Daily Howler logo
WHERE DO FUTURE SENATORS COME FROM! Paul Ryan is very smart, our baboon said. Their baboon said something stronger: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2010

Death by novel: For years, we’ve told you two things. Much of our “news” is really a nove1. And our “journalists” may not be real humans.

Yesterday, a novel appeared on the front page of the Washington Post. It made us wonder about the status of its author, Eli Saslow—who, if recollection serves, has done some good work in the past.

Good God. What consummate crap!

Saslow’s novel concerns the current president—more particularly, the president’s middle-class background. For the record, Saslow was writing the type of profile which turns on brainless “paradoxes” and deeply puzzling pseudo-contradictions. This particular profile would turn on silly “paradoxes” about Obama’s middle-class background. As if to show us where we were going, Saslow weirdly typed this:

SASLOW (2/3/10): [Obama’s] first year in office was defined in part by a paradox. He is a rare president who comes from the middle class, yet people still perceive him as disconnected from it.

Huh? It would be a stretch to say that President Kennedy “came from the middle class.” But Truman and Eisenhower certainly did, and after Kennedy, haven’t most presidents come from some pocket of this broad class? Even George W. Bush attended the Midland, Texas public schools through the seventh grade, after all. Is it really “rare” to have a president “come from the middle class?”
Warning: Saslow’s piece is really a novel! But good God! Just peruse this pitiful chunk, which came early on:

SASLOW: Obama's two sides

During his recent tour of blue-collar towns, factories and burger joints, Obama has tried to reconcile two pieces of his reputation. He turned down high-paying jobs after graduating from Harvard Law School and became a community organizer, compelled by the experience of growing up with a single mother who sometimes lived on food stamps. He married a woman from a working-class family on the South Side of Chicago, and they rented a walk-up condominium in Hyde Park.

But during his campaign for the presidency, Obama bungled some of his early attempts to connect with blue-collar workers, complaining about the price of arugula at Whole Foods and visiting a bowling alley only to roll an embarrassing score of 37. Some political rivals continue to disparage him as an elitist. Even his aides have sometimes worried that his intellect can be mistaken for condescension and that his composure can seem like detachment.

Those shortcomings were evident last month when Obama invited the two previous presidents to join him at the White House for a news conference about the U.S. relief effort in Haiti. George W. Bush was simple and frank: "Just send us your cash," he said. Bill Clinton spoke without notes and verged on tears as he recalled his personal connection to the devastated country: "I have no words to say what I feel," he said. "I had meals with people who are dead." Obama, meanwhile, spoke from prepared notes, looking all business, glancing to his left and to his right to establish eye contact while standing with perfect posture behind the lectern.

Did a human being write that? Are Saslow’s editors human?

First, Saslow’s chronology seems a bit wrong. After Obama graduated from Harvard Law School, he did spend six months directing a major voter registration drive in Chicago. But he was also writing the memoir, Dreams From My Father, for which he already had a contract, and he was already mixing and mingling, in serious ways, with upper-end Chicago. (There’s nothing wrong with that.) More conventionally, Obama’s period of selfless community organizing is pictured occurring before Harvard Law, after he graduated from Columbia. (This was a three-year period.) For purposes of Saslow’s novel, the story works better this other way. But the chronology does seem a bit wrong.

That said, Saslow’s account of Obama’s marriage is just a flagrant novel. Did Barack Obama marry “a woman from a working-class family on the South Side of Chicago?” In a sense. But he also married a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School who, at age 25, when she met her future husband, was already making around $65,000 per year (in the late 1980s) working for Sidley & Austin, a very high-end corporate law firm. (Obama met her because he spent his first summer during law school working at that same firm.) Her brother, also a Princeton graduate, was apparently making very big swag on Wall Street at this time, working for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. (Later, he left Wall Street to coach college basketball. To read Liza Mundy’s less-novelized account of these years, just click here.)

Saslow’s account of “who he married” is a novel—a silly novel—and it’s little else.

And sure enough! The next stop on this sub-human ride takes us through familiar terrain: Arugula and bowling scores and then Obama’s “perfect posture!” Somehow, Obama’s posture at a press event is supposed to distinguish him from Presidents Clinton and Bush, who are, apparently, more middle-class in appearance than he due to the way they slouch. But then, posture has always been useful in this cohort’s sometimes-destructive novels. Who can forget the novel Ceci Connolly typed, way back when, when Candidate Gore’s stiff posture marked him as different from President Clinton? Paradoxes—sorry, “contrasts”—were central this day too:

CONNOLLY (5/26/99): In an effusive introduction at a White House conference on "empowerment zones," Clinton said Gore—"more than any single person in the United States"—deserved the credit for reviving America's inner cities and depressed rural areas.

But the body language between the empathetic president and his ramrod stiff deputy suggested a curious awkwardness.

[...]

With the giant seals of their respective offices hanging on a blue curtain behind them, Clinton and Gore were a study in contrasts.

