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WITH A WHIMPER! Your country is dying, Krugman warns. KO keeps driving the process: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2010

Shoveling is powerful: Heroically, a 7-11 not far from here stayed open this weekend, even on Saturday. What we’ve learned from this weekend’s storm: 30 inches of snow is a great excuse to purchase a hot dog each day.

Sadly, life has begun to return to something on the fringe of near-normal. For the past two days, with threats of new storms bruited, it was hard not to think of The Long Winter, volume 6 in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s prairie memoir—her account of the semi-famous South Dakota winter of 1880-1881.

(“Flat out on the western plain,” as the recently-passed Kate McGarrigle sang, on what may be the best album we ever heard.)

We strongly recommend The Long Winter, and Wilder’s other books. Of course, They never heard of a 7-11! Throughout the course of her nine volumes, it’s a point Wilder just never drops.

WITH A WHIMPER (permalink): Is our nation dying before our eyes? Here’s the start of Paul Krugman’s new column, complete with its gulp-worthy headline:

KRUGMAN (2/8/10): America Is Not Yet Lost

We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic.

What we’re getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we’re paralyzed by procedure. Instead of re-enacting the decline and fall of Rome, we’re re-enacting the dissolution of 18th-century Poland.

A brief history lesson: In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.

Today, the U.S. Senate seems determined to make the Sejm look good by comparison.

America’s downfall is playing out as a deadly farce, Krugman says. Krugman refers to ways in which your nation stands “paralyzed by procedure.” But we’re also paralyzed by sheer inanity. We’ve been paralyzed by sheer inanity for several decades now.

Will it help if our side becomes inane? This is the way Keith Olbermann started Friday night’s latest embarrassment. There are words for this sort of thing: Silly, inane, not accurate:

OLBERMANN (2/5/10): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The jig is up for Sarah Palin: 1200 official State of Alaska e-mails reveal her husband is almost co-governor, reveal she coached her staff on how to disguise the amount of electrical work needed at the governor’s mansion to hook up her tanning bed.

[...]

Good evening from New York. Politicians who pad their expense accounts, who will look for ways to bill taxpayers for private airline flights taken by their relatives, maybe even for the electrical work needed to hook up their tanning beds. And there are the lawmakers who tried to thwart transparency by withholding information or when they finally do release it, by redacting pages upon pages of it from public scrutiny. Supposedly, these are the kind of public officials that the tea party members are fighting against.

Yet tomorrow night, a former governor, matching that exact description is to deliver the keynote address at the first national tea party convention in Nashville. Perhaps by then, convention organizers will have found an American flag somewhere in the convention hall, literally found one—they opened proceedings without one. And then she could use it to drape herself in it.

For now, the former governor of Alaska drowning in nearly 3,000 pages of newly released e-mails revealing just how closely entwined her family’s finances were with state finances. And revealing that her husband, self-proclaimed first dude, Todd Palin, having been actively involved in a wide range of state business. The e-mails released exclusively to MSNBC under the public records law and in them, Governor Palin stewing over a state agency’s refusal to provide a private plane so that her children could fly to Todd Palin’s family home in Dillingham, Alaska. The governor calling the agency’s decision “really outrageous.”

Governor Palin’s event manager charged with finding a public event, any event, “I just need one,” to use as a justification to charge the state for an airline flight taken by her daughter, Willow, who made a trip with the family but failed to attend the public event on the governor’s schedule. Governor Palin coaching her staff on how to keep quiet on the amount of electrical work needed at the governor`s mansion to hook up her new tanning bed at a cost of $3,252 to Alaska taxpayers.

It would be hard to describe the degree of inanity driving those highlighted passages.

“Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?” No one is talking about these stories, because very few people in this country are anywhere near as inane as Olbermann has become. The Anchorage Daily News, no fan of Palin, hasn’t even wasted its time with the ridiculous tanning bed/airline flight e-mail stories—stories which led Olbermann to announce that “the jig is up” for Palin.

But sadly, the jig isn’t up for Palin. And she won’t be defeated this way. (We withdraw our earlier, unwise prediction—predictions almost always are—in which we said there was simply no way she could ever become president.)

How silly are Olbermann’sscreeching claims? As best we can tell, they aren’t being talked about at TPM. They aren’t being talked about by Steve Benen. They aren’t being talked about by Digby. And, of course, they aren’t being talked about anywhere in the actual press corps—except by Ceci Connolly, the greatest embarrassment of the past decade! By now, they’ve even buried this embarrassing headless turkey over at MSNBC’s web site, where the nonsense started.

Might we suggest a reason? These stories aren’t being talked about because they’re baldly inane. Because several of the things Olbermann says in those highlighted passages simply aren’t truthful or accurate.

Make no mistake: During the Clinton/Gore era, stories of equal inanity were widely, endlessly used to batter and defeat Big Democrats. Alas! We ourselves just spent the weekend (when we weren’t shoveling) re-researching the way a certain (inaccurate) claim finally emerged in 1999, rewarding eleven years of Republican effort: Al Gore grew up at the Ritz Carlton! Needless to say, Maureen Dowd played a key role in the process, way back in July 1992. (In this case, she even seems to have plagiarized her mewing, inaccurate quips.)

Inanity was used against Clinton, then Gore. Inane claims were adopted all over the pres corps; inane topics were discussed by the mainstream press corps for years. But people! The press corps will not adopt our side’s inane claims (nor should progressives want that). And your country will simply cease to exist if this process of dumbing-down continues much longer.

Could your country (essentially) cease to exist? If you don’t think so, read Krugman.

Please don’t make us waste our time walking through the inanity of Olbermann’s opening, or his later discussion with Richard Wolffe, puppet to the stars. Don’t make us detail his flat misstatements. You can track the whole mess from this pitiful report by MSNBC’s “investigative reporter,” Bill Dedman. You can click on Dedman’s links to read the e-mails which fueled his claims about the tanning bed and the airplane flight. After reading those e-mails, see if you have any idea where Dedman’s claims came from—or Olbermann’s. See if you have any idea how either one of these guys ever got a job in journalism.

Your nation is dying, Krugman said. He said it’s dying from broken procedures. But your nation has been also dying, for decades, from the disease of inanity. By at least the 1990s, this disease had spread from the talk-radio world and the RNC into the world of the “mainstream press.” In unison, pundits agreed to shriek ludicrous claims about flatly ridiculous topics.

Now, young liberals hear a big nut do the same thing many nights. But in fact, no one is talking about his stories—and it’s good that his stories don’t thrive.

If you are talking about Friday night’s stories, you’re talking to yourself.

Sorry. You just can’t build a progressive politics by selling bull crap like this to young liberals. To defeat Palin and Palinism, we’ll actually have to do a hard thing: We’ll actually have to build and promote a winning progressive politics. Olbermann and his puppet-boy Wolffe will never be up to any such task. In the place of developing actual politics, these well-trained ad salesmen invent inane claims—shriek, clatter, mislead and howl.

As Krugman says, this is the way a nation may end: Not with a bang—with something “grand”—but with an inane, silly whimper.