WHAT EZRA SAID! Bookstores offer titles for dummies. Our press corps should work the same way: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2010
A sanctified solons escape: Last week, we incomparably wondered if the mainstream press would ever address Saint McCains recent flips (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/3/10). This morning, we get our answer in a front-page report in the New York Times.
For our money, the Times has said no.
Jennifer Steinhauer wrote the piece. Wed say its rather soft on McCain, who is well known as the most honest man of at least the past fifty years. In a piece which runs 1200 words, this is the extent of Steinhauers exploration of the sanctified solons flips:
Headline in our hard-copy Times: From Right of Radio Dial, a McCain Challenge.
This isnt the sort of fawning, super-flattering piece which was bestowed on this saint for so long. McCain is moving awkwardly to the right, were allowed to hearand in the paragraph which follows, Steinhauer lists four examples of recent pivots. But in a 1200-word piece, thats the extent of her examination of McCains many changes in stance. She makes no attempt to ask McCain, or his spokespeople, why this great saint has made these flips. She doesnt even mention his most striking fliphis recent vote against a deficit-commission bill, a bill he himself had co-sponsored.
In fairness, we think Steinhauer overstates the degree of McCains alleged flip on gays in the military. But this article passes quickly and lightly over this sanctified saints many reversals, including flips on issues which have been central to his political profile. For our money, Steinhauer snarks more at J. D. Hayworth, Saint McCains overweight challengerthough here too, she fails to mention Hayworths continued clowning about such dreck as Obamas place of birth.
(Hayworth played the fool on this topic just two weeks ago, as Chris Matthews rolled over and died. Steinhauer rolls over too. She interviewed Hayworth over lunch, but forgot to ask him about this.)
For many years, the mainstream press made a sanctified saint of McCain. Every quiver and twitch, no matter how pointless, proved the mans vast moral greatness. They kept this up for year after year, showing their skill with a silly Group Novel. In a slightly different environment, their years of pimping for this greatest of men might have tipped the 2008 election.
This was, of course, the press corps fault, though McCain of course fed the beast. (More the most part, he fed them free donuts.)
For years, McCain was the worlds straightest-talking straight-shooter, a man of astonishing moral probity. This novelized tale never made any sense. Now, as the tale falls apart in plain sight, our scribes keep forgetting they told it.
Milbank wept: In this silly profile in Sundays Post, Dana Milbank weeps, boo-hoos, sniffles and cries about the loss of the man he so loved.
I miss John McCain, the silly-bill cries. Before long, he describes himself as an original McCainiac. (Did Milbanks editors know that along the way? Were his readers warned of his status?) In the end, Milbank dares to imagine that the old McCain, the sanctified saint, may yet rejoin the fight. The suggestion that Milbank himself was engaged in some fight, if only by sympathy, is of course completely absurd. Right to the end, Milbank avoids the obvious truth: People like him got conned by McCain, a process they very much loved.
PART 1WHAT EZRA SAID (permalink): What should the federal government do in the face of a recession? Most web liberals could answer that question, in perfectly reasonable ways. Two Sundays ago, in the time when there was still pavement, Ezra Klein explained the (familiar) idea in a front-page piece in the Washington Posts Business section.
In this passage, Klein describes what the Obama Administration was trying to do with its stimulus package. The stimulus was Keynesian economics in practice, Ezra correctly said:
In a recession, individuals and businesses tend to stop spending. This produces a self-propelling downward spiral; to overcome this vicious cycle, government should step in and spend more. Almost everyone understands this theorya theory which is generally referred to as Keynesian. Welleveryone understands it except the public, as Ezra quickly noted. In the process, he noted the way Obama bowed to widely-held, bad economic theory with his recent proposed spending freeze:
According to Ezra, college students learn about counter-cyclical spending in the first week of September. But alas! Unless youve been taught about these ideas, counter-cyclical spending tends to be counter-intuitive, he says. (He uses the word unintuitive.) Result? When Obama approached the American public with his Keynesian theory, this counter-intuitive idea idea proved almost impossible to explain. Eventually, Obama rolled over and died, offering an intuition-friendly tighten our belts analogy which is, in truth, lousy economics.
For ourselves, wed ten to disagree with Ezra about Obamas efforts at explanation. Ezra make it sound like Obama struggled mightily, for a year, to explain this theory, then at last gave up. We havent gone back and studied the record, but we dont think wed likely second that assessment. But we were most struck, as we read this piece, by that image from college days.
College students learn about Keynesian counter-cyclical spending in the first week of class, Ezra sayseven though the theory is counter-intuitive. But because this theory is counter-intuitive, the bulk of the public never really got the idea, all through the last brutal year. And earlier in his piece, Ezra described a second basic point on which the public never got clear. In essence, the deficit problem is a function of health-care spending. That statement is basically accurate too. But here too, Ezra says the public never quite got it.
In fact, we the people are almost always vastly un- and under-informed. Though newspapers tend to avoid this topic, every public information survey shows it: When it comes to basic facts and elementary theories, we the people rarely are rarely clear on what is going on.
Why are we constantly under-informed? We can think of many reasons. Most of us never went to college, so we never experience the glorious week in September Ezra recalls in his piece. Instead, people get and up and to work in the morning, where they arent handed much economic theory or news.
It continues: When we access mainstream news organs, we rarely encounter work which explains the basic things we simply dont understand or know. And when we turn to partisan sources, were handed simple, pleasing stories which often happen to be untrue. For example: This country is currently full of people who know that Obama performed that freeze on domestic discretionary spending only after he had increased such spending by 84 percent. Presumably, this thing those people know is untrue. But theyve have heard this story in many placesand its been contradicted nowhere.
College kids know it after a week. The bulk of us rubes never know it at all. As we read Ezras piece, we thought that construct was striking. It helps define the broken way our public discourse fails to work. All week long, well discuss the problem Ezra discussed that piece.
In bookstores, we see lots of books written expressly for us dummies. Our view? We badly need a mainstream pressand a progressive politicswhich approaches the news the same way.