Daily Howler logo
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE BETTER! Joan Walsh is writing a thoughtful book. Who will stand and speak? // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2010

David Brooks should crunch and respond: In the past few months, we’ve been surprised by David Brooks’ obvious pique at his nattering colleague, Paul Krugman. This morning, the gent is at it again, though he doesn’t scold Krugman by name:

BROOKS (11/12/10): The Republicans talk about cutting deficits, but a party that campaigns to restore the $400 million in Medicare cuts included in the health care law is not serious about averting a fiscal meltdown. Some Democrats, meanwhile, don’t even bother to pretend. Look at the way many Democrats completely rejected the draft proposal unveiled by the chairmen of the fiscal commission. Nancy Pelosi, the public sector unions and many liberal commentators are not only unwilling to compromise to prevent a catastrophe, they’re unwilling to even consider a compromise. They seem to regard anybody who would negotiate as fundamentally immoral and unserious.

Oof! Use of the word “unserious” is a jab at you-know-who (click here). But is it true? Does Krugman “regard anybody who would negotiate as fundamentally immoral and unserious?”

Yesterday, Krugman said that Simpson and Bowles were unserious—but Simpson and Bowles are only two people. Meanwhile, in his own column today, right next to Brooks, Krugman explains his critique:

KRUGMAN (11/12/10): Actually, though, what the co-chairmen are proposing is a mixture of tax cuts and tax increases—tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases for the middle class. They suggest eliminating tax breaks that, whatever you think of them, matter a lot to middle-class Americans—the deductibility of health benefits and mortgage interest—and using much of the revenue gained thereby, not to reduce the deficit, but to allow sharp reductions in both the top marginal tax rate and in the corporate tax rate.

It will take time to crunch the numbers here, but this proposal clearly represents a major transfer of income upward, from the middle class to a small minority of wealthy Americans. And what does any of this have to do with deficit reduction?

If the highlighted claim is accurate, why should Krugman (or Pelosi) regard the co-chairmen’s proposal as serious? Unfortunately, Brooks makes no attempt to challenge Krugman’s critique. He just complains that the judgment exists.

We’ve been disappointed to see David Brooks heading down the path of pique. We say that because the basic point in his column today strikes us as accurate; it’s hard to imagine good American outcomes if our highly tribalized society remains locked in its current “partisan orthodoxies” and “partisan cliques.” To our ear, Jon Stewart kept asking Rachel Maddow to think about that problem last night. To our ear, Maddow didn’t much seem to be buying. More on that topic next week.

That said, we think Brooks asks a good question today: “How can you love your country if you hate the other half of it?” Unfortunately, Brooks seems to be getting a minor hate on when it comes to one of his colleagues!

Though he said the numbers still have to be crunched, Krugman lodged a serious critique of the co-chairmen’s plan. In our view, Brook should put the pique pipe down and join in the act of crunching. Of course, our big star journalists are often rather late to such parties. Did you read Richard Cohen this week?

Cohen wrote a pretty good column—a column which seemed to emerge from a warp in the space-time continuum. The pundit noted, in some detail, the achievements of the rest of the world when it comes to health care. This would have been an excellent column—in March 2009, let’s say, or better yet, at any time in the prior fifteen years. Appearing this week, the column reads like some sort of physics joke.

Cohen came screeching up to the scene of the fire—at least a year and a half too late. But so it goes in the puzzling precincts inhabited by our big press elites. We checked, and no—as best we can tell, Cohen never wrote a column last year which was even dimly similar to this. (Unless you count this pre-Christmas effort. We don’t.) Cohen’s piece would have been highly relevant—then. (Though there still would have been much more to say.) For unknown reasons, the column popped from the cosmos this week.

The time to discuss the co-chairmen is now. Krugman makes a serious claim. If he truly loves his country, Brooks should crunch and respond.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE BETTER (permalink): On Tuesday, the New York Times published this news report by education writer Trip Gabriel. The piece concerned a new, high-profile think tank report about the math scores of black fourth-graders.

The piece ran under a misleading hard-copy headline: “Academic Standing of Black Males Is Found to Be Bleaker Than Expected.”

Sorry—that gloomy headline was rather misleading (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/9/10). In response, let’s get clear on the basic facts about black students’ achievement as measured on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, our most respected national testing program—the testing program for which Gabriel vouched in his intriguing report.

Let’s get clear on the basic facts about black students’ apparent achievement. This involves some news that is good; some news that is bad; and some news that falls in between:

The bad news: On average, black kids score still substantially lower than white kids on national math/reading tests.

The better news: These “achievement gaps” are substantially smaller than they were when this testing began, in the early 1970s.

The good news: Black and Hispanic kids have been scoring substantially better in the past fifteen years. Judged by conventional rules of thumb, the score gains have been quite strong.

That bad news is a painful legacy of our brutal racial history. But on its face, that good news is really quite good; the gains in test scores have been substantial since the mid-1990s. And yet, we have never seen a major news org report or discuss that rise in the scores of minority kids. (The statements we make about black kids here are also true about Hispanic children.)

Minority test scores have been on the rise. This good news has been disappeared.

