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Daily Howler: What difference could it possibly make? So our ''press corps'' asked
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THE DECADE OF WHAT DIFFERENCE! What difference could it possibly make? So our “press corps” asked: // link // print // previous // next //

The year of discussing ineptly: Tomorrow, we’ll name our “person of the year”—the journalist who did the most, in the past year, to induce morbid depression among our young analysts. But first, a note on the general character of this past pitiful year:

With brutal inefficiency, this past year showed us who we are—an unintelligent, un-serious people. To examine one tiny piece of this puzzle, consider a letter the New York Times chose to publish this Monday.

The letter, composed in perfect good faith, responded to an editorial about impending health care reform. What will happen, the writer asked, if a new, Republican Congress simply repeals the whole thing?

LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (12/28/09): What I don’t find anticipated or predicted is what will happen to any health care legislation actually passed if and when the balance of power shifts toward the right, which may occur as soon as the next election.

When the majority party changes, its first actions seem to involve undoing the most radical changes enacted by the opposition. What happens if the newly elected Congress in November pushes through a vote to nullify the whole health reform bill, if it is passed?

Is there a precedent? Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid quickly come to mind as having stood the test of time.

M— S—
Washington, Dec. 27, 2009

What will happen if the next Congress simply repeals the whole health reform bill? No doubt, the writer was sincere. But the answer to her question is obvious:

To state what is blindingly obvious, President Obama would veto such a repeal. Since it takes a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress to override a president’s veto, there is simply no chance that a newly elected Congress would be able to “nullify” any health reform bill.

Obama would veto such an attempt! Presumably, the writer hadn’t considered this point. That said, why on earth would a New York Times editor decide to put this letter in print? On Monday morning, many readers of the Times began to worry about this reader’s question. It’s hard to know why a newspaper would want to float this concern, since the answer to the writer’s concern is so blindingly obvious.

That said, might we pose our own question here? Is it possible that this New York Times editor, like this Times reader, didn’t know what would happen next?

As a news professional, you’d have to be ginormously clueless to be stumped by that letter’s question. But has there ever been a year when the cluelessness of the professional press corps became so ginormously clear? In this past year, the press corps’ pseudo-discussion of health care has been a tribute to human frailty. And alas! When it comes to framing a serious discussion, the liberal world has performed just as poorly as the mainstream press corps has done.

When it comes to policy matters, we’re stupid and ugly and nobody likes us! Has there ever been a year when these facts became quite so clear?

Next week, we’ll review the past year’s discussion of health care, building upon a recent re-reading of T. R. Reid’s The Healing of America. (We’ll also suggest what progressives should do—if they want to build intelligent frameworks for future health care reform.) But, just as a general matter, how poorly does the “press corps” reason? In the two mornings since we’ve returned from Maine, we‘ve been stunned by the silly work on the op-ed page of the Washington Post.

Who do we have in mind? In the spirit of the season, let’s not name any names! But Julianna Baggott’s piece about the year’s top books is almost devoid of any attempt to gather evidence in support of a (fairly aggressive) thesis. Meanwhile, here’s the headline which currently sits on Ruth Marcus’ sad-sack piece:

Flight 263 makes me angry

People! It’s all about feelings! Feelings draw the reader in! They make blood rush through the veins! Meanwhile, in the New York Times, Maureen Dowd is back to calling Obama “Barry”—and in her obsessive gender-kook way, she can’t help mentioning the “oddly feminine-looking underpants” of last week’s thwarted bomber.

No, a nation can’t survive with kooks like Dowd at the top of the heap, defining the parameters of its public discussions.

Below, we briefly discuss the shape of the decade which is ending this week. This gruesome decade was strongly enabled by the people atop our mainstream press corps—and by the failure of other elites to challenge this group’s fatuous culture and mental infirmity. That said:

We’ve often asked why our academic elites didn’t speak up in the past several decades, challenging the ludicrous work on display in the mainstream “press corps.” On December 7, the New York Times finally gave us our answer.

In this “Opinionator” post, Stanley Fish discussed Sarah Palin’s new book, Going Rogue. Like us, he thought the book was “very well done.” (We pause here so liberals can cry: But she didn’t write it herself!) But good God! “Autobiographers cannot lie,” Fish absurdly says in his piece, thereby answering our question.

Stanley Fish is a very famous academic. He was writing in our leading newspaper. An elite which churns such nonsense straight from the top will never rescue our lives.

Some of you will search for ways in which Fish’s ludicrous claim can be “right.” Our heartfelt advice: Abandon your search. Worry about your failed culture.

THE DECADE OF WHAT DIFFERENCE: Since we’ve all agreed that a decade is ending, we thought we would identify same.

What’s ending is The Decade of Bush. Less pithily stated, we’ve reached the end of an embarrassing era: The Decade of What Difference Could It Possibly Make.

