THE WAR ON ACCOUNTABILITY! When Kristof named the Masters of War, he knew which names to omit: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2008
False longings drive us toward Bush: Scott Lemieux is always worth reading. In this post, he offers a possible explanation for the exit poll data we wondered about yesterday. According to Scott, political scientists have found a retrospective bandwagon effect in which some people will remember having voted for the winner even if they didn't. That could explain why voters in Tuesdays election said they had voted for Bush over Kerry by an oddly large margin46-37.
This could be truethough its somewhat odd that exit pollsters keep asking a question (and publishing answers) if they know the answer they get will be wrong. Beyond that, though, one other obvious type of data was missing from last weeks exit polls: How did respondents vote last weekbetween McCain and Obama? We assume respondents were asked that questionbut the answer was AWOL, in a very long poll. Anyone know why they dont publish those data? Suspicious minds suggest an answerbut suspicions like that are so wrong. (Because those data would help us rubes see that the exit poll is wrong.)
We have no idea why those data arent published. Presumably, somebody does.
Hes gotta do it: Progressive interests would be better served if our leaders could stop saying things like what follows. On Wednesday evening, Keith Olbermann was chatting with his friend, Margaret Carlson aboutwhat else?Sarah Palin. Carlson was lounging about the Republican Governors Conference in snowbound Miami:
Sorry, but thats very strange. A few months ago, Olbermann apologized for picturing Hillary Clinton getting beaten up by a bunch of goons behind locked doors. This week, he was picturing Sarah Palin getting cut up into pieces.
Within moments, he mockingly compared her to Lindsay Lohanthen, to Dizzy Dean.
Its always surprising to see the way such fellows discuss the women they hate. They seem to find it hard to do so without picturing violence or turning to overt, gender-based derision. In our view, Palin is a remarkably underwhelming figure, in ways which are quite easy to define. You dont have to compare her to Lohan, or picture her being killedunless your skills are remarkably weak, or you simply enjoy hating women. But MSNBC has trafficked, for many years, in weird, remarkable woman-loathing. And when it comes to their new uber-star, it seems hes gotta have it.
But then, heres Archie Bunkersorry, Josh Marshallletting us know, just yesterday, who the latest dingbat is. Without even bothering to report what this new dingbat actually said!
But so it goes as progressive intellectual standards spiral steadily downward. Olbermanns performance on Wednesdays show was an unfortunate case in point. He performed in ways which used to define the woeful standards of pseudo-con talk.
How inept was Olbermann Wednesday night? One groaner followed another:
First example: Right after picturing Palin cut up, he offered some nine-year-old claptrap:
Sorry. That trenchant detail dates to the fall of 1999. It was pure BS in the fall of 2000, when a few pundits briefly tried to pimp it. Indeed, Olbermann doesnt walk alone; his simpering friend from Wednesdays show bungled this nonsense in real time, speaking to Imus, another giant. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/11/00. To see the way Ellen Goodman bungled the point, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/8/04.
Second example: Worst persons ahead, Olbermann promised. And well even tread further inside the mind of Governor Palin. Dont wear your good shoes! But sadly, when he began to perform, we tread a bit too far inside the swampy mind of KeithO himself (and his staff). He even dragged poor Bill Hicks in, as a beard for his own utter nonsense. These were his presentations:
Claiming to speak for the self-aware world, Olbermann devoted an entire segment to the notion that Dizzy Dean Palin had laughably given seven exclusive interviews. But of course, it isnt Palin who dubbed those interviews exclusive; it was Olbermanns fatuous colleagues who did that. Lets face it: The IQ of the progressive world drops a few points each time this guy opens his mouth.
Third example: KeithO was battering BillO about, a favor he likes to bestow on us rubes. In fairness, there may have been a legitimate critique of what OReilly had said in the matter at hand (although that isnt entirely obvious). But as usual, Olbermann cut a few large corners, dragging poor Nate Silver in as a beard for his own lack of effort:
Unfortunately, OReilly hadnt said that Proposition 8 passed because of the Obama turnout surge. Nor had he said that Prop 8 passed because of first-time voters. As the self-aware world can learn by reading Silvers actual post, Silver was actually responding to a claim by Dan Walters, a Sacramento Bee writer. Silvers analysis seems spot-on, but it doesnt contradict what OReilly saidhis statement that the black community was the deciding vote on Prop 8. Judging from the exit polls, it looks like that claim may be accuratealthough it seems to be a close call. (And, of course, you can slice and dice any given vote in various ways.) But by the way: Despite the racism Olbermann spotted, OReilly wasnt criticizing the black community for the way it voted (70 percent in favor of Prop 8, according to exit polls); OReilly had favored Prop 8 himself. His actual point was quite different. A person might want to challenge or criticize that pointbut Olbermann failed to say what it was.
Increasingly, its sad to watch the work done on Countdown. Increasingly, that work reflects the lowball intellectual standards pioneered by pseudo-conservative talk. In the long run, progressive interests will not be served by dumbing down the progressive base. It may be good for ratings and salariesbut it cant be good for the country. This country badly needs to be smart.
(By the way: There has been a lot of chortling this week about the Martin Eisenstadt hoax. On October 16, Olbermann showed remarkably odd judgment in the way he handled one part of this story. No, he wasnt taken in by the part of the hoax allegedly involving Joe the Plumber. But in repeating claims which he knew were untrue, he almost seemed to be trying to make sure that some viewers did.)
