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IN WHICH YOU’RE DECEIVED ONCE AGAIN! In today’s Post, you’re deceived once again. This follows a brush with true greatness: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 30, 2008

WE’RE WITH STUPID: According to many liberals, William Kristol’s banality has stood out in recent weeks.

As we’ve said, we find that judgment strange. You know what to do—just click here. After that, crawl off and cry.

IN WHICH YOU’RE DECEIVED ONCE AGAIN: In recent months, Harold Meyerson has been enjoying an unmistakable “brush with greatness.” Indeed, it’s a brush with philosophical greatness. Meyerson sets the scene at the start of this morning’s Post column:

MEYERSON (1/30/08): For the better part of a year, I have been bumping into Michael Walzer, our nation's preeminent living political philosopher and my colleague at Dissent magazine, with inexplicable regularity, and having the same conversation with him every time. The discussion began last summer, when Michael asked me which presidential candidate I liked. Since the political differences among the leading Democrats were small, I said, I'd probably back the candidate who had the best shot at winning the White House and bringing in a filibuster-proof Senate.

Many of you will be surprised to learn that Walzer is “our nation's preeminent living political philosopher.” You’ll be surprised because you’ve never heard his name—indeed, had no idea he exists. For some, this will suggest a variant on a famous philosophical puzzle, the one about the tree in the forest. Here goes: If a philosopher is pre-eminent but no one has heard, has his pre-eminence actually happened? No doubt, we’ll wrestle with this question at some point in our “Philosopher Fridays” series, which has already become, in just a few weeks, the most controversial feature on the web.

Back to Meyerson. As he continues, he says he can’t decide who the best Dem nominee would be. We agree with (almost) every word he says. But alas! We also note an important topic which he (predictably) disappears:

MEYERSON: Barack Obama promises to turn out record numbers of young people and African Americans and to win the votes of upscale independents, but he has shown no great strength so far among working-class whites. Hillary Clinton commands more allegiance from the Democrats' working-class base and among female voters, but she also elicits far more antipathy than Obama does. Worse, in tandem with her husband, she has imperiled her prospects in the general election by estranging black and young Democratic voters—a remarkable accomplishment, considering that the Democrats' historic rifts usually reflect major policy differences, of which this year's contest has none.

As for the Senate, the conventional wisdom, reinforced by an unscientific sample of red-state Democrats, is that the chance to vote against Clinton will bring every Hillary-hater to the polls, making it harder for Democrats to pick up seats. That's probably true, but who can say that the chance to defeat Obama won't prompt a redneck reaction of its own?

On the merits, and in a rational world, we would tend to favor Clinton. But we agree with the rest of what Meyerson says. Sadly, for a look at that possible “redneck reaction,” just click here. More on this matter below.

Largely, we agree with Meyerson—or rather, we agree with what he says. But there’s a giant topic he has omitted—just as his cohort has endlessly done over the past many years.

What is missing from Harold’s piece? He fails to mention the role of the mainstream press—a power elite which has played a key role in recent White House elections. Indeed: Just last week, E. J. Dionne mentioned a problem now facing Dems—although he seemed to take great care not to say who he was talking about:

DIONNE 1/25/08): Let's grant the Clintons their claims: The press is tougher on Hillary Clinton than it is on Barack Obama; the old, irrational Clinton hatred is alive and well in certain parts of the media; Hillary Clinton gets hit harder when she criticizes Obama than Obama does when he goes after her.

Really? There’s an “old, irrational Clinton hatred...alive and well in certain parts of the media?” Dionne, of course, absent-mindedly failed to tell us which “parts of the media” he meant. But if this irrational hatred is really out there, wouldn’t you think that a guy like Meyerson would factor that into his musings?

You would think that, except for one thing: People like Meyerson and Dionne are part of that press corps; they’ve been hiding its conduct from you for a good many years. They simply never tell you about it. E. J.’s fleeting reference last Friday was a startling exception to this rule—and even then, he forgot to tell you who he was actually talking about! You’ve been deceived about these matters over the course of the past many years. And you’re deceived again today. Meyerson tells you about our most pre-eminent philosopher—but fails to tell you what is happening all around you, in today’s press.

Let’s say it again: You are being deceived. You are being deceived by Harold Meyerson.

