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Daily Howler: We could decide to succeed, Tough says. We don't know why he says that
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HURTS SO GOOD! We could decide to succeed, Tough says. We don’t know why he says that: // link // print // previous // next //

MARSHALL/FROOMKIN GET IT RIGHT/WRONG: We strongly recommend this superlative bit of reading by Josh Marshall. On the other hand, we’ll disagree with Atrios about the strength of this column, written by Froomkin for the goo-goos at Nieman. Why won’t modern mainstream news orgs identify “bullshit” when they see it? In closing, Froomkin opines:
FROOMKIN (11/30/06): If mainstream-media political journalists don’t start calling bullshit more often, then we do risk losing our primacy—if not to the comedians then to the bloggers.

But here’s the good news for you newsroom managers wringing your hands over new technologies and the loss of younger audiences: Because the Internet so values calling bullshit, you are sitting on an as-yet largely untapped gold mine. I still believe that no one is fundamentally more capable of first-rate bullshit-calling than a well-informed beat reporter—whatever their beat. We just need to get the editors, or the corporate culture, or the self-censorship—or whatever it is—out of the way.
Froomkin does lots of top-notch work, but that’s an amazingly weak “analysis.” We just need to get the corporate culture—or whatever it is—out of the way? In fact, mainstream political journalism has been built on bullshit for at least fifteen years. It has been the heart and soul of the project. No—there isn’t some obstacle which must be removed, after which we’ll see the good work. When it comes to our political reporting, bullshit itself has been the project. It may be that Froomkin was just being crafty, for a good purpose, with this particular professional audience. But simply judged as a bit of analysis, the analysis here is quite weak.

Bullshit itself has been the project. If you still don’t understand that, we’ll suggest that you read the next entry.

MARGARET CARLSON, STILL SPINNING THE OLDIES: There are no words, except bad words, to describe this new column by Margaret Carlson—a column which, sadly enough, is being offered at the Huffington Post. (Sad. Pathetic. Click here.) Carlson discusses the standard if slightly-odd polling released this week by Quinnipiac (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/29/06). She describes it as a measure of “likeability” (close enough), then muses about the lessons we can learn from the events of Campaign 2000. And omigod! Even today—even after Iraq—Carlson simply refuses to stop. Her cohort is shameless beyond all compare. They’re disgraceful, like those who enable them:
CARLSON: George W. Bush's win (if that's what it was) over then-Vice President Al Gore was attributed in part to style. Gore took every opportunity to lecture voters on how a bill becomes a law. He even invoked the “Norwood-Dingell” patients' bill of rights legislation in a debate to show how much his 24 years of government experience mattered versus his opponent's five.

Bush put himself out as the candidate you would want to have over for a backyard barbecue. His desire to be seen as the class cheerleader to Gore's class grind was evident in a commencement address Bush gave in 2001 at his alma mater, Yale University. He tipped his hat to the summas but identified with the average Joes.
Even today—even after their conduct has led to Iraq—these people are determined not to stop.

In the first paragraph quoted above, Carlson refers to the third Bush-Gore debate, the “town hall forum” held in St. Louis on October 17, 2000. Question: Did Gore mention the Dingell-Norwood bill “to show how much his 24 years of government experience mattered versus his opponent's five?” Did he mention this bill because he “took every opportunity to lecture voters on how a bill becomes a law?” Yes, that’s what the laughable fellow did—if you live in the fictionalized world of a moral disgrace like Carlson. In the real world, though, a different reason intrudes; Gore mentioned Dingell-Norwood (not “Norwood-Dingell”) for a good and obvious reason. Bush had been saying that he supported a “patients bill of rights” too; Gore wanted to show that Bush was supporting a weak bill, one that was favored by industry. Gore was asked about this subject by a Missouri citizen, James Hankins. (It was the evening’s first question.) Here’s the part of Gore’s reply where he mentioned—and named—Dingell-Norwood:
GORE: Mr. Hankins, I think that the situation that you describe has gotten completely out of hand. Doctors are giving prescriptions, they're recommending treatments, and then their—their recommendations are being overruled by HMOs and insurance companies. That is unacceptable.

I support a strong national patients' bill of rights. It is actually a disagreement between us [gesturing at Bush]. The national law that is pending on this—the Dingell-Norwood bill, a bipartisan bill—is one that I support and that the governor does not.

