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Print view: Last night, Ed Schultz took his turn
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KASICH SAYS IT AGAIN! Last night, Ed Schultz took his turn: // link // print // previous // next //

The dumbness of the whale: The dumbness of elite American political culture only seems to grow. This dumbness is constantly put on display in the Washington Post, one of the principal organs of our modern elites.

This morning, to cite one example, Mark Penn offers a fiscal path “to the center” on the Post’s op-ed page. Penn’s proposal is stunningly unintelligent, from its goal (a balanced budget within five years) right down to its specific prescriptions.

How to get rid of our massive annual deficits? Incredibly, Penn actually wrote the passage which follows—and the Post actually published it:

PENN (2/1/11): The biggest issue facing the government is the $1.5 trillion deficit. No one has been able to find a real centrist solution since the Clinton budget deal; we have ping-ponged from too much spending to too much tax-cutting to both. Here, Obama has to aim for nothing less than a balanced budget in five years. The only way is to reach a compromise on Social Security, Medicare and defense spending, along with some cuts in current spending that the president would rather avoid. But the budget outlook is so far out of whack that this problem can no longer be tackled with step-by-step actions.

Next, the president should consider personal income tax reform that mirrors his proposals on corporate reform. One idea would be to lower all rates by looking at all types of income more or less equally. Currently, capital formation is favored far above labor, which builds in massive disincentives for hiring workers. Equalizing different forms of income is one way to tilt the scales back to encouraging work as much as investing, as long as overall income tax rates were lowered. This would be radical, bold and as big as anything Ronald Reagan did to spark the economy.

That was Penn’s complete prescription regarding the budget. How would he achieve balance within five years? He would enact all sorts of spending cuts—and he would reduce all income tax rates! He doesn’t even mention the possibility of increasing tax rates on any type of income—or the possibility of eliminating any tax loopholes as he lowers those income tax rates.

Assuming good faith, that passage is the work of a dunce; the Washington Post couldn’t tell. But the dumbness of the modern whale is unyielding, vast, all-consuming. The massive dumbness of our political culture is one of its key defining features—has been for a good long time. (Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Al Gore said he inspired Love Story!) Progressives make a massive mistake when they fail to confront it by name.

The dumbness of the whale is vast; it manifests itself in various ways. And this dumbness—this massive, low-IQ incomprehension—is different from such handmaidens as “bias” or simple “bad politics.”

How about another example?

Whatever else it might have been, Kathleen Parker’s column in Sunday’s Post was just massively dumb. Here’s the way the reigning Pulitzer-winner started an exceptionally unintelligent rumination, in which she complained about Obama’s failure to say a magic word during his State of the Union:

PARKER (1/30/11): He didn't say it. That word: "exceptional." Barack Obama described an exceptional nation in his State of the Union address, but he studiously avoided using the word conservatives long to hear.

It's a funny thing, this focus on a single word that isn't much heard from this president but that tumbles so easily—and adamantly—from the lips of Republican contenders for his title.

We're going to be hearing it a lot in the coming months as Republicans try to out-exceptionalize each other for the presidential nomination. Exhausted already?

The exceptional issue may be political, but it isn't only that. The idea lies smack at the heart of how Americans view themselves, and the role of government in their lives and in the broader world. Is America exceptional or isn't she? Is there something about this country that makes us unique in the world?

Parker plays it several ways in that passage, as she does throughout this column. On the one hand, she suggests that Republicans are playing a silly game as they “try to out-exceptionalize each other.” But despite that observation, she’s troubled that Obama didn’t say “exceptional” during last week’s address! Floundering thusly, she quickly finds herself asking a very dumb question:

Is America exceptional or isn't she? Is there something about this country that makes us unique in the world?

How dumb can American discourse be? Obviously, there is “something” about every country which “makes it unique in the world.” Surely, that can’t be what Republicans mean when they “try to out-exceptionalize each other.” But Parker had produced this puddle by her fourth paragraph, and things went downhill from there.

Last year, Parker was chosen by the Pulitzer hacks as our top opinion journalist!

What a conundrum! We the people rarely know any facts; our reigning journalistic elite is often transcendingly dumb. A modern nation can’t function this way. Citizenship demands a lot more.

Why don’t more progressives say this? Is the current system, in which we wink at The Dumb, perhaps working for us and our “leaders” too?

Parker’s next question: Parker’s column was stunningly dumb. Soon, she was advancing a second question, drawn from a recent poll:

PARKER (continuing directly): Of course there is, and Obama has frequently acknowledged those things, including in the State of the Union. But he seems to avoid the word because, among other possible reasons, it is fraught with layers of meaning and because, to some minds, there's always the possibility he doesn't quite believe it. A December poll (USA Today-Gallup) found that 37 percent of Americans don't think Obama believes that the "U.S. has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world."

There you see a second question. It too is massively dumb, the product of very weak minds:

Does the U.S. have a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world?

