HURTS SO GOOD! We could decide to succeed, Tough says. We dont know why he says that: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2006
MARSHALL/FROOMKIN GET IT RIGHT/WRONG: We strongly recommend this superlative bit of reading by Josh Marshall. On the other hand, well disagree with Atrios about the strength of this column, written by Froomkin for the goo-goos at Nieman. Why wont modern mainstream news orgs identify bullshit when they see it? In closing, Froomkin opines:
FROOMKIN (11/30/06): If mainstream-media political journalists dont start calling bullshit more often, then we do risk losing our primacy—if not to the comedians then to the bloggers.Froomkin does lots of top-notch work, but thats 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 isnt some obstacle which must be removed, after which well 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 dont understand that, well 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. Theyre 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.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, thats 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 evenings first question.) Heres the part of Gores 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.Instantly, Bush did what he did all through these debates—he began obscuring Gores distinction. Heres the kind of rank dissembling journalists once felt they should clarify:
BUSH: Actually, Mr. Vice President, its 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 hadnt said that Bush didnt support any bill of rights at all. He had said that Bush didnt support a strong bill of rights—the bipartisan bill, Dingell-Norwood. After Bushs 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...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 didnt 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 worlds history.
But even today, Carlson wont stop—just wont let up with the bullshit. Even today, she returns to this episode to extend her cohorts novelized mocking of Gore. No, Gore wasnt 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 Dingells funny name—just as theyd 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 Carlsons new column. On the one hand, we can note an obvious fact, a point our trained liberal boys wont 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 hasnt heard about his countrys 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 youll 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.
Lets stick with Froomkins 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 its the law—they wont 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. Were in Iraq because of their clowning. But even in the face of that history, Margaret Carlson, a trained fool, just wont 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: Lets talk Tough!
ENJOY EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: Paul Toughs report gets down to brass tacks. Enjoy each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Paul Toughs soft piece in Sundays Times is extremely important. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/28/06.Now, Part 3, in which we puzzle at Toughs soft conclusions.
PART 3—HURTS GO GOOD: By now, the feel-gooders have spilled from their Volkswagen buses, suggesting that Sundays 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 dont 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.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 dont choose to.
Having read his report, we cant see why Tough would want to make either one of these judgments.
Lets 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 cant imagine why Tough is so sure. Indeed, lets get clear on one simple point—in the real world, theres 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 cant 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 cant 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 cant imagine why Tough would say so. Heres 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 dont 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, KIPPs 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 isnt 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 Rothsteins critiques; he seems to accept the notion that KIPPs 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 KIPPs 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, wed think youd 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 KIPPs—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 theyll need such schools. But nothing in Toughs 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 KIPPs. If may be that schools like this wont 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 dont have the slightest idea (though we massively doubt it)—and well have to say, Tough doesnt 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: Toughs report is full of important information. Real-world thoughts about how to proceed.