FRIDAY, JANUARY 24, 2003
KEEPING IT STUPID: To survive, spin has to get stupider. So here was former congressman J. C. Watts, guesting on NPRs To the Point:
WATTS (1/22/03): I dont think the president has any problem with race being considered, but theres something out of kilter when you give 20 points for race but you give 8 points for academics, for academic achievement.
Say what? Host Warren Olney made no comment. So Watts up and said it again:
WATTS: But what the president was saying is that giving 20 points for race and 8 points for academics, for your ability to excel in the classroom based on what you do on your SAT or your ACT exam, that is out of kilter.
Something was out of kilter, all right. Even after Eleanor Holmes Norton fleetingly noted that UM awards 80 points for GPA, Watts was off to the races again. In the Michigan case, you had 20 points for race but you had 8 points for academics, he saidand that would be the final word. Olney never said boo about Watts factual howlers, and a new crop of Americans had been baldly deceived about the facts of the Michigan case. (At UM, an applicant can get up to 110 points for his or her academic achievement.)
But so it goes in the deeply stupid world of American public discourse. Spinners, fakers, propagandists and phonies rush to recite their latest spinsand hapless, who-gives-a-sh*t mainstream hosts roll over and let the spin triumph. Does it matter what happens at U of M? Does it matter how Michigan chooses its students? It would be hard to tell from our public discourse. To judge from our who-gives-a-sh*t public discourse, that discourse serves the one great god, Spin. All other gods must expire.
How stupid has the discourse been? Weve listened to ludicrous disinformation built from that 20/12 spin-point. Weve listened to spinners yell quota/quotaalthough UM plainly doesnt use them, and seems to be doing what Bakke allows (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/23/03). But the stupidest thing weve heard all week is the wide recitation of another Bush spin-point. That involves the Bush Admins praise for a plan called affirmative access.
All week, High Spinners have praised the brilliant, race-neutral way Bush promoted racial diversity at the University of Texas. Indeed, Bushs brief to the Court hammers UM for failing to try such solutions. Here is honest conservative Terry Eastland, explaining what the Bush Admin pled:
EASTLAND: The administration argues that the race-based admissions policies [at UM] are unconstitutional for two reasons. First, they employ quotas. And, second, school officials resorted to race-based policies without first using race-neutral alternatives.
That race neutral alternative Bush wants UM to try is the plan called affirmative access.
Pray that your Court aint this stupid. In 1996, a federal court struck down the affirmative action plan being used at the University of Texas. In response, Dems in the legislature devised a new plan (which Bush signed but didnt create.) Under the new plan, the top ten percent from every Texas high school would automatically get in at UT. How would this keep UT diverse? Because graduates from low-achieving minority schools would get automatic berths at UT. These kids couldnt get in on a normal basis, because their grades and test scores were relatively low. But now, these kids would get automatic spots under this race-neutral plan. This, of course, is exactly what happens under affirmative action.
This plan passes muster as being race neutral if your IQ is roughly 11. The plan was devised to get black kids into UT, and it has the same general effect as affirmative action. In short, this plan was devised to do what affirmative action doesbut to do so in a disguised fashion. And of course, everyone knows that this plan was devised as a proxy for affirmative action. Last Saturday, the Washington Post said so in an editorial. While formally race neutral, the plan was adopted to produce results similar to conventional affirmative action, the Post said. It is, in other words, an overt proxy. But then, conservative Michelle Malkin made the same point the next day in the Washington Times. Malkin, who opposes UMs admission procedures, opposes the UT procedures too, saying that theyre just the same old, tired racial-preference policies disguised under the slipcover of compassionate conservatism. The major difference between UT and UM? UM is honest about what its doing. UT, by contrast, is simply fakingas is true of so much that Bush does.
Affirmative access is stupid and fakea slick bit of Bushesque social clowning. But the fakery involved is the least of its problems; theres a grisly policy downside to affirmative access as well. The problem? Affirmative access gives minority students an incentive to stay in low-performing schools. In Texas, a black kid who stays in his all-black high school will have a good shot at making UT; its easy to make the top ten percent of a low-achieving neighborhood school. But if the student transfers to an academic high school, his chances of admission are lowered. He may get better learnin at Magnet High, but his chances of making the top ten percent are much lowerand there go his chances of attending UT! So this stupid plan encourages black kids to keep themselves in all-black high schools. Thats right, kids. George Bushs brilliant race-neutral plan actually encourages segregation in high schools. Last week, of course, Bush savaged the University of Michigans leaders because they wont try this great plan.