To the strains of "Hail to the Chief," Clinton strode on stage, waved to the crowd and draped his arm over the shoulders of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. Gore, meanwhile, stood erect on the other side of the stage briefly waving.

During Clinton's introduction, Gore studied his note cards and gazed out at the group of community leaders gathered at the University of Texas-Pan American. When it was Gore's time to speak, Clinton patted the vice president on the back; then, from his seat, waved and grinned at familiar faces in the gymnasium. About 30 minutes into Gore's address, Glickman fiddled with something in his pocket and Cuomo reached for a mint.

Cuomo even reached for a mint! All through this lengthy piece, Connolly struggled, stretched and strained to let us know that Gore had been boring. And please observe: Even back then, speaking from notes (in this case, “note cards”) was a big problem too. In Saslow’s novel, Obama spoke from notes. So did Gore, back then!

Connolly’s piece was close to insane, though it drove an obvious point about the deeply troubling person against whom she had marched off to war. But that particular piece turned on Gore’s ramrod stiff posture! Saslow’s piece is less awful, but it points to a cultural problem:

At present, we are an exceptionally low-IQ nation, with an exceptionally low-IQ political culture. Much of this destructive problem traces back to the programming found within this “mainstream press corps.”

It’s hard to believe that human beings can really type such low-IQ drek. But Saslow wrote a silly novel this week—and the Post took it straight to page one.

Special report: Dumb like us!

PART 4—WHERE DO FUTURE SENATORS COME FROM (permalink): Paul Ryan is a major up-and-comer in Republican politics. Last Friday, he made a striking presentation, then asked Obama a question. Cable’s “three tenors” —the MSNBC cheerleading team—offered two dueling reactions.

On the one hand, KO and Maddow turned cartwheels and flips, insisting that our team’s star quarterback had left poor Ryan face-down in the dust. “This is what it is like to be in the room with the president of the United States,” the ludicrous Olbermann marveled. “You pick your topic, and are left wondering whether or not you know as much about it as he does.”

Maddow megaphoned the exchange the same way, channeling what Obama had said. “You’ve brought a pet issue here, congressman,” she imagined him saying. “Let me tell you 400,000 things about it, and invite you to continue the discussion with me later.”

Neither Olbermann nor Maddow made the slightest attempt to discuss the substance of what had been said. They simply performed their corporate duties. Gimme an O, they both cried.

Chris Matthews took a different approach, one we’ll focus on today. First, he did a bit of cheerleading himself. (“I think this president’s sort of mix of charm, poetry and prose is pretty impressive, because he can be witty.”) But then, he noted a fairly obvious fact: Obama hadn’t actually answered Ryan’s specific question, his 84 percent allegation (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/3/10). And Matthews spoke in praise of Ryan, an up-and-comer in GOP politics. “I think that guy, Ryan, is pretty smart,” Matthews dumbly said. “I think he did ask a good question. Why has spending gone up on your watch and now you’re freezing it?”

Ryan’s brilliance was vouched for once again. Neither Rachel nor KO said squat. But then, this is the way careers get made in our deeply pitiful politics. More specifically, this is the way senate seats change hands.

Is Ryan really a “pretty smart guy?” (Amazingly, on Friday’s Hardball, Matthews didn’t even seem to know who Ryan was.) Did he really ask a good question? For ourselves, we’ll guess that his presentation was bogus—his 84 percent allegation. But people! So what? Since Friday, Ryan’s 84 percent allegation has gone all round the world:

Tape of Ryan’s presentation has been played on NPR’s Talk of the Nation—with no attempt to fact-check his claims. On Fox News Sunday, Ryan made his presentation again, in person—and two major Democrats sat and watched, without offering a peep of factual challenge (Evan Bayh, Chris Van Hollen). Jacob Sullum has authored a nationally syndicated column (Creators Syndicate) which repeats Ryan’s 84 percent allegation. At least three Republican members of Congress have sent our press releases affirming the 84 percent allegation—and those are just the three who have posted their press releases in the Nexis archives.

Most significant is an exchange from the panel portion of last Friday’s Special Report, on Fox. Host Bret Baier played tape of Ryan’s exchange with Obama, showing Ryan as he made his 84 percent allegation. In response, Steve Hayes turned a couple of cartwheels in praise of Ryan’s brilliance. (Kirsten Powers sat and said nothing, as Bayh and Van Hollen would do two days later.) Then, just a few minutes later, Hayes told the truth about the way our politics works. Having praised Ryan’s obvious brilliance, he sketched his future career:

HAYES (1/29/10): One, the president was very smart not to get in the debate about budget specifics with Paul Ryan because very few people know it, the budget, better than Paul Ryan does.

Ryan's overall point was that the president when he is talking about this spending freeze, in effect what he has done is taken money from the stimulus, because we have money that's sitting there that's been allocated from stimulus in 2011, 2012, 2013 that raises the discretionary spending levels.