But this has gone on for a very long time, and many others have done it. During Campaign 2000, for example, that “old irrational Clinton hatred” was seamlessly transferred to Candidate Gore; members of Dionne and Meyerson’s cohort spent two years trying to take Gore down, often in the most scurrilous ways. But few people ever told you about it—and two years later, Josh Marshall was still deceiving you about this history changing conduct. For many of our readers, of course, Josh is like “an imaginary hip white friend;” you like to believe that he plays on side. But here is what he still was writing in the spring and summer of 2002:

MARSHALL (Salon, 4/11/02): When Al Gore kicked off his presidential campaign in 1999, he enjoyed near-unanimous support from his own party, including the Democrats’ chief officeholders, political operatives and the most deep-pocketed fundraisers. The only problem appeared to be the voters, who didn’t seem to have particularly strong feelings about Gore one way or another.

MARSHALL (Washington Monthly, 9/02): Let’s be honest. As upset as you may have been in January 2001 that George W. Bush was going to be president, you had to admit he had a pretty impressive team. They had beaten a sitting vice president with seemingly every advantage; they outmuscled and outmaneuvered the Gore camp during the Florida recount; and despite the abbreviated transition, they quickly and smoothly assembled a seasoned White House staff.

That, of course, was total nonsense. Candidate Gore had enjoyed “seemingly every advantage?” “The only problem appeared to be the voters?” This formulation was the Standard Press Line—but, of course, it was utterly bogus. That “old irrational Clinton hatred” had hounded Gore all through that campaign, right back to his very first interview as a candidate—the interview from which the press corps gimmicked the claim that Al Gore said he invented the Internet. And Josh understood this matter quite well. Indeed, when we lightly chided him for his silence that summer, he ran onto Reliable Sources and showed you that he had been playing you for chumps, fools, rubes, marks, play-toys:

MARSHALL (8/10/02): I think deep down most reporters just have contempt for Al Gore. I don’t even think it’s dislike. It’s more like a disdain and contempt.

KURTZ: Why?

MARSHALL: That’s a good question, and I’m not sure I have the answer for it entirely, or at least not one that you’d let me run on long enough to make clear here.

KURTZ: He’s never been successful in the courtship of the press.

MARSHALL: No, not at all, and this was, you know, a year-and-a-half before the election, I think you could say this. This wasn’t something that happened because he ran a bad campaign. If he did, it was something that predated it.

Josh’s statement was perfectly accurate. (Though the trashing of Gore started twenty months out, not a mere eighteen.) But wait a minute! If Gore had been facing this “disdain and contempt” a year-and-a-half before the election, why would Josh say he’d had every advantage? (Presumably, the Monthly piece was in the can when Josh skedaddled onto CNN.) Just a guess: He’d say it because he was playing the game! He’d been deceiving you about the real world, just as Meyerson does this morning.

For the record, we don’t know Harold Meyerson; maybe he actually doesn’t know that “the old, irrational Clinton hatred is alive and well in certain parts of the media,” including in the “part of the media” known as the Washington Post. (The “part of the media” which employs him.) After all, Meyerson has his head in the clouds; he spends his time with our most pre-eminent philosophers, on Olympian heights, not down here on the teeming plain, where the world’s dumbest people run the “press corps” and indulge in that “old, irrational hatred.” Maybe he doesn’t read Dowd or Herbert, Robinson or Milbank; perhaps he has never heard of Chris Matthews. Perhaps he “deceives” you without understanding. But even then, today’s column deceives.

We agree with most of what Meyerson says; it’s what he omits that we find troubling. But people of Meyerson’s lofty class have maintained a pact for a very long time. On rare occasions, they’ll tell you the truth: “the old, irrational Clinton hatred is alive and well in certain parts of the media.” But even on those rare occasions, they will oddly forget to say which parts of the media they have in mind. And a few days later, a colleague will emerge. He’ll tell you about your greatest philosopher—but he won’t tell you what his own colleagues have done to you down on the plane. In this manner, Dionne’s brief flirtation with truth disappears. It ends up down in the hopper.

Sad speculation: If we had to place a bet today, we would bet that the Dem nominee will lose next November’s White House election. If the nominee is Clinton, she will lose because that “old, irrational hatred” will help eat her alive. But so what? People like Dionne and Meyerson kept you clueless during Campaign 2000; judging from that column today, you’ll be kept clueless in this campaign too. Meanwhile, what does our pre-eminent political philosopher think about these machinations? Don’t worry: In the broken, upper-class system we’ve forged, these Olympian gods never speak.

WE’RE WITH STUPID, BUCKY’S FAMILY RESTAURANT EDITION: “The American people are pretty sharp.” All politicians know they must say it—and so too with the big pundit corps. There’s only one problem with this high-minded blather; the American people are often dumb as a rock, and they’re often quite eager to prove it. The New York Times does a service today with this utterly gruesome news report (by Adam Nossiter). Readers, how sharp are the American people at Bucky’s Family Restaurant in Columbia, Tennessee? Read this report—and quake. This report gives you reason to tremble.