How stupid will our discourse be? Americas pundits hold the answer. Like so much that Bush does, affirmative access is stupid and fake. But with the exception of an occasional Malkin, conservative pundits hail the UT plan as race neutraland J. C. Watt tells ludicrous tales about the way the UM plan works. Our mainstream discourse remains deeply stupidand the Warren Olneys sit quietly by. One day, our high school students may be quite surprised when they learn how our adults really functioned.
THE WAY HE WAS: The silly fakery of affirmative access has been well understood for years. In December 1999, for example, Mickey Kaus explained the contradictions quite clearly. That was Mickey, then, not now. You know what to do. Just click here.
The Daily update
MORE NOTES ON YOUR DEEPLY STRANGE PRESS CORPS: We tend to agree with the policy views expressed by Nicholas Kristof this morning. But early on, Kristof pens a long aside that is dumbfoundingly strange:
KRISTOF: While writing about Mr. Bush
during the 2000 campaign, I heard from his family friends that he had been turned down by St. Johns [a Houston prep school], so I asked him about it. He indignantly denied the story. A few days later an aide called and said that Mr. Bush had checked with his parents and that it was true. I found his willingness to confirm this unflattering detail an impressive example of his political integrity, and it was this kind of honesty that won Mr. Bush the respect of many journalists who were covering him.
Lets just say it; Kristof seems to be out of his mind. During Campaign 2000, did Bush display a political integrity and a kind of honesty that should have won the respect of many journalists who were covering him? Kristofs statement is deeply puzzling. Lets stick to the silly personal ground on which Kristof bases his judgment.
By the end of the campaign, it was fairly clear that Bush had dissembledand probably had liedabout a past drunk driving arrest. Beyond that, it was fairly clear that he had been less than honest about his record in the National Guard. And of course, he had long since danced and dodged about possible use of illegal drugs. Meanwhile, Gore was being beaten about the head and shoulders for alleged exaggerations about his personal life. In particular, Gore was often slammed for allegedly pretending to be a country boynot a slick creature of Washington.
These endless complaints about Candidate Gore were stupid, silly, fake, phony, falsea disgrace to the Washington press corps. And in truth, Bush had engaged in the same sorts of spinning which the corps just kept laying on Gore. How about that prep school record? Here was Kristof himself, in May 2000, describing Bushs junior high salad days. And go ahead and strike up the strings. They were often needed when Kristof penned his bios of Bush in the Times:
KRISTOF (5/21/00): It is in the soil of Midland that Mr. Bush has said he would like to be buried when he dies, and it was to Midland that he returned in the 1970s to marry and start a family. It gave him an anchor in real America.
There is still something to it, Kristof said, finding a way to endorse Bushs statement. But as Kristof surely knew, there was much less to Bushs San Jacinto mantra than actually met the eye. In fact, Bush attended San Jacinto for one year onlyseventh grade. After that, he moved to the tony Kinkaid School, an elite private school in Houston. After two years at the Kinkaid School, he became an Andover boarder. In short, Bush spent five years at elite private schools, and one year at San Jacinto Junior High. But it was San Jacinto he repeatedly mentioned, for reasons that were perfectly plain.
Mr. Bush has often said that the biggest difference between me and my father is that he went to Greenwich Country Day and I went to San Jacinto Junior High. That may be an exaggeration of the younger Mr. Bushs populist credentials, because he is also a product of Andover, Yale and Harvard. But there is still something to it.
Was Bush lying when he maintained his middle school mantra? No, he clearly was not. But all through Campaign 2000, Gore was trashed for making accurate statements in which he was said to exaggerate his personal history. Meanwhile, scribes like Kristof looked for ways to say that Bushs statements had something to them. Indeed, two paragraphs later in the May profile, Kristof rattled some pure agit-prop. Mr. Bizilo was San Jacintos principal:
KRISTOF: The Midland childhood is a striking contrast to that of another boy growing up at the same time, Al Gore, who instead of being paddled in Mr. Bizilos office was attending the elite St. Albans School in Washington, swimming in the Senate pool and listening on an extension as his father the senator spoke on the telephone to President John F. Kennedy.