JIM LEHRER: Time is up, Mr. Vice President. Two minutes response, Governor Bush.
Instantly, Bush did what he did all through these debates—he began obscuring Gore’s distinction. Here’s the kind of rank dissembling journalists once felt they should clarify:
BUSH: Actually, Mr. Vice President, it’s not true. I—I do support a national patients bill of rights. As a matter of fact, I brought Republicans and Democrats together to do just that in the state of Texas, to get a patients bill of rights through. It requires a different kind of leadership style to do it, though. You see, in order to get something done on behalf of the people, you have to put partisanship aside. And that's what we did in my state. We've got one of the most advanced patients bill of rights. It says, for example, that a woman can—doesn't have to go through a gatekeeper to go to her gynecologist. It says that you can't gag a doctor. A doctor can advise you. The HMO, the insurance company can't gag that doctor from giving you full advice. In this particular bill, it allows patients to choose a doctor, their own doctor if they want to...
Bush was grossly misstating his role in the enactment of that Texas bill. (He vetoed a tougher bill of rights in 1995; two years later, he allowed a weaker bill to become law without his signature.) Beyond that, his answer obscured the distinction Gore was making. Gore hadn’t said that Bush didn’t support any bill of rights at all. He had said that Bush didn’t support a strong bill of rights—the bipartisan bill, Dingell-Norwood. After Bush’s attempt to fudge, Gore again attempted to draw the distinction. In the process, he again named the bill which Bush declined to support:
GORE: Jim, we have a direct disagreement on this...

I referred to the Dingell-Norwood bill. It is the bipartisan bill that is now pending in the Congress. The HMOs and the insurance companies support the other bill that's pending, the one that the Republican majority has put forward. They like it because it doesn't accomplish what I think really needs to be accomplished...

I specifically would like to know whether Governor Bush will support the Dingell-Norwood bill, which is the main one pending.
Gore was trying to establish a seminal point—so Bush began misdirecting again. “Well, the difference is, is that I can get it done, that I can get something positive done on behalf of the people,” he replied. Gore tried, one last time, to get him to say if he would support the bipartisan bill—Dingell-Norwood, the bill the industry didn’t like. But you know Bush! He hemmed and hawed till the clock ran out, and never quite managed to tell us.

There you see the kind of exchange which ought to define a presidential debate. In a rational world, journalists would rush to clarify such a disagreement; they would explain the competing bills to the public, helping voters see what each candidate was supporting. But as you may recall, your “press corps” took a somewhat different approach; they chose to mock ridiculous Gore for saying the funny words “Dingell” and “Norwood.” Sam Donaldson especially embarrassed himself on the October 22 This Week. But this clowning, insulting behavior was common. It was the press corps’ final “fuck you” to the public in this campaign—the campaign which has changed the world’s history.

But even today, Carlson won’t stop—just won’t let up with the bullshit. Even today, she returns to this episode to extend her cohort’s novelized mocking of Gore. No, Gore wasn’t naming this bill “to show how much his 24 years of government experience mattered versus his opponent's five;” he was attempting to draw a fundamental distinction between himself and Bush. But the “press corps” clowned about John Dingell’s funny name—just as they’d clowned all through the campaign—and their clowning eventually put Bush where he is. But so what? Even today—after after Iraq—Carlson refuses to stop.

We can draw several lessons from Carlson’s new column. On the one hand, we can note an obvious fact, a point our trained liberal boys won’t be making—this column shows why it would be extremely hard for Gore to make a new run for the White House. These idiots have memorized their various tales—and they just love to recite them. Or we can make our statement in the form of a question: Why does Arianna give a platform to political porn of this type? On the third hand, we can marvel at Matt Yglesias, who still hasn’t heard about his country’s recent history. Here he was, just this past week, discussing Campaign 2000:
YGLESIAS (11/28/06): The notion that the Democratic Party is in some state of electoral crisis requiring radical revisions of existing doctrine has almost no evidence on its behalf. Democrats made gains in congressional elections in 1996, 1998, and 2000. They won popular pluralities in presidential elections in 1992, 1996, and 2000. They won a sweeping congressional victory in 2006. Their political problems in recent decades consist entirely of poor ballot design in the state of Florida and the two post-9/11 elections of 2002 and 2004. The resurgence of public concern with national security issues after the catastrophic terror attacks of September 11, 2001 was a serious political challenge for a party that had been bedeviled by the politics of security ever since the mid-1960s or so.
Good God! What astonishing bullshit! As well-trained lads of his class know to do, he forgot to mention the actual “problem” which made Campaign 2000 a travesty. Readers will now construct excuses for this thoroughly standard conduct. But as you’ll grudgingly acknowledge, liberal careerists never mention the press corps’ conduct during Campaign 2000. Carlson is free to continue her conduct because these lads have agreed to keep quiet about what her cohort has done.