THEY’VE TUNED IN TO STUPID: John McCain has paraded about of late, insisting that the earth is flat. Lower tax rates produce higher revenues, he has declared. And omigod! In paragraph 23 of this news report, the New York Times’ David Leonhardt screwed up his courage last week. He offered this weak reply:

LEONHARDT (1/26/08): On several occasions over the last year, Mr. McCain has said that tax cuts can reduce the deficit by spurring additional activity that, in turn, leads to more taxes being paid. But numerous studies have found that not to be the case.

We liberals are so hard up—so ready to settle—that some of our most fearless leaders praised this hopelessly weak rebuttal. Did we mention that this cup of weak tea came in Leonhardt’s 23rd paragraph?

Sorry. You don’t need “numerous studies” to show you that the earth isn’t flat—and you don’t need studies to show you the obvious: No one on the face of the earth believes what McCain has been saying. Does President Bush believe such a thing? Of course not! If he believed it, why did he lower the marginal tax rate to 33 percent, and not to 32 instead? No—to 30! To 29! Yes, some “studies” are marginally relevant here; the Washington Post mentioned a few in this excellent editorial on December 1 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/3/07). But we’ll take a guess: Those studies try to determine how much lost revenue is earned back by increased activity after a tax cut (see example below). We doubt that anyone ever conducted a study to see if all the lost revenue gets regained—to see if the earth is flat.

No matter. We liberals accept whatever we’re handed—even last Saturday’s very weak tea. (It appeared in the 23rd paragraph!) Pseudo-conservative talk show crackpots have lied about this matter for decades; as a general matter, the press has agreed to sit and stare, and so has the Democratic Party. And of course, our pre-eminent political philosophers have never stirred themselves to fight back. And so, we saw the following spectacle on the Fox News Channel this past Monday night. Frank Luntz was conducting a focus group after the State of the Union Address. He relayed a question from Alan Colmes—and got two sincere replies:

LUNTZ (128/08): Alan is talking about how the deficit has gone up significantly under this president and the federal debt has gone up significantly and what he’s inferring is that the tax cuts have caused it. Now, let me ask you—and I can see you shaking your head, Michael. Which is more important to you—balancing the budget or tax cuts?

MICHAEL: Tax cuts.

LUNTZ: Why tax cuts?

MICHAEL: Keeping the tax cuts permanent. Because what that does is, that has actually turned more tax revenues to the government.

LUNTZ: Phil?

PHIL: Tax cuts need to be—if you lower the tax rates, it tends to stimulate business and economies and that will increase tax rates [sic], as strange as that sounds.

LUNTZ: And you get the last word...

At least, Phil knew that his statement sounded strange. Indeed, his statement sounds very strange—just as “the earth is flat” does.

For the record, what happened here wasn’t Luntz’s fault. He asked a perfectly straightforward question; Michael and Phil just took things from there. But Republican voters like Michael and Phil have heard this bull-roar for decades now—and they’ve actually come to believe it, even though they know it sounds strange. Yes, Phil could tell that his statement seemed strange. But his sincerity was evident.

What haven’t Michael and Phil heard? They haven’t heard our pre-eminent philosophers telling them what bull-sh*t this is. Nor have they heard any Democrats or liberals—or anyone much at all. They have been played for fools for decades—and Dems and libs and mainstream journalists have pretty much let the whole thing play out. Indeed, when the New York Times offers a weak rebuttal—in the 23rd paragraph—our leaders shouted out their high praise.

WHAT BOB DOLE SAID, FOR EXAMPLE: Do tax cuts “pay for themselves?” Do lower tax rates produce higher revenue? Guess what? As a general matter, no one believes that. In 1996, for example, Candidate Dole proposed a 15 percent cut in income tax rates—and he said he’d earn back 27 percent of the lost revenues through increased economic activity. He didn’t claim that his tax cut would “pay for itself;” instead, his study purported to show that his tax cut would pay for 27 percent of itself. The rest of the lost revenue would just be lost. Here’s Adam Nagourney in the New York Times (8/5/96): “Aides to Mr. Dole offered only sketchy details today on how he would pay for the package. But the aides said $145 billion, or about 27 percent, of the cost of the tax cuts would be covered by new revenue created by the economic growth resulting from the cuts—a figure that the aides put at the conservative end of estimates by economists.”

No one believes what McCain has been saying. Except for Michael and Phil, that is. They heard it from Limbaugh and Hannity—and they heard no “logicians” reply.