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Print view: In essence, Marcus said Krugman is childish. But then, so did everyone else
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THE TELL! In essence, Marcus said Krugman is childish. But then, so did everyone else: // link // print // previous // next //

Schools for loathing, schools for dumb: An utterly insignificant event occurred last Friday.

Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, spoke with conservative talker Mike Gallagher on Gallagher’s radio program. (Apparently, this is a weekly segment designed to promote FNS.) At the end of the segment, the boys got into a joking exchange about Gallagher’s weepy emotional state and about his social life in New York. The boys engaged in standard, highly familiar joking about what it means to be a real man.

We don’t engage in such joking ourselves, not even for pay. But if liberals plan to have heart attacks every time such joking occurs, we liberals are planning to spend our whole lives in the nation’s emergency rooms.

After last weekend, the plan is clear: Some of us plan to do that! This plan is quite bad for progressive interests. But the plan is fueled by our burgeoning schools for hate—and by our schools for The Dumb.

When the liberal world devolves this way, the plutocrats have won.

The nonsense began at Media Matters, which posted tape of the closing six minutes of the Wallace/Gallagher interview. (The tape was posted under this headline: “Chris Wallace and Mike Gallagher have world's creepiest conversation.” Just click here.) News flash: If you choose to listen to those six minutes, you will not be listening to “the world’s creepiest conversation.” You will be listening to a very familiar type of joking, along very common lines.

We don’t joke that way ourselves—but gigantic numbers of people do, including many liberal men. By the way: The liberal world’s lack of sexual politics has been quite clear in recent years. This was true in the widespread tolerance for Keith Olbermann’s years of gender-trashing, and in much of the liberal commentary concerning Candidate Hillary Clinton. We liberals have little to brag about when it comes to sexual politics. But that was Us—and this was Them! And so, we gave voice to our fury.

Media Matters posted the “creepiest conversation” without comment, except that headline. From there, the pointless topic jumped to Think Progress; Ben Armbruster even transcribed one part of the boys’ exchange, editing out the part of the chat which would have made it abundantly clear that the boys were actually joking. (If you listen to the segment, note what got disappeared by Armbruster’s strategic three dots.)

For ourselves, we learned about this non-event in this Digby post. By the time Digby reviewed the exchange, she was describing Wallace as a “freak,” and calling him “a hard-core right winger, of course.” (We know of no reason to think that.) Descriptions of Wallace’s political views to the side, had Digby actually listened to the boys’ exchange? We have no idea; there’s no sign that she had. But Digby has become a person who often irrationally loathes The Other—the kind of person on whom plutocrats have always depended.

Digby’s site is often a school for irrational loathing. In this latest instance, her readers quickly swung into action, posting a string of ludicrous comments about Wallace’s obvious lack of empathy and remarkably small penis size. For unknown reasons, many readers seemed to think that Wallace’s father, Mike Wallace, is some sort of journalistic hero. Before long, thoughtful readers were offering analyses of this type:

COMMENTER (11/13/10): Hmmm. I wonder how this thing got created though? Was Mike away from home too much? Was the mother fucking Chris' friends while Dad was at the studio? Or goats?

Yeah, the guy is definitely a freak, but you know this kind of shit doesn't just happen.

For the record, haters always refer to The Other as “things”—after noting that their “limbic brains” don’t work. These are classic building blocks of racism—and of other forms of group hate.

What kind of work does Wallace do at Fox? On balance, we’d say he might be a shade better than the typical multimillionaire broadcaster found in the warren of major “news” orgs which define Establishment Discourse. (For other examples of this general type, see our review of Marcus/Broder/Milbank, below.) On October 17, for example, he battered Carly Fiorina quite hard, relentlessly asking her to explain how she would reduce the deficit; we’ve seen few elite broadcasters of any description push this point so hard. But Digby is given to tribal loathing; her judgment often flies in the process. In the course of expressing this loathing, she teaches liberal readers to see the world this same way.

Divide and conquer! Throughout the annals of time, plutocrats have prayed for this sort of tribal loathing. The one percent can thoroughly rule the 99—if the 99 percent agree to split into tribes and loathe each other. Does it make political sense to engage in such loathing? Last week, Jon Stewart spoke with Rachel Maddow about related topics. It’s hard to define what their dispute was about; it isn’t even entirely clear that they had a “dispute” at all. But most simply put, Stewart said the discourse has become too “tribal,” even at MSNBC. He also said that Maddow shouldn’t have spent so much time insulting “tea-baggers.” Maddow responded as she typically does, explaining that she’s cripplingly honest—and that she’s full of wonderful jokes, which she aims at all sides.