By freezing at its previous levels, he has already accomplished what he would do if he didn't have this freeze at all. I think it's a budget gimmick.

[...]

HAYES: I would say Paul Ryan [would be the strongest Republican candidate against Obama in 2012]. He has done a lot of things that seem to be preparing him for a national run. He is a House member from Wisconsin. People assume that he is going to run for the Senate against Herb Kohl or if it's an open seat.

He is extraordinarily knowledgeable. He is something of a policy wonk. He has been giving foreign policy speeches. He endorsed Marco Rubio in Florida. He has taken a trip to raise money in New Hampshire. He's doing sort of the kinds of things that you would do if you were planning to run for president.

Quickly, note a significant fact. Note that Hayes did not affirm Ryan’s 84 percent allegation. He only praised Ryan’s “overall point”—perhaps because he knew or suspected that Ryan’s specific allegation was hogwash.

That said, will Ryan actually run for president? We have no idea. But Ryan’s exchange with Obama massively helped grease the skids for him to take Kohl’s senate seat. After all, he’s “extraordinarily knowledgeable!” Or, as the ludicrous Matthews put it, without a peep from KO or Rachel: “That guy, Ryan, is pretty smart. I think he did ask a good question.”

Can we talk? While all this stage-setting for Ryan was happening, three millionaire chimps on MSNBC minced, fooled, tumbled, led cheers and clowned. None of them made the slightest attempt to evaluate what Ryan had said—his 84 percent allegation, the allegation to which Obama had in fact failed to respond.

Long story short: Ryan’s claim is spreading out through the ether—and so is talk of his greatness. And by the way: According to these cable ratings, 2.45 million people heard Hayes Friday night as he praised Ryan for his vast genius. A few hours later, only 1.31 million people were watching MSNBC as KO and Rachel did their hand-stands. And of course, even those viewers heard Matthews say what a smart fellow this young Ryan was, without a word of contradiction from either Rachel or KO.

First simple story: Ryan is being praised for his genius. He’s being pimped to run for the White House. More significantly, he’s being pimped to take that senate seat

Second simple story: Ryan’s presentation—his 84 percent allegation—has been making its way through the ether. Using Nexis, we can find no sign that any news org has ever fact-checked his allegation. This includes the silly baboons who led cheers for your team that night.

This leads us to ask a few questions about the state of reality:

Did Ryan “ask a very good question?” Is Paul Ryan “very smart?” Was Obama “very smart not to get in the debate about budget specifics with Paul Ryan?” Is Paul Ryan “extraordinarily knowledgeable?” We’ve seen no news org make any attempt to fact-check his 84 percent allegation—although, for various reasons (more tomorrow), it strikes us as absurd on its face.

But did Ryan ask a good question? This is what happened in the House Budget Committee on Tuesday, when someone finally asked. Was Ryan’s ballyhooed presentation accurate? John Yarmuth asked one last question:

REP. JOHN YARMUTH, D-KY (2/2/10): One last question. It may have been answered here, but I don't recall it. Some of our colleagues over the weekend were talking about the fact, making the claim that terms of, terms of non-security discretionary income, that we raised it 84 percent on one year. Would you respond to that and speculate on maybe how they got that number and whether there's— Well, just comment on that claim, please.

PETER ORSZAG, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND THE BUDGET: Sure. It's not an accurate depiction of the base off of which we are freezing non-security discretionary spending. What happened is that category of spending went from just north of $400 billion in 2008 to just south of $700 billion in 2009 because of the Recovery Act and because of the measures that were necessary to try to mitigate the economic downturn. In 2010, it then declined to roughly $450 billion, a little bit south of that. We are freezing off of that lower level. So it went up, came down. We're freezing off of the lower level. The claim that we're freezing off of that higher level is simply wrong.

YARMUTH: OK, I appreciate that explanation. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

According to Orszag, domestic discretionary spending was a bit more than $400 billion in fiscal year 2008. It’s a bit less than $450 billion in fiscal year 2010. The freeze will occur at that level. At that level, such spending has increased maybe 10-12 percent over a span of two years.

Is Orszag’s presentation correct? Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea. Orszag is an interested party too—and according to Nexis, no one at any news organization has fact-checked Ryan’s claim. But this is precisely the way our politics has worked for several decades now. The three baboons on MSNBC were simply extending a culture.

And of course, they were stuffing millions of dollars into their over-stuffed pants.

Just a guess: No one gained from Friday’s session quite the way Ryan did. Tomorrow, we’ll take a guess at the reason why Hayes didn’t praise his specific presentation—his 84 percent allegation. Beyond that, we’ll show you more of what Fox viewers have heard about this spending freeze in the past week. For ourselves, we will guess that Ryan’s claim was wildly inaccurate—wildly misleading, presumably something less than honest. But so what? NPR played tape of the presentation without a word of analysis or comment. Even on our “progressive” channel, viewers heard a large baboon saying how smart Ryan is.