Is the United States “the greatest country in the world?” This question is stunningly vague; it’s useful for very little aside from generating fist fights and blather. What criteria do we use for making such an amorphous judgment? For example: Finland outscores us in international testing; beyond that, Finland provides universal health care for about one-third the cost, per person, of health care in this country. Does that make Finland the world’s greatest country?

Questions like this make no actual sense. In a rational world, it would fall to intellectual leaders—including Pulitzer winners—to note such obvious facts.

Parker’s column was hopeless in other ways. Understating the problem, Greg Sargent notes one—just click here.

KASICH SAYS IT AGAIN (permalink): Big Ed Schultz was storming and fuming, dumbing us liberals down to the ground and making a chew-toy of race. Big Eddie played several race games last night. But check out the highlighted passage:

SCHULTZ (1/31/11): Welcome back to the Ed Show. Now this hasn’t happened since 1962, but Republican John Kasich of Ohio is using history as his governing guide. He is on track to become the first Ohio governor in nearly a half century to appoint an all-white cabinet. And in the battleground story tonight, when approached about his administration’s lack of diversity, Kasich tells an African-American state senator, quote, “I don’t need your people.”


The problem is Kasich already has a track record in dealing with this kind of stuff. This is the same guy who signed a resolution honoring Martin Luther King on St. Patrick’s Day. This is the same guy who skipped an event in memory of Dr. King, angering many of the state’s minority leaders. And he’s only been in office for 22 days.

Big Eddie was pimping four separate charges in his heartfelt rant. We invite you to ponder the third. Governor Kasich “is the same guy who signed a resolution honoring Martin Luther King on St. Patrick’s Day,” this big dumb block of peckerwood said. Miraculously, Kasich had somehow accomplished this outrage even though “he’s only been in office for 22 days!”

It just can’t get dumber than that.

As we noted yesterday, this charge about Kasich’s King Day proclamation is about as dumb as human life gets. Here’s what happened: At the top of Kasich’s official King Day proclamation, someone listed the date as “March 17” instead of “January 17.” The error was quickly corrected.

Back on January 19, even Steve Benen managed to say that “this was obviously an unfortunate clerical error” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/31/11). But by last weekend, Steve was playing us liberals for fools, pretending that this was an actual racial offense. By last night, Big Eddie was playing us too, as this big block of petrified dumb has done many times in the past.

Question: When you see Big Eddie add that sh*t to his list of charges, do you think he’s really sincere about anything he says on this topic?

Should Kasich have minorities in his cabinet? The Republican Party is heavily white; we can’t say we’re astonished or outraged by the situation as it exists. For the record, Kasich says he offered two cabinet posts to blacks, and was turned down. His interim director of Job and Family Services, a cabinet post, is black.

Last night, Big Eddie’s disturbance centered on a short comment which has been attributed to Kasich. (“I don’t need your people.” See above.) As everyone and his pet rock knows, it’s tricky to build a serious critique around a short reported comment—a comment for which there is no tape or transcript to review. Even Benen mentioned this problem in yesterday’s post, before ignoring his own words of caution. But Big Eddie was playing the fool last night—and he was playing it hard.

Should Kasich have a diverse cabinet? How diverse should his cabinet be? (Big Eddie scolded Kasich for rejecting “quotas,” while forgetting to note that one Ohio state legislator has said his cabinet should be 12.1 percent black, just like the state’s population.) However you might answer those questions, answer our question about Ed Schultz: When a big block of dumb plays the St. Patrick’s card, what does it tell us about his sincerity? What does it tell us about the way such people will toy with race, while shoveling big bucks in their pockets?

This conduct fuels a culture war. When needless culture war splits Us from Them, the plutocrats win—every time.

The problem with short reported comments: Jay Silberman served on the DC board of education from 1991 through 1998. This Sunday, he wrote a letter to the Washington Post, complaining about the way a comment by new mayor Vincent Gray has been, in his view, misreported.

Mayor Gray made the comment in question during a public discussion with Silberman. According to Silberman, a Post reporter completely ignored the context in reporting what Gray said, thus distorting his meaning. How could such a thing have occurred? As part of a long discussion, Silberman offered this possibility:

SILBERMAN (1/30/11): That context was not provided. Instead, readers were told that the mayor's comment constituted a "clash with a core tenet of [Michelle] Rhee and her successor, Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson: that excellent teachers can help children thrive academically, regardless of the students' economic or social backgrounds." But the mayor said nothing to even suggest that he did not advocate excellence in teaching, and I find it hard to comprehend how such an inference could have been drawn—unless someone wanted mainly to fan flames or provoke controversy.

Silberman suggested that Gray’s comment was being used “mainly to fan flames or provoke controversy.” Of course, this sort of thing occurs quite often when people spin short, reported comments—comments for which there is no tape or transcript to check.

For ourselves, it’s hard to judge what Mayor Gray said. There is no tape or transcript!

Hacks can play such comments however they please. After playing the fool on St. Patrick’s Day, did Big Eddie do that last night?