It was all done in good fun!

Tomorrow, we’ll start a review of this session; we’ll start with several things Stewart said which ended up on the cutting-room floor. But make no mistake: As we liberals agree to get tribally dumb, the plutocrats continue to roll. In reality, this war was lost several decades ago, as we liberals napped in the woods. But good lord! We hasten the nation’s progressive demise when we stage our silly rants about utterly insignificant events—about events which simply don’t matter, except to those who surrender their judgment to their tribal loathing.

Media Matters started this particular nonsense. To hear those six insignificant minutes, go ahead—just click this.

THE TELL (permalink): Increasingly, your country is run by New Elites—by people who are in on the game. Your culture offers wealth and fame to its New Elites, as long as they play along with the game.

And they do play along with the game. This brings us to what Michael Bennet said on last Tuesday’s Morning Edition.

Bennet is as “New Elite” as it gets—although, on his father’s side, he’s also a classic old elite (click here). Bennet was schooled at St. Albans, graveyard of Democratic White House contenders, then at Wesleyan and Yale Law. (His brother, James Bennet, is editor of The Atlantic; the magazine used to be liberal-leaning, until it was purchased by a conservative.) After working in the business world, Bennet got appointed to several positions, including a United States senate seat from Colorado.

Earlier this month, he won election to that senate seat. One week later, on NPR, he said this to Renee Monagne, herself a New Elite:

MONTAGNE (11/9/10): You beat a candidate, a Tea Party candidate who had some pretty strong views on, and was willing to cut deeply into, some entitlements that most Americans seem to embrace. Some will argue the only way to bring down the national debt would be to tackle those. Is there any entitlement that you're willing to tackle in a way that is probably unpopular?

BENNET: Yeah. Well, in the first place, we can't solve our budget crisis without dealing with our entitlements. I mean, 17 percent of our operating budget is non-defense discretionary, 18 percent is defense. That leaves 65 percent, which is Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on the debt. And, in my view, there are things we can do with Medicare to continue the work that we've already tried to do what health care reform, which is to change the incentive structure of Medicare so that we create more efficiency and higher quality at the same time. That's not rocket science. It's doable. It's hard to politics, but we can do it.

I think Social Security is easier, in many respects. I mean, people that are my age, 45, know that if this system exists as it is today, there's not going to be anything left for us. I think it's a conversation that we can have with the American people.

Bennet was once editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. As a very smart New Elite, he seems to know all the key data. And not only that! He told Montagne that people his age—he’s 45—know that Social Security won’t be there for them! In so saying, he recited a ludicrous talking-point—a fundamental building-block of the right-wing propaganda wars which began in the 1960s.

Montagne, a fellow New Elite, didn’t say boo in response to this puzzling statement by Bennet.

Does Michael Bennet believe what he said? Or has he been a New Elite for so long that he has simply absorbed the talking-points of the plutocrat class? We have no way of knowing. But DC elites have been pimping hard since the release of the Bowles-Simpson proposal—a proposal which seems to advance the interests of that super-rich class. These fine-feathered folk have been singing in unison, presenting a wonderful “tell.”

As we’ve watched their uniform offerings, we’ve recalled the classic “tell” from the great film, Notorious:

In Notorious, Ingrid Bergman is being poisoned by a group of Nazis on whom she’s spying. One day, through her increasing sickness, she accidentally reaches for someone else’s cup of coffee—for the cup which hasn’t been poisoned. When three companions leap in unison, directing her to her own (poisoned) cup, she suddenly realizes what has been happening.

For Bergman, her companions’ instant, uniform conduct constituted an obvious “tell.” So too with the uniform conduct, over this weekend, of DC’s press “elite.” Let’s start with Ruth Marcus, a press corps “liberal,” scolding the nation’s children in Saturday’s Washington Post. To Marcus, those who rose to object to the Bowles-Simpson plan had been predictably childish:

MARCUS (11/13/10): The predictably childish reactions of the left and right to the budget blueprint unveiled by the co-chairs of President Obama's debt commission offer the president a chance to play a role to which he may be uniquely suited: the grown-up in the room.