Jim Nicholson could hardly have typed it up better. Bush was being paddled in a dusty school. By contrast, Gore was paddling in the Senate pool, and checking out JFK on the telephone.
Of course, a few months after being paddled in that dusty office, Bush would be attending the elite Kinkaid School in Houston. But Kristofs readers wouldnt read that this day; Kinkaid was simply not mentioned. Nor would they read that Gore was also swimming in the Caney Ford Creek in rural Tennessee while he worked on his fathers farm every summer. A propagandist and silly bagman, Kristof typed the silly tales the RNC (and the press corps) had long since selected. Biography was stupidly tortured all through the campaign, and biography was tortured here too.
Bushs San Jacinto mantra was a minor matterbut it was exactly the sort of statement for which Gore was being savaged. And sometimes, Candidate Bush just flat-out lied about that non-Washington, non-elite background. On June 12, 1999, for example, Bush made his official campaign launch in Iowa. On the NBC Nightly News, David Bloom played a videotaped interview with Bush. During the session, Bloom asked the hopeful to respond to questions about lack of experience:
BLOOM: The critics, lots of Democrats, a few Republicans, say that if your last name wasnt Bush, you wouldnt be the Republican front runner, that youre untested, that youre not ready for the job. How do you answer that?
Challenged on his experience and preparation, Bush gave an odd reply:
BUSH: I answer it that Ive never lived in Washington in my life. The presidency is a huge step compared to governor of Texas. I know that. I know that. But if I didnt think was ready, I wouldnt be asking Americans to give me a good look.
The first part of Bushs answerIve never lived in Washington in my life was oddly unresponsive to Blooms question, but as a soundbite, it made perfect sense. Bush was painting himself as an outsider, as almost all candidates try to do. (At this time, Bradley was making the ludicrous claim that he had spent thirty years on the road in America. For eighteen of those years, of course, he had been on the road in the Senate.) But Bushs statement was more than a stretch; his statement to Bloom was blatantly false. In 1987 and 1988, Bush had spent what the Washington Post later called an 18-month stint in Washington as a full-time paid aide to his fathers 1988 [presidential] campaign. Nor was this part of his life a secret. For example, in Eric Pooleys profile of Bush in the 6/21/99 Time (released 6/13), Pooley described how, in 1986, Bush sold his ailing company [Spectrum] for a miraculous profit and moved his family to Washington, where he worked on his fathers 1988 presidential campaign. Howard Fineman described the same events in his Newsweek profile that same week. The full story? According to Bushs biographer, Bill Minutaglio, In April , the family had packed and moved to an apartment at the northwest end of Massachusetts Avenue in Washington. They moved back to Dallas soon after the 1988 election. Bushs statement to Bloom painted an outsider image. But the statement wasalassimply false.
At the time, the Washington press was scalding Gore for allegedly embellishing his pampered past. In particular, he had been slammed for three solid months for his farm chores remarksfor making perfectly accurate statements whose emphasis the corps didnt like. Now Bush made a baldly false statement whose value as spin was perfectly obvious. Clearly, Bush was trying to push the idea that he was a simple Man of the Peoplejust as Gore was alleged to have done.
So how did the press corps handle Bushs statement? Duhthey completely ignored it! For three solid months, they had savaged Gore for his accurate farm chores remarkand now they took a total pass when George Bush uncorked a Big Howler. And one year later, there was Kristofassuring us that, though Bush may have exaggerated in what he said, there was still something to his remark (cue the strings). Today, Kristof tells us that, through all the nonsense, the press corps was finding impressive examples of Bushs political integrity and were bowled over by the kind of honesty he was displaying. During this same period, of courseas weve now learnedPaul Krugman was being told by Howell Raines that he couldnt use the word lying when referring to Bushs policy claims. For more than a year, Gore had been savaged as a liar all over the press. (Krugman, of course, was trying to talk about things that matter, not about junior high japery.)
Was there something wrong with spinning Jacinto? Not reallyBushs remark was perfectly ordinary. Should Bush have been scalded for his statement to Bloom? Not reallythe statement was false, but it dealt with trivia, the sorts of things that simply dont matter. But Gore was being viciously trashed for exactly such matters, and Kristof gives us a further look into the press corps crackpot conceptions in his oddball passage this morning. Air National Guard? Drunk driving arrest? Through it alland through all the budget bullroarCandidate Bush kept showing his political integrity. Readers, your press corps is deeply strange. Kristof makes no bones about it.