Increasingly, Olbermann offers extremely weak work. What can you say about a guy who cant lay out Palins obvious weaknesses without resorting to gender-based trashing? But most strikingly, Olbermanns instinct for violent imagery doesnt seem to want to quit. This is bad for progressive interests, and its bad for young men and young women. Wed have to say its just plain bad for the world in which we all live.
Can someone explain why progressive leaders cant seem to quit this kind of talk?
THE WAR ON ACCOUNTABILITY: This weekend produced some memorable journalism, but Nicholas Kristofs piece on the Times op-ed page really triggered our irony meter. Quite appropriately, Kristof called for an end to what his headline dubbed The War on Brains.
American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual, Kristof enthused as he started, perhaps overstatingand fawninga tad. And then, the gentleman offered his prayer: Maybe, just maybe, the result will be a step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life.
Clearly, he has the right idea. It would be a very good thing if this long, foolish era endedthe era in which (to quote Kristof again) its been a disadvantage in American politics to seem too learned. (Thoughtfulness is portrayed as wimpishness, and careful deliberation is for sissies, Kristof correctly said.) Soon, Kristof was bravely naming nameslisting those who drove this long war. For us, thats where the irony began creeping in. Werent a few major names AWOL?
Kristof went on, at some length, about the need for intelligent leadership. Indeed, before we examine the irony surrounding his column, lets see how thorough the gentleman was in naming the various people and groups at fault in this long, harmful War.
In paragraph 2, he pointed the finger at a White House that scorns expertise and shrugs at nuance. He meant the Bush White House, of course.
In paragraph 3, he went after the public: Americans are approximately as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution.
In paragraph 4, Kristof took on the kids. (Almost half of young Americans said in a 2006 poll that it was not necessary to know the locations of countries where important news was made.) And then, in paragraphs 5 and 6, the pundit went back to blaming the presidents. In our view, this passage included at least one major stretch:
Does anyone know what fulgent means? (Maybe Kristof was making a point!) At any rate, we think its a stretch to blame Bill Clinton for this long, grinding War on Brains. But then, you know the shape of the Hard Pundit Law which drives such unusual judgments.
The Republican War on Science wasnt named, except by inference. But by the dictates of Hard Pundit Law, Bill Clinton had to get whacked!
At any rate, there was plenty of blame to go around when Kristof started pointing his fingers. And yet, we thought one group was strangely missing as the columnist doled out the blame. Kristof spent the second half of his column kissing up to Obamas greatness. But who had he absent-mindedly skipped as he named his Masters of War?
Perhaps your thinking will be jogged if we name Kristofs neighbors this Sunday. You see, sharing the page with Kristofs column was this piece by about energypenned by Al Gore! And uh-oh! Right there too, on the very same page, was this groanerby poor Maureen Dowd.
Duh! In the past few decades, has anyone driven the War on Brains more fulgently than Kristofs colleagues, Dowd included? And was anyone a more frequent target than Gore? Have we endured a War on Brains? Without any question, Kristof should know! Over the course of the past sixteen years, his colleagues, at the Times and elsewhere, have persistently ridiculed the erudition of Major Demsespecially Dems with names like Clinton and Gore. And no one has personified this culture like Dowd, who was right there on that page.
Today, Kristof praises the brains of an incoming president. But things have been different in the past. And the gentleman knew not to tattle.
Has anyone driven the War on Brains more willingly than Kristofs colleagues? Lets recall a few highlights:
August 2000: Candidate Gore gives a detailed convention speecha speech which turns Campaign 2000 around. But so what? On the op-ed page of the Washington Post, David Broder openly mocks Gores long list of swell ideas. Indeed: I almost nodded off, the Pundit Dean bragged, extending a campaign of mockery.
May 2006: Hillary Clinton gives a comprehensive speech about energy policy. Writing in the Washington Post, the Dean of All Gossips offers us this: The buzz in the room was not about her speechor her striking appearance in a lemon-yellow pantsuitbut about the lengthy analysis of the state of her marriage to Bill Clinton that was on the front page of [Tuesdays] New York Times. But so it has gone in the Washington press throughout this inane, brainless war.
May 2007: Gore speaks in DC about his new book, The Assault on Reason. (Note: Thats remarkably close to The War on Brains.) In the Post, Dana Milbank devotes an entire sketch to the notion that Gore used too many big words. People, Gore had referred to the marketplace of ideas!" He had even dared refer to the "exchange of goods and services.
Its nice that Kristof is speaking upnowabout this long, unfortunate War. But he knew enough to skip a key fact; he failed to say that this long, stupid war has been driven hard by his own colleagues. In particular, Gore was endlessly mocked, by the mainstream press, as the smartest kid in the roomthe kid who would ask for extra homework. Much better, they felt, to have a president with whom you might want to drink beer.
Kristof went after Americas kidsbut his own colleagues were strangely unmentioned. Dowd and Gore were right there, on page 10. Even this failed to jog the scribes memory.
The War on Brains, late 1990s style: Has anyone driven the War on Brains more than Kristofs colleagues have done? Again, in this passage from a Brills Content profile, Gay Jervey quoted Joe Klein, who described a Pulitzer winner:
Darlings! That would be tedious! In that same profile, Jervey described Dowds actual focus. She recalled the ludicrous hot tub junket we ourselves recalled just last week:
There you see the War culture, in a nut-shell. Describing Dowds inane behavior, Jervey knew she had to cite Clintons utter lack of character.
Theres your War on Brains, writ large. Kristof remembered to trash the kidsbut he forgot to finger the veterans found within his own daffy cohort. With accountability measures so thoroughly fixed, this War is unlikely to end.