This assignment, if he chooses to accept it, won't be easy. It would be politically perilous. After all, if children had the vote, their first instinct would not be to elect their parents or, for that matter, any grown-up—even if they know, deep down, that they need adult supervision.

That’s a heavy putdown of those who objected. But how strange! Marcus never addressed the substance of some of those basic objections! Among “childish reactions of the left,” for example, Paul Krugman—a Nobel laureate in economics—had voiced a rather strong complaint. “It will take time to crunch the numbers here,” he wrote in Friday’s column, “but this proposal clearly represents a major transfer of income upward, from the middle class to a small minority of wealthy Americans.”

Say what? The Bowles-Simpson plan would take from the middle class and give to the plutocrat swells? It would create a major transfer of wealth in that direction? Given the massive income gains of that super-wealthy class over the past thirty years, this would be a remarkable fact about this proposal. But go ahead—search Marcus’ column! She never mentions this objection—never makes any attempt to address it. She simply imagines a heartwarming scene: Obama explains why this plan is required, with conservative Paul Ryan invited to dissent. “The more voters understand the unforgiving arithmetic of budget choices and the looming disaster that inaction invites, the more they will understand the childishness of the extremes on both sides,” she says once again, as she closes.

Does a “looming disaster” exist? If it does, there is surely no need to lower taxes on millionaires in the course of addressing it. But Marcus makes no attempt to address such a basic complaint from the left; she simply derides such complaints as childish. But then, in a truly remarkable “tell,” a whole string of elite pundits adopted this same approach this weekend. Just in Sunday’s Washington Post, a trio of major columnists performed the same function, deriding objections from the left without explaining what they are. Krugman’s claim got brushed aside in a blizzard of elite ridicule.

Who joined Marcus in this approach? Let us count the apparatchiks:

In the dramaturgy of the modern “mainstream” press, David Broder is cast as a centrist; Dana Milbank is cast as mildly liberal. But each gent fellow-traveled with Marcus, criticizing the foolishness of liberal objections without saying what those objections are. David Ignatius is a bit more sane—and a St. Albans grad to boot! But he too semi-joined the crowd, offering this:

IGNATIUS (11/14/10): The question for 2011 is whether this populist anger can achieve its apparent goal—of making real change in how Washington operates. This means beginning to solve hard problems such as budget deficits that rightly worry Tea Party activists. The leaders of the president's bipartisan commission last week outlined a path to fiscal health—just the thing those mad-as-hell voters ought to rally behind.

If Republicans and Democrats could unite to make the tough decisions needed to carry out at least some of the commission's reforms, this really could be a moment for change. That's what voters want, not more Washington tantrums and trauma. But making change requires strong leadership and a healthy political process—two things America badly needs right now.

That wasn’t quite an endorsement of the plan, but it leaned that way—and it suggested that objections to the lofty proposal must represent “tantrums and trauma.” Meanwhile, at the New York Times, David Brooks and Ross Douthat have also thrown their logs on the pile, ridiculing the liberal objections without attempting to say what they are.

Would the proposal transfer more wealth to the plutocrat swells? Who cares! It’s time to affirm it!

Let’s review: According to Krugman, “this proposal clearly represents a major transfer of income upward, from the middle class to a small minority of wealthy Americans.” Given the massive concentration of wealth which has occurred in the past thirty years, that would be a remarkable fact. But go ahead, just read them all: Marcus, Milbank, Broder, Brooks, Ignatius and Douthat. A great deal of ridicule is aimed at the “childish” complaints of the left. But none of these journalists tells his readers what Krugman’s objection is!

Meanwhile, there was Bennet, telling the rubes that Social Security won’t be there for them! In the past, the task of pimping this massive deception fell to those on the right. Now, the New Elite does it.

In Notorious, three pairs of hands reached out, steering Bergman back to her poison. All across the “mainstream” press corps, similar, weirdly uniform action was observed in the past week.

Your assignment, if you should choose to accept it: Watch Rachel Maddow perform tonight. See if she names the mainstream players who are pimping this jive.

A real truth-teller would challenge Ruth Marcus. Just a guess: Dear Rachel won’t.

(To see Digby challenge Marcus, just click here. Our note to Dear Rachel—your turn!)