Good question, no easy answer: Lawrence ODonnell asked a very good question at the start of last evenings Last Word. His question relates to the screeching and wailing heard at the start of the month:
ODONNELL (12/22/10): As one blogger for The Huffington Post puts it, quote, "Obama had two choices after the midterm election. He could either have had a battle royale with Republicans over tax cuts for the wealthy and risk losing this battle. Or Obama could have cut a deal quickly in return for allowing the Senate time to move on many other important issues. He chose to deal.
So, did the gamble pay off?
The blogger is Chris Weigant (click here). The question is hard to answer. Did Obamas much-maligned tax compromise permit his later lame-duck successes? Or could those successes have been achieved without the earlier deal?
This type of question is hard to answer, unless youre the type of person who sits at the top of the press corps. This morning, Gail Collins answers the question without even batting an eye:
COLLINS (12/23/10): Unemployment compensation! Gay rights! Food safety! Judicial appointments! Arms control! Health care for 9/11 responders!
But lets admit it. Nothing would have gotten done if Obama hadnt swallowed that loathsome compromise on tax cuts for the wealthy.
If hed taken the high road, Congress would be in a holiday war. The long-term unemployed would be staggering into the new year without benefits. The rest of the world would look upon the United States as a country so dysfunctional that it cant even ratify a treaty to help keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. The people who worked at ground zero would still be uncertain about their future, and our gay and lesbian soldiers would still be living in fear.
Were inclined to agree with Collins general judgment. But we wouldnt be so certain, so sure, about every detail of what would have happened had Obama taken the high road. But then, Collins is always wonderfully certain. Its one of the joys which get conferred by residence in her happy realm.
Collins knows the details of what would have happened, right down to those unemployment benefits. This is a novelistic technique. Fiction writers employ this technique. Just see Its A Wonderful Life, where were told what would have occurred if George Bailey hadnt been born.
And Collins is frequently foolish. We were struck by problem that throughout this column, from her snide dismissal of John Kerry to the profoundly clueless construction with which she closed her piece. (Its depressing to think that there was no way to win that would not have involved giving away billions of dollars to people who dont need it. Good God, but our royals are dumb!) Lets be thankful for small favors; she didnt mention Mitt Romneys dog! Incredibly, she went there again last week, at the end of last Saturdays column.
Seamus was up on the car roof again! Aint life in Versailles a real hoot?
Semantic questions: If Obamas compromise led to all those desirable outcomes, in what sense was the compromise loathsome? Why didnt it constitute the high road? Why did he have to swallow the compromise? Why wasnt he thrilled to get it?
Do those word choices make real sense? Or do they entertain and flatter us rubes, keeping us pleasingly dumb?
Special report: Mr. Potters minions!
PART 4MINIONS PROGRESS (permalink): Chris Matthews segment with Michelle Rhee was one of the stupidest ever.
Our public discourse is almost monstrously dumbhas been for a long time. This stupidity stems from two major sources: The monster stupidity of the tools who get paid millions to run cable shows, matched with the deference these people receive from lesser movers and shakers. To this day, no liberal journal has ever offered a serious profile of Matthews consequential career; its most important chapter involves the two-year war he staged to send George Bush to the White House. (Just a guess: This was done to please Jack Welch, the near-billionaire GE CEO who was making Matthews rich at this time.)
By now, of course, this minion has largely been repurposed. For the most part, Matthews now tilts his relentless bad faith in the liberal/Democratic direction, in line with his channels new game plan. But when it comes to Americas public schools, he still rants for the billionaire bosses who set the nations reform agendawhen he bothers discussing such lower-class topics at all.
When Matthews spoke with Rhee last week, he pimped the Bill Gates/Bloomberg lines about education reform. (Welch has long been part of this orbit.) He bungled facts about international tests; promoted policies about which he knows nothing; and angrily blamed Americas teachers for the disgusting scores he misreported (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/ 20/10). And, of course, he trashed those teachers for their infernal unions! Needless to say, he pretended that Rhee had been nothing been brilliant as the head of the Washington schools.
He also asked the stupidest question ever asked on TV:
MATTHEWS (12/15/10): So my daughter went to a very good Catholic school in Washington, Georgetown Visitation. She goes to the University of Pennsylvania and realized shes ahead of the kids there, at a great Ivy League school. So how come the Catholic schools can do better than the public schools?
Truly, its hard to be that stupid. But Matthews has worked at his craft for a very long time.
(For last Wednesdays transcript, just click this. To watch the Rhee segment, click here.)
In fact, Georgetown Visitationthe Catholic school Matthews daughter attendedis one of D.C.s toniest prep schools (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/22/10). The campus is located on over 20 wooded acres in the heart of Georgetown, its web site modestly notes; its students tend to come from wealthy, high-literacy backgrounds. Students may choose from a variety of honors courses as well as independent study options, including study at neighboring Georgetown University, the web site modestly adds. When it comes time to leave this reserve, college counselors with a broad network of connections with college admissions directors guide students and their parents through the college selection process.