This silence is astounding—and evil. In fairness, it does reflect the hall-of-mirrors quality of much of our broken American discourse. But it keeps the public from knowing the truth, even as journalistic and academic elites insist that nothing is working in our schools—and that this is the fault of our teachers, with their infernal unions.

Why has that good news been suppressed? Without reading minds, we can’t really tell you. But this autumn, the nation has been drowning in a loud, unintelligent, anti-teacher narrative; this narrative reinforces long-standing propaganda aimed at unions in general. Beyond that, the current narrative keeps the public from asking why those minority test scores have been on the rise in the past dozen years. It keeps us from seeking the causes of our black and Hispanic kids’ apparent success.

Why all the silence about that good news? In Gabriel’s report in the Times, he quoted Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. At one point, Ferguson tries to explain the bad news—the fact that black kids still aren’t scoring as well as their white counterparts. Some of what follows seems a bit puzzling, at least as Gabriel presents it. That said, we would assume that the highlighted statement is extremely important:

GABRIEL (11/9/10): The search for explanations has recently looked at causes besides poverty, and this report may further spur those efforts.

“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

Those include “conversations about early childhood parenting practices,” Dr. Ferguson said. “The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.”

The report urges convening a White House conference, encouraging Congress to appropriate more money for schools and establishing networks of black mentors.

A White House conference! Please! Let’s return to things that are serious:

To our ear, Ferguson’s statement seems a bit puzzling, at least as recorded by Gabriel. Ferguson notes some important facts about the early lives of many black kids—but most of the phenomena he discusses do have connections to poverty. (In our society, low-income parents often come from low-literacy backgrounds. Despite their love for their children, they may not conduct the literacy-building activities that are common in higher-literacy homes.) This bit of semantics to the side, Gabriel quotes Ferguson making an important statement. According to Ferguson, there are certain types of “conversations” about black kids’ lives and achievements “people are unwilling to have.” We would assume that this explains why the liberal world has turned its back on black children. Just consider the track record of Salon’s Joan Walsh.

This week, Walsh announced that she’s “stepping down from editorial management at Salon to write a book.” (Don’t worry! Joan assured readers that she’ll still be appearing on Hardball, where she can keep kissing Chris Matthews’ fat asp. For that note of reassurance, click here.) Can we talk? During Joan’s tenure, Salon didn’t make the slightest attempt to discuss the interests, lives or achievements of black kids. In that respect, Salon has been a great deal like our other leading “liberal journals.” The liberal world quit on black kids a long time ago.

Why has no one heard that good news—the news about those rising test scores? In large part, no one has ever heard that news because even liberals won’t go there! People! If even our loftiest liberal journals won’t report good news about black kids, who in the larger culture will? Related question: If even our liberal journals won’t oppose the current teacher- and union-bashing, it is any wonder that this brain-dead meme has spread through our “New Elites?”

The public deserves to hear the news about those rising test scores—test scores which have been achieved with our current teachers in place. How strange: Gabriel didn’t mention that good news in his report, even as he quoted “educational experts” saying that nothing has worked! In fact, if we credit the testing program which has produced those rising test scores, then something has been working in the schools—and we ought to find out what it is.

But journals like Salon keep their big traps shut—even as the hustlers, the hucksters and the billionaire mayors keep talking those vile unions down.

Why won’t liberal editors report and discuss this important good news? Just a guess: This topic involves a lot of “conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

As Ferguson seems to suggest, it’s painful and awkward to discuss the lives of America’s deserving black children. These children are victims of brutal history—and dainty, lily-white New Elites don’t seem real eager to go there! Instead, they hand you the type of racial gruel Walsh has persistently served—gruel like this, in which white liberals cast themselves as racial heroes, recounting their highly fraught adventures in the wonderful world of race. We can’t say exactly what Ferguson meant when he talked about those “conversations that people are unwilling to have,” though we’d assume we pretty much know. (Gabriel didn’t ask him to explain.) But whatever Ferguson meant, those conversations aren’t occurring in your lofty liberal journals. Your liberal journals have quit on black kids—even as their editors parade about, announcing that everyone else is a racist and asserting their own racial grandeur.

Our staff has been suitably peeved with Walsh—with her racial preening, her racial accusations, her larger racial indifference. Good riddance to bad rubbish, several analysts even exclaimed when they heard this week’s announcement! But now, let the gauntlet be thrown throughout the land, to all the other liberal editors:

There’s bad news about black kids’ achievement (see above)—but there’s serious good news as well. Why hasn’t that good news been reported? Why hasn’t that apparent good news been prodded, probed, dissected, analyzed? Why hasn’t the public been told this good news? Why hasn’t the trash-talk been challenged?

When George Will and Bob Samuelson talked their incessant trash this fall, why didn’t Salon respond?

Just a few blocks from our sprawling campus, we see Baltimore’s beautiful black kids walking into one of their schools every day. Those kids are serious as an attack. They’re neatly dressed in their school uniforms; they carry their briefcases and their book bags. Some days, we see them leaving school in the afternoon; they still have it all together. Those children deserve to be seen and heard; we think the public would like what they see. They deserve to have their progress discussed, even including the good news.

Walsh is off writing her thoughtful book. Who will stand and speak?