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Caveat lector

STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES! And the stupidest spin we’ve heard all week is the claim that Bush’s plan is “race neutral:”


KEEPING IT STUPID: To survive, spin has to get stupider. So here was former congressman J. C. Watts, guesting on NPR’s To the Point:

WATTS (1/22/03): I don’t think the president has any problem with race being considered, but there’s 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 said—and 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 spins—and 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? We’ve listened to ludicrous disinformation built from that “20/12” spin-point. We’ve listened to spinners yell quota/quota—although UM plainly doesn’t use them, and seems to be doing what Bakke allows (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/23/03). But the stupidest thing we’ve heard all week is the wide recitation of another Bush spin-point. That involves the Bush Admin’s 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, Bush’s 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 ain’t 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 didn’t 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 couldn’t 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” does—but 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 UM’s admission procedures, opposes the UT procedures too, saying that they’re 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 it’s doing. UT, by contrast, is simply faking—as is true of so much that Bush does.

“Affirmative access” is stupid and fake—a slick bit of Bushesque social clowning. But the fakery involved is the least of its problems; there’s 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; it’s 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 lower—and there go his chances of attending UT! So this stupid plan encourages black kids to keep themselves in all-black high schools. That’s right, kids. George Bush’s brilliant “race-neutral” plan actually encourages segregation in high schools. Last week, of course, Bush savaged the University of Michigan’s leaders because they won’t try this great plan.

How stupid will our discourse be? America’s 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 neutral”—and J. C. Watt tells ludicrous tales about the way the UM plan works. Our mainstream discourse remains deeply stupid—and 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. John’s [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.
Let’s 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?” Kristof’s statement is deeply puzzling. Let’s 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 dissembled—and probably had lied—about 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 boy—not a slick creature of Washington.

These endless complaints about Candidate Gore were stupid, silly, fake, phony, false—a 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 Bush’s 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 1970’s to marry and start a family. It gave him an anchor in real America.

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. Bush’s populist credentials, because he is also a product of Andover, Yale and Harvard. But there is still something to it.

“There is still something to it,” Kristof said, finding a way to endorse Bush’s statement. But as Kristof surely knew, there was much less to Bush’s San Jacinto mantra than actually met the eye. In fact, Bush attended San Jacinto for one year only—seventh 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.

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 Bush’s statements had “something to them.” Indeed, two paragraphs later in the May profile, Kristof rattled some pure agit-prop. “Mr. Bizilo” was San Jacinto’s 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. Bizilo’s 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 Kristof’s readers wouldn’t 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 father’s 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.

Bush’s San Jacinto mantra was a minor matter—but 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 wasn’t Bush, you wouldn’t be the Republican front runner, that you’re untested, that you’re 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 I’ve 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 didn’t think was ready, I wouldn’t be asking Americans to give me a good look.
The first part of Bush’s answer—“I’ve never lived in Washington in my life”— was oddly unresponsive to Bloom’s 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 Bush’s 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 father’s 1988 [presidential] campaign.” Nor was this part of his life a secret. For example, in Eric Pooley’s 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 father’s 1988 presidential campaign.” Howard Fineman described the same events in his Newsweek profile that same week. The full story? According to Bush’s biographer, Bill Minutaglio, “In April [1987], 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. Bush’s statement to Bloom painted an “outsider” image. But the statement was—alas—simply 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” remarks—for making perfectly accurate statements whose emphasis the corps didn’t 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 People—just as Gore was alleged to have done.

So how did the press corps handle Bush’s statement? Duh—they completely ignored it! For three solid months, they had savaged Gore for his accurate “farm chores” remark—and now they took a total pass when George Bush uncorked a Big Howler. And one year later, there was Kristof—assuring 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 Bush’s political integrity” and were bowled over by “the kind of honesty” he was displaying. During this same period, of course—as we’ve now learned—Paul Krugman was being told by Howell Raines that he couldn’t use the word “lying” when referring to Bush’s 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 really—Bush’s remark was perfectly ordinary. Should Bush have been scalded for his statement to Bloom? Not really—the statement was false, but it dealt with trivia, the sorts of things that simply don’t 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 all—and through all the budget bullroar—Candidate Bush kept showing his “political integrity.” Readers, your press corps is deeply strange. Kristof makes no bones about it.