Only a fool would wonder why this school might produce halfway decent students. Only a minion would angrily ask why the Districts public schools cant churn the same glorious product.
Why cant Washingtons public schools do as well as Visitation? Matthews question was exceptionally stupid, but Rhee refused to give an answer, bowing low to the silliest stricture of modern reform ideology. (Within this remarkably low-IQ world, the answer is always bad teachers.) Before we return to the international tests which sent Matthews into a fury, lets compare this minions favorite Catholic school with a famous public high schoola Washington school which seems to have suffered under Rhees imperfect reign.
The school in question is Dunbar High, a pillar of Washingtons black community since it opened in 1870 as the nation's first municipally funded public high school for blacks. Last Saturday, Colbert King penned a lament for the school, which seems to have suffered a bit under Rhee; you can read his critique for yourselves, though well quote one lovely passage. (My mother, a 1935 Dunbar graduate, was so set on attending the school that, lacking streetcar fare, she would walk there and back from her Foggy Bottom home a six-mile trek roundtrip.)
King lamented Dunbars decline, which he partially blamed on Rhee. (Sardonically, he described her as one of today's educational-reform hot shots.) But three days earlier, the Posts Bill Turque had reported on recent events at Dunbar High under Rhees imperfect reign. His report appeared on the Posts front page, on the morning of the day when Rhee would speak with Matthews.
Alas! This is the way the world can be in schools which dont boast 20 wooded acres in the heart of Georgetown:
TURQUE (12/15/10): Private contractor failed Dunbar High's students, D.C. says
More than two years after an outside contractor was hired to run one of the city's most venerable schools, D.C. officials said Tuesday that Dunbar High remains plagued by a litany of troubles: Nearly half the senior class is not on track to graduate, more than 100 students are taking courses they've already passed and the campus is growing increasingly unsafe.
Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson made those findings and others public to justify her decision last week to oust Friends of Bedford, the New York-based contractor that former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee retained to turn around the 822-student school.
"In general, the building seems to be in turmoil at all times," Henderson wrote in a termination letter made public this week.
"Well after the school day begins, many students are wandering around the building, strolling to class with absolutely no sense of urgency," she added.
In general, the building seems to be in turmoil at all times, Henderson wroteand Henderson is a friend of Rhee, under whom she served. That night, Matthews was angrily asking Rhee why teachers at schools like Dunbar cant produce outcomes like those produced at his daughters bucolic prep school.
Granted, this was the worlds dumbest possible question. But Rhee refused to give a truthful answer. More on that failure tomorrow.
Lets be clear: Turques report appeared in Wednesdays Washington Post, right on the papers front page. But Matthews didnt mention Turques report when he interviewed Rhee that evening. You see, Matthews is a minion, a toola man who pimps for established power. And Rhee is a bit of a minion herself, a tool of Manhattans reform elite, a person who is so under-impressive that she may even believe the (very limited) things she says about school reform.
Is it Rhees fault if Dunbar High is in turmoil? Should she be scolded for hiring a private group to run the school, in the latest privatization effort? Not necessarily, no; this may have been a perfectly sensible effort, a sensible effort which failed. But on the day of Turques report, Matthews pimpishly chose to ignore it. Michelle, thank you so much for joining us, he pimpily gushed, locking his lips on the ex-chancellors ass. Im a big supporter of what you tried to do. (Waiting for Superman is a great movie, he had already said.) And then, he started bashing the nations teachers, thus pimping the most sacred belief of modern reform elites: Anything we dont like in our schools must be the fault of these droogs!
In a typical state of rage, Matthews wondered why teachers at schools like Dunbar cant produce students as great as his daughter. He blamed those disgusting international scores on our boring, lugubrious teachers, who may even be asleep. He pimped and fawned to the flawless Rhee, telling her how important she is to this country.
Stay away from the right wing, he stupidly said. Dont let them grab control of you. Youre too good to be grabbed by some ideological fool.
Did we mention the fact that our public discourse is almost monstrously stupid?
At present, American education reform is in the orbit of two billionairesBill Gates and Michael Bloomberg. Each man may be perfectly well-intentioned, but weve never seen the slightest sign that either fellow knows diddly or squat about the nations public schoolsand Bloomberg seems prepared to deceive the public when it serves his interests. In our view, several things are horribly wrong with Diane Ravitchs Death and Life of the Great American School System, but Ravitch does an excellent job describing the way these two billionaires have purchased control of the reform debate, producing brain-dead conversations like the one Matthews sponsored. (More about Ravitchs book next year.) Presumably, one more name should be added hereKaplan, Inc., the test prep company which funds the Washington Post, presumably tilting the newspapers policy concerning education reform.
Matthews ignored the mayhem at Dunbar High as he ritually trashed Dunbars teachers. He was angryand he was puzzled! Why cant Dunbars teachers produce the same results produced at Visitation?
Rhee refused to answer this question. Tomorrow morning, we will.
Tomorrow: Minions answer