DUMMIES LIKE US! Most of us are dummies too. How do we get like that? // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2010
Promoting Senator Ryan: The rise of Senator/President Ryan continues apace in Michael Gersons new column. Poor Ryan has been attacked, Gerson says. After that, in a bit of a swoon, Gerson offers this:
Ryan is shockingly sincere, Gerson writes. Hes among the Democrats greatest long-term threats. But is the likable fellow competent? Can his factual statements be trusted? Does he actually know what hes doing? On January 29, Ryan made a presentation to Obamaan 84 percent allegationwhich got a ton of attention (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/4/10). But was his presentation accurate? Checking again on Nexis today, we see no sign that any news org has ever fact-checked Ryans claim.
Last week, in the wake of his presentation, we were told that Ryan is very smart (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/5/10). We were told he should possibly run for president, though hell surely become a senator. Today, were told that he crackles with ideas. The gentