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Print view: The other side has screeched and fawned. But then again, so has ours
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WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS (HILTON)! The other side has screeched and fawned. But then again, so has ours: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2010

Maureen Dowd sniffs out a nut: If folk wisdom can be believed, blind squirrels will find the occasional acorn. Something like that occurs in this column, where Maureen Dowd sniffs out a nut.

The nut in question is Lt. Col. Terry Lakin, who was foolish enough to get arrested for failing to obey his superior’s orders. As Dowd tells it, Lakin “vowed to disobey what he called ‘illegal orders’ to deploy to Afghanistan because he did not regard Obama as a legitimate commander in chief.”

Sadly, Lakin is such a nut that even Dowd was able to spot it. Lakin’s court-martial started at Fort Meade this week, with Dowd on hand to observe.

The birther movement has helped us see how foolish we the people can be. In our view, the lessons we can learn from this episode should be more widely discussed. Unfortunately, some of our biggest national pundits have had their own problems with the logic of this matter. Relentlessly, Chris Matthews has bungled the logic of this situation, suggesting that the president wouldn’t be a citizen at all if he’d been born in a foreign country. We thought of that repeated bungling when we read this unfortunate passage from Dowd’s new column:

DOWD (12/15/10): [T]he Birthers, who had come from all over the country to the trial, stood by their man.

Literally, in the case of Kate Vandemoer, a 55-year-old blogger and hydrologist from North Dakota, who rose with Lakin when he offered his plea.

[…]

Some argued that whether Obama was born in Hawaii is not really the point; the point is, he’s not “a natural-born citizen.” “You must be born in the U.S. with two parents who are U.S. citizens,” they explained. Obama, they argued, has “a dual allegiance” that makes Americans “sitting ducks.”

“His father was a British Subject,” said a pamphlet passed out by Vandemoer. “He believes he is a Citizen of the world.”

Is that contention accurate? To qualify as a natural-born citizen, must a person “be born in the U.S. with two parents who are U.S. citizens?” Presumably, that isn’t accurate; after all, no one contends that Obama’s parents were both American citizens. But you know Dowd! She repeated the claim, then let it stand. Especially in a matter as fraught as this, that is extremely bad practice.

Doesn’t every journalist know that you shouldn’t simply repeat bogus claims? Trust us: Given the way our discourse works, Dowd’s recitation of this claim will only drive the claim onward.

Maureen Dowd spotted a nut this week. Then, she repeated his dogma.

WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS (HILTON) (permalink): Foolish fawning has been widespread as congressional votes on the tax deal draw near. In this morning’s New York Times, Michele Bachmann takes a familiar type of tack as she fawns to conservative voters, explaining why she plans to vote no on the pending measure.

Jennifer Steinhauer offers the news report. In this passage, Bachmann says she’ll vote no on the proposed deal. Reason? She can imagine voting on a measure that is different and better:

STEINHAUER (12/15/10): Aides to House Republican leaders said they still expected a sizable majority of their members to vote for the legislation. But each defecting Republican represents another Democrat who must be swayed to vote for the bill—which has already been decried by many in that caucus—and adds to the public relations problem for the legislation, which neither party has promoted as a thing of beauty.

Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, is against the package, said her spokesman, Sergio Gor. “She would like to see an up-or-down vote solely on extending tax cuts without other conditions,” Mr. Gor said. “Also, we’ve heard there are earmarks in there. It is turning into a Christmas tree with a bunch of ornaments.”

Bachmann would like to see an up-or-down vote solely on extending the tax cuts! In one way, we can sympathize. Here at THE HOWLER, we’d like to see President Obama find a big sack of money in the woods; with that money, we’d like to see him pay off the national debt. But in fact, Obama’s isn’t going to find that sack of cash—and there isn’t going to be an up-or-down vote on extending the tax cuts. But so what? Because she can imagine something better than the choice with which she’s confronted, Bachmann slips off the hook with conservatives. Conservatives purchase the con.

Darrel Issa offers a similar type of dodge as this report continues:

STEINHAUER (continuing directly): Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the departing chairman of the House Republican Conference, told a conservative radio show host Tuesday that “I will not vote for this tax deal when it comes to the floor of the House of Representatives."

Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, fiercely criticized the bill in a news release as “an incomplete effort that fails to create a permanent tax structure,” and he hinted that he might not vote for it.

In this passage, Issa is fiercely upset because the bill “fails to create a permanent tax structure.” Of course, the bill fails to do many other things; to cite one leading example, it fails to reveal a cure for cancer. Presumably, Issa has voted for many bills which “fail to create a permanent tax structure.” Today, this failure is cited as a reason to vote against this bill.

Should people be voting for this bill? That is a matter of judgment. But time is running out on this congress. There is little time to craft a new deal; most likely, solons have a choice between the provisions of this bill and the status quo, under which all tax rates will rise on January 1. If this measure is voted down, it’s possible that some other measure will arise before adjournment. But that new measure won’t “create a permanent tax structure”—and it won’t provide an up-or-down vote solely on the tax rates.

Are Bachmann and Issa making sense? The solons can always argue as follows: Rather than accept this deal, they’ll take their chances with whatever deal might emerge in the new Congress. But we’ve been struck by the bogus arguments which have emerged on the liberal side as the vote on this proposed deal draws near.

Consider a bit of nonsense from last Tuesday’s Maddow show, with economist Simon Johnson as guest. Instantly, Johnson denounced the deal; he said that, because “it expands the deficit,” the deal is “completely irresponsible.” This presentation flew in the face of the long-standing liberal contention that the economy needs more short-term deficit spending. But Maddow largely skipped that point. Instead, she confronted Johnson with a remarkably pointless question:

MADDOW (12/7/10): If you could be economic dictator for a day, if you had $900 billion to devote to trying to make the economy better, trying to bring down unemployment in particular, what would you spend that $900 billion on?

JOHNSON: Well, I would pay teachers. We got states and local governments laying off employees, particularly teachers. That really hurts us immediately and over the long run across the country. That’s devastating.

I would expand community colleges. That’s where the unemployed go to get retrained, go to get the new skills they need in the modern economy, skills they don’t have.

And, of course, I would properly extend unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits, by the way, are going to remain at this 99-week limit. So in Nevada, for example, there’s 96,000 people who are about to run out of benefits. The agreement today does nothing for those people. They’re still out of benefits.

If Johnson were installed as dictator, he could imagine a better way to spend that $900 billion. But so what? There is no chance that he’ll be so installed—and there’s no chance that a program like the one he envisioned could possibly pass into law at this point. This was a nice theoretical discussion; this discussion would have made perfect sense at various points in the past several years. But it evaded the actual questions bearing down on the congress at present: Is the proposed deal better than no deal at all? What are the odds that a better deal will emerge if it gets voted down?

It’s easy for liberals to chuckle and laugh at the fawning of Bachmann and Issa. But alas! We now have major “liberal” entities devoted to providing that same sort of entertainment to us liberal rubes. In the past week, various liberals have inveighed against the proposed budget deal because they can imagine something better, just as Bachmann and Issa can; for one example, read this post by Robert Reich at Salon. Reich seems to be against the deal because he can imagine a better use of the money. But: Assuming that his ideas are brilliant, is there any chance that his preferences could pass into law?

Should the proposed budget deal pass? That is a matter of judgment. That said, the fawning has been rather general in the days since the deal was proposed. Our favorite nonsense came from someone we always want to like—Representative Jan Schakowsky, holding forth against the deal on the December 10 Maddow show (transcript not yet posted). Schakowsky prefers a (slightly) higher tax on estates, which is perfectly fine with us. But uh-oh! Apparently, we’ll always have Paris when our solons fawn:

SCHAKOWSKY (12/10/10): What we need to do is for the House Democrats to come up with a proposal that the Republicans are going to be able to buy, because they have to, because the American people are simply not going to tolerate the notion that we’re going to give away—the estate tax. Think of this—if someone leaves an estate of $1 billion, under their proposal, they would gain $100 million over what the Democrats are proposing for the estate tax. Imagine—Paris Hilton will be able to get an extra $100 million under their plan!

It’s obscene. It’s absolutely an offense to us and to most Americans.

For the record, Schakowsky’s math wasn’t quite correct. But she found it “obscene” to think that Paris Hilton could gain an extra $100 million under the proposed deal, which applies a 35 percent rate to estates, as opposed to the 45 percent rate House Democrats had been proposing. Of course, very few people leave billion-dollar estates—and their heirs would gain an extra $100 million under the House Democrats’ plan, as opposed to what would be left under the rate which obtained under President Clinton (55 percent). Does that make Schakowsky’s proposal “obscene?” By the way: There’s little evidence in the polling that “most Americans” hold the views Schakowsky attributed to them. (More on the estate tax tomorrow.)

Alas! When people step forward to fawn, we will always have fiery language. It now seems that we’ll always have Paris (Hilton) as well.

It’s easy for liberals to see the fawning conducted on the other side. The larger problem is the silly bad faith widely displayed on our own. For decades, conservative voters have been treated like rubes by very famous talk radio stars. In the last few years, our side has been rapidly catching up—and the silly, fawning nonsense has become much more general.