SHOP OF FOOLS! Crackpot Bachmann did it again. But then again, so did Gene Robinson: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2010
Far down a broken trail: In todays column, Paul Krugman recalls how he felt when he saw his countrys new president recite a hackneyed policy line:
Krugman assumed Obama meant it when he recited that hackneyed line. We dont know what Obama thought or believed at the time, but well throw this log on the fire:
Obama was reciting a hackneyed meme which had long been a standard part of our discourse. By the start of 2009, our political discourse was riddled with such hackneyed, unintelligent notions. By 2009, nonsensical claims defined our discoursehad done so for a very long time.
Krugman understands all this, of course, and he has fought against it Well only say this: Whatever was true about Obamas state of mind, a president cant change such a ludicrous discourse by himself. In a functioning world, that task would fall to other playersto columnists, professors, lesser politicians, to people depositing checks from think tanks.
But our discourse doesnt work that wayhasnt worked that way for a very long time. Consider the fall of 2000. At that time, Krugman tried, in three separate columns, to note that Candidate Bush was baldly misstating the basic facts about his own budget plan. But so what? The rest of the press corps sat and stared, including the liberals at his own paper. They wrote about Gores sighs instead. They clowned and fooled all through that campaign, and for many years after. (Meanwhile, Gene Lyons Fools for Scandal had appeared in 1995.)
Krugman made an accurate observation, three separate times. But by the fall of 2000, our discourse didnt run on such fuelhadnt done so for a very long time.
Your nation has gone far down a broken trail, with very few liberals noticing. We were surprised to read this confession, authored this week by Will Bunch:
Even now, people like Bunch still write such things. Reading an essay like that radicalizes our youngest analysts.
Bunch was surprised, in 2003, when influential journalists (and foreign policy experts) failed to swat down a gruesome idea? He can still present that story today, without going back and revising his time-line? Were still supposed to think that our systems were working until 2003?
We often wonder if our lives are a cosmic joke played by the gods. Reading Bunchs memoir, we pondered the wisdom of Homer.
To liberal intellectual leaders, our culture was working through 2003. It still makes sense to say that today. Your country is far down a broken trail. Will it be coming back?
SHOP OF FOOLS (permalink): In todays New York Times, Michele Bachmann is found at the top of page one (just click here). In a sad commentary on our failing political culture, Carl Hulse doesnt mention what Bachmann did on Wednesday nights Anderson Cooper.
What did Bachmann do on that program? In a sadly typical outing, she pushed the latest crazy tale about Barack Obama. Last evening, Rachel Maddow devoted a large chunk of her program to Bachmanns performance. Well use Maddows efforts as our focus in a Special Report next week.
In some ways, Maddow did an excellent job describing one part of our broken political culture. In other ways, she showed no sign of knowing how to address such problems. Lets put it this way: Who did Maddow call for help? First, she spoke with humorist and author of More Information than You Require, a man who is an expert in fake facts, John Hodgman. Then, in The Interview, her hapless guest was the high Gotham lady, Gail Collins.
Predictably, Hodgman was much more cogent than Collins. But progressives will never create a winning politics given a brain trust which revolves about people like Collins.
In the course of her ruminations, Maddow asked a very good question: How do we deal with a culture which is increasingly built around fake facts? But alas! To quote an image Maddow used: Speaking with Collins about such matters is like tackling heart disease by cooking up a passel of deep fried cheese.
On Wednesday, Bachmann blindly blithered forward, advancing the latest fake claim about Obama. To his credit, Cooper did a fairly good job pushing back; he challenged Bachmanns bogus claims in a way which was a bit stronger than one might expect. Grading Cooper, wed give his effort a good solid C. Grading Cooper on a curve, wed give him at least an A-minus.
But as our discourse keeps falling apart, conservatives arent the only ones pushing tortured or ludicrous claims, to the delight of their partisans. On Tuesday, Gene Robinson played this familiar game too, in a column in the Washington Post. Strangely enough, Cooper had already critiqued Robinsons column. Well look at Bachmanns performance next week. This morning, lets review Gene.
Presumably, Robinson had simply run out of things to say by Tuesday morning. He wrote a column anyhoo, offering a hackneyed theme a hundred pundits had offered before him. First, I'll state the obvious, he said. It's not racist to criticize President Obama. Having said that, he quickly implied the opposite, offering a review of Tea Party lingo youve heard many times before:
Youve heard it many times before; Robinson let you hear it again. When conservatives say they want to take back our government, their language is difficult to explain without asking whether race is playing a role.
By that evening, Robinson was clowning and laughing as part of MSNBCs election coverage. Ironically, this conduct was especially striking during Chris Matthews interview of Bachmann; Robinson can be heard laughing in the background as Matthews asks a series of foolish questions, the type of questions which end up casting Bachmann as a figure of sympathy. The conduct of these corporate fools was ridiculed on Fox the next night. But then, it was also subjected to a bit of ridicule at The Daily Beast.