“What Difference Could It Possibly Make?” So the nation’s pundits asked all though the last year of the previous decade, all through the first year of this decade. Candidate Gore or Candidate Bush? “What Difference Could It Possibly Make?” the nation’s savants asked.

Somehow, they had convinced themselves of the “what difference” hypothesis. And for the record, we’re talking about the mainstream press and its “liberal” pundits, not about Fox or Rush or Drudge. At this site, we consider the “liberal” pundit Frank Rich to be the dumbest man of the past several decades. In March 2000, at the start of this decade, Rich captured the prevailing mood of his low-IQ cohort.

Super Tuesday’s results had eliminated Candidates Bradley and McCain, the pair of straight-shooting straight-talking authentics whom Rich and his utterly daffy pals had invented in previous years. In this passage, you see the thinking which gave you the decade which now ends—The Decade of George W. Bush:

RICH (3/11/00): I knew the presidential race had lapsed into a coma when I found myself gravitating toward Katie Couric's televised colonoscopy on the "Today" show instead of the usual chattering political heads on cable. Ms. Couric's selfless efforts on behalf of cancer prevention were not only more inspiring than the focus-group-tested nostrums prescribed by the surviving candidates, Al (Fighting for Us) Gore and George W. (Uniter Not a Divider) Bush, but also more entertaining.

Whatever happened to Americans' supposed hunger for authenticity and straight talk as an antidote to Bill Clinton? Wasn't that supposed to carry us through the whole election year? Well, as Gilda Radner's Emily Litella used to say, Never mind.

Eight months to go—but hey, who's counting?—and we're stranded with two establishment, tightly scripted, often robotic candidates who are about as different from one another as J. Crew and Banana Republic. Both are wealthy, Ivy-League-educated boomers who took safe paths through the Vietnam War, whose career advancement was greased by their dads, who advertise their intimacy with Jesus, who reek of smarmy soft money and who will do anything to win, whether it be Mr. Gore's lying about his own Congressional voting record in a debate or Mr. Bush's heartless exploitation of women's fears of breast cancer in a scurrilous attack ad.

In the true Clinton manner, both are also chameleons, ready to don new guises in a flash—from Mr. Gore's down-home wardrobe to Mr. Bush's last-minute emergence as a champion of campaign finance reform, patients' rights and clean air. The substantive disputes between the men are, in truth, minimal in a prosperous post-cold-war era when both parties aspire to Rockefeller Republicanism (literally so in that each standard-bearer is the prince of a brand-name American dynasty). If this is going to be a campaign about issues, it may all come down to the environment, gun control, Roe v. Wade and, most of all, who's least likely to screw up the economy, stupid.

Since you asked us, we will answer. No, we humans can’t get dumber. What Difference Could It Possibly Make? That’s the question Rich asked this day, and in subsequent columns. (Candidate Bush was Banana Republic—and Candidate Gore was J. Crew!) But in fairness, it wasn’t just Rich who was pushing this silly, too-cool-for-school outlook. Such “thinking” pervaded our mainstream press corps as this gruesome decade began. It’s stunning to see what the mainstream press corps’ “liberal” pundits were saying seven months later, in October 2000, as history neared. And no, it wasn’t just Rich. It was Herbert, and King, and Jonathan Alter—and it was Lawrence O’Donnell. It was Cokie and Sam, clowning hard. Needless to say, it was Dowd.

These people probably voted for Gore. But they called him a liar right to the end, helping us choose The Banana Republic in the place of J. Crew.

What difference could it possibly make? A decade later, sane people have learned.

What difference could it possibly make? The pundit and press corps expressed this outlook in another way during this decade.

In 1998, they had devoted a solid year to their obsession with Bill Clinton’s shorts. In 1999 and 2000, they extended their angry obsession about Miss Lewinsky, punishing Gore for the troubling matter. (He hadn’t condemned Clinton strongly enough.) In 2001, they staged a dim-witted revival; they spent the summer inventing “evidence” to suggest that Gary Condit may have murdered Chandra Levy, the (former) intern with whom he’d been lustily getting it on.

Both Clintons, of course, had been murderers too. Our upper-end opinion leaders were able to follow such narratives.

The brain-dead chatter about Gary Condit extended through the evening of September 10, 2001. The next day, our savants dropped the topic; they swore that all would be different. But soon, they were back to their greatest love—the culture of inane pseudo-discussion. Indeed: You can tune in Keith tonight, to watch tape of Carrie and Sarah!

What difference could it make if it’s Gore or Bush? What difference could it make if we clown after viewers? What difference could it make if we dumb liberals down? The decade which ends tomorrow evening was built around such questions.

Absent aggressive intervention, the decade which starts the day after that will rest on that same foundation. Joan Walsh, it’s all up to you!