Let’s stick with Froomkin’s terminology. Why do people like Margaret Carlson continue to flood our world with their bullshit? They do so because some folk post their work—and because some folk have agreed not to notice. Such folk may do fine policy work. But it’s the law—they won’t talk about that.

ONE MORE TRY: Gore raised Dingell-Norwood at a later point, while discussing the McCain-Feingold campaign reform bill. “Those issues you mentioned, Social Security, prescription drugs—the big drug companies are against the prescription drug proposal that I've made,” he told a questioner. “The HMOs are against the patients' rights bill, the Dingell-Norwood bill, that I support and that Governor Bush does not support.” By the way—you were allowed to say “McCain-Feingold;” everyone, even our pundits, did that. But say “Dingell-Norwood?” Now that was funny! All the simpering idiots knew it. We’re in Iraq because of their clowning. But even in the face of that history, Margaret Carlson, a trained fool, just won’t stop.

By the way, should we get the “self-censorship” out of the way? Or should we do everything in our power to re-institute the lost practice?

Special report: Let’s talk Tough!

ENJOY EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: Paul Tough’s report gets down to brass tacks. Enjoy each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Paul Tough’s soft piece in Sunday’s Times is extremely important. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/28/06.

PART 2: Long before they set foot in school, low-income kids face a struggle. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/29/06.
Now, Part 3, in which we puzzle at Tough’s soft conclusions.

PART 3—HURTS GO GOOD: By now, the feel-gooders have spilled from their Volkswagen buses, suggesting that Sunday’s Tough talk in the Times points the way to a simple solution. Indeed, by the final two paragraphs of his useful report, Paul Tough does what scribes have done for the past forty years when discussing low-income ed—frankly, he seems to pretend. He pens standard feel-good/feel-bad conclusions—conclusions which seem to be all about us. Low-income schools could succeed, he says (feel-good). But (feel-bad) we don’t want to bother:
TOUGH (11/26/06): The evidence is now overwhelming that if you take an average low-income child and put him into an average American public school, he will almost certainly come out poorly educated. What the small but growing number of successful schools demonstrate is that the public-school system accomplishes that result because we have built it that way. We could also decide to create a different system, one that educates most (if not all) poor minority students to high levels of achievement. It is not yet entirely clear what that system might look like—it might include not only KIPP-like structures and practices but also high-quality early-childhood education, as well as incentives to bring the best teachers to the worst schools—but what is clear is that it is within reach.

Although the failure of No Child Left Behind now seems more likely than not, it is not too late for it to succeed. We know now, in a way that we did not when the law was passed, what it would take to make it work. And if the law does, in the end, fail—if in 2014 only 20 or 30 or 40 percent of the country's poor and minority students are proficient, then we will need to accept that its failure was not an accident and was not inevitable, but was the outcome we chose.
Hurts so good! According to Tough, we know how to educate most (if not all) poor minority kids. But in the end (hurts so good), we don’t choose to.

Having read his report, we can’t see why Tough would want to make either one of these judgments.

Let’s start with the judgment that makes us feel good. Is it true? Could we “decide to create a different system, one that educates most (if not all) poor minority students to high levels of achievement?” At the present juncture, we can’t imagine why Tough is so sure. Indeed, let’s get clear on one simple point—in the real world, there’s little reason to think that more than “40 percent of the country's poor and minority students will be proficient” in reading and math by the year 2014. Tough suggests we know how to produce an outcome approaching 100 percent. It hurts real good when the Timesman says that. But, having read his informative piece, we can’t even guess why he says it.

Just consider what Tough describes in his tough- then soft-talking piece. He describes pre-school child-rearing practices which produce vast disadvantages for low-income kids before they ever set foot in a classroom. Indeed, he presents a daunting list of deficits faced by such low-income kids. Through absolutely no fault of their own, low-income kids know far fewer words; have much lower IQs; have poorer memories; and have a set of attitudes and outlooks which will be disadvantageous to them when they get to the classroom. He runs through the work of various researchers who have established this long lists of deficits—deficits which are in place by age 3. “Taken together, the conclusions of these researchers can be a little unsettling,” he writes, massively understating. Citing just one of these researchers, he pens a depressing summary:
TOUGH: As Lareau points out, kids from poor families might be nicer, they might be happier, they might be more polite—but in countless ways, the manner in which they are raised puts them at a disadvantage in the measures that count in contemporary American society.
Do we know how to overcome these “countless” “disadvantages?” At the end (see above), Tough seems to say that we do. But based on the bulk of his tough report, we can’t begin to guess why.

Is it true? At present, do we know how to help the bulk of low-income kids? Could we “decide to create a different system, one that educates most (if not all) poor minority students to high levels of achievement?” We can’t imagine why Tough would say so. Here’s how he starts the part of his piece which describes our current efforts:
TOUGH: There is, in fact, evidence emerging that some schools are succeeding at the difficult task of educating poor minority students to high levels of achievement. But there is still great disagreement about just how many schools are pulling this off and what those successful schools mean for the rest of the American education system.
Some schools are succeeding, he says. But when he begins to discuss these schools, he makes it clear that they have succeeded only through truly massive efforts—and he makes it plain that we still don’t know if their (sometimes uncertain) results could be replicated across the vast sweep of society. For example, could we “decide to create” a whole nation of KIPP schools? These schools “offer an extended day and an extended year that provide KIPP students with about 60 percent more time in school than most public-school students,” Tough writes. The KIPP schools seem to have worked rather well—in their current small numbers. (In our view, KIPP’s praise should be sung to the skies.) But could their procedures be replicated on a major nationwide basis? At one point, Tough helps us see why the answer just isn’t real clear:
TOUGH: The most persistent critic of KIPP's record has been Richard Rothstein, a former education columnist for The New York Times who is now a lecturer at Teachers College. He has asserted that KIPP's model cannot be replicated on a wide scale and argues that the elevated incoming scores at the Bronx school make it mostly irrelevant to the national debate over the achievement gap. Although Rothstein acknowledges that KIPP's students are chosen by lottery, he contends in his book ''Class and Schools'' that they are ''not typical lower-class students.'' The very fact that their parents would bother to enroll them in the lottery sets them apart from other inner-city children, he says, adding that there is ''no evidence'' that KIPP's strategy ''would be as successful for students whose parents are not motivated to choose such a school.''
According to Rothstein, KIPP is having its success with highly-motivated students—the kind of kids who seek and accept the vast demands of these schools. Indeed, Tough seems to accept one of Rothstein’s critiques; he seems to accept the notion that KIPP’s schools, as currently constituted, are working with slightly “better” students than one typically finds at low-income schools. Can we imagine a world where all low-income kids accept the demands of such schools? Can we imagine a world where KIPP’s methods work for all low-income kids—not just the (somewhat better) students who are currently drawn to them? Tough never answers that second question. For ourselves, we’d think you’d want to have an answer to that before you penned any stirring conclusions—before you made it hurt so good with feel-good/feel-bad endings.

Eventually, Tough offers the following summary, in which he refers to schools like KIPP’s—the small number of schools which have done well with low-income kids by instituting vastly demanding procedures. His statement is hopeful, but hugely premature. The key word here is “if:”
TOUGH: The message inherent in the success of their schools is that if poor students are going to catch up, they will require not the same education that middle-class children receive but one that is considerably better; they need more time in class than middle-class students, better-trained teachers and a curriculum that prepares them psychologically and emotionally, as well as intellectually, for the challenges ahead of them.
If poor students are going to catch up, it may be that they’ll need such schools. But nothing in Tough’s impressive report shows us that this would necessarily work—that we could have widespread success by 2014 if we set up large numbers of schools like KIPP’s. If may be that schools like this won’t work for large numbers of low-income kids—for the kids who arrive at school with those deficits. Why, then, does Tough say what feel-good writers have always said—that we could enjoy a splendid success if we simply “decided to” try?

One more time, then—is it true? Could we “decide to create a different system, one that educates most (if not all) poor minority students to high levels of achievement?” For ourselves, we don’t have the slightest idea (though we massively doubt it)—and we’ll have to say, Tough doesn’t know either. But over the past forty years, writers have often closed such reports in a counterproductive way—with simplistic, silly, feel-good proclamations. We can solve this problem, they declare. We just have to decide to do it. Tough does this too, but his very useful report is different in one major way. Before his offers his upbeat thoughts, he pens a lot of tough-minded work which gives the lie to that silly conclusion.

MONDAY—PART 4: Tough’s report is full of important information. Real-world thoughts about how to proceed.