Bachmann is a giant fool, a genuine danger to the republicbut Matthews has been a cancer for more than a decade, even if Bunch hasnt heard. And the marginal nature of Robinsons column had already been addressed by Cooper, speaking with NAACP president Ben Jealous on his October 20 program.
According to Robinson, the GOPs take back our government language is difficult to explain without asking whether race is playing a role. The NAACPs recent report about the Tea Party includes a similar line of reasoning. Speaking with Jealous, Cooper noted that many liberals and Democrats have used the same language in recent years. He then asked Jealous to explain why Democrats can use such language. As Bachmann did on Wednesday night, Jealous evaded his question:
Did you follow that? If someone in Washington State flies a confederate flag, someone in some other state shouldnt say, take my country back.
Jealous didnt exactly answer the question. Politely, Cooper moved on. But in fact, Howard Dean didnt just use that language once; in the fall of 2004, it formed the subtitle of one of his books. (You Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America.) Meanwhile, here was Governor Ed Rendell, former head of the DNC, on the Ed Show last night:
Rendell wants to take our country back already! He wants to take it back so much, he voiced the desire three times.
Obviously, theres nothing wrong with what Rendell said. This is standard political talkso standard that it formed the title of one of Deans books. But when Robinson hears this language from the other side, he types a hackneyed column, using mumble-mouthed formulations to advance the one political claim modern liberals know how to advance. Is this as dumb as what Bachmann did when she spoke with Cooper on Wednesday? That would be a matter of judgment. But in our view, it reflects the paucity of actual politics in the burgeoning liberal world. This lack of real politics also appeared when Collins blathered at Maddow.
Is race playing a role in opposition to Obama? Presumably yes, it is. But Robinson offered a hackneyed approach to this problem, a mind-reading approach which is hard to defend. He found a way to impute this ugliest charge in American politics to everyone in the Tea Party movement; he did so on a day when an electorate which was 78 percent white was heading out to vote. Of course, people should challenge racial animus where such animus can be shown to exist. But for much of the pseudo-liberal world, claims that the other tribe is a gang of racists is a substitute for effective political thought. Was Robinsons paint-by-the-numbers column as foolish as Bachmanns disgraceful performance? Its hard to weigh such broken toys. But the performance which follows was every bit as gruesome. Remember? This is the way the gang at MSNBC approached the first Tea Party events, in April 2009:
There was more, but well stop with the unintentionally comical remark about the other sides anti-intellectualism.
One hour later, Maddow promoted the rebroadcast of this embarrassment. Coming up on Countdown, Keith gets to the bottom of tea-bagging with Janeane Garofalo, she said.
The American discourse is a disasterhas been for a very long time. The introduction of fake facts is so basic a part of our culture that the Times doesnt even mention Bachmanns disgrace, even as they discuss the lady at the top of todays front page. For decades, our political culture has increasingly been built around lunatic factual claims (The Clintons are serial murderers!) and inane policy narratives (If we lower the tax rate, we get extra revenue!). For many year, liberals happily slept in the woods as this broken culture took hold. Now, weve finally roused ourselvesand we issue columns like Robinsons.
Our guess: This wont work.
Liberals love calling the other side racists; it often seems like the only political play we know. But just how smart was Robinsons columnon the merits, on the politics? This poses a challenge to all progressives: Can you see the dumbness which may prevail on your side? Or are we so in love with our tribal screams that we too will drive our nation into the sea, meeting the criminal dumbness of the Bachmanns with dumbness which comes from our own?
Final point: Garofalos performance came eighteen months before those rednecks with the limbic brain problems kicked the ass of the people with all the smarts. Can you see how foolish Garofalo wasin her analysis, in her approach to politics? Or are we all Michele Bachmann now?
Is Christine ODonnell us?
Robinsons answer to Cooper: Robinson at least has figured how to answer Coopers question. Why is it OK for liberals to use that familiar language, but racist when conservatives do? Here is the part of the piece which gives the obvious answer:
Does that make sense? Wed have to say no. Ask a Tea Partyer and theyll tell you who they think theyre taking their country back from:
Theyre taking their country back from the unions; from the trial lawyers; from the gun-grabbers; from the liberal elitists. Theyre taking it back from the people who want to redistribute the wealth. None of that may float Robinsons boatit certainly doesnt float ours. But when Robinson cant even figure out what these people would say, he seems to say something about himself. He seems to say that he doesnt know the first thing about our politics.
Hes so tribal he cant even guess what The Others would say.
Should we take our government back from the unions? In the past two months, Robinson kept his trap shut while his owner, NBC News, conducted a jihad against teachers unions. Question: Why shouldnt conservatives think unions are vile when even the liberals refuse to challenge such rancid attacks, conducted by the biggest superstars at their own news orgs?
Theyre taking their country back from the unions! At MSNBC, all the children kept their mouths shut while the suits played this ugly old card.
Starting Monday: What Bachmann Said