basic facts, until we saw Hertzberg do so.

Our side is good at windy stories about the “progressive income tax”—a topic to which Emily Daywalt has never given a moment’s thought. We’re good at talking about TR, a figure from the musty past. Trust us: When Daywalt reads Dionne’s column today, it will have little effect on her outlook. And that’s because E. J. failed to include the simple facts at the heart of this scam.

For years, we’ve suggested that liberals should so two things. They should tell the public the truth about the press corps’ conduct toward the Clintons and Gore. And they should directly tell people like Daywalt that they’re being endlessly scammed. They’re being scammed when Hannity tells them that lower tax rates produce higher revenue. And they were being scammed that night when John McCain lied in their faces.

But so what? Daywalt has heard that Obama wants to “spread the wealth.” She’s heard he’s a “communist,” a “socialist.” The sheer stupidity of those claims is revealed in those two little numbers. Daywalt’s father knows that a 39-35 football game is really quite close. But after John McCain lied in his face, our side never quite managed to tell him the score of this current contest.

Let’s return to what Baker said, one day after this nonsense began. “It would have been useful for reporters to explain the extent to which Joe the Plumber would see his taxes increase under Senator Obama's tax proposal,” he correctly wrote. Such simple expositions would still be useful—but we’re too clueless to type them.

Final question: Is there anything our “leaders” know how to debunk, if they can’t debunk nonsense like this? The evidence of the past twenty years suggests a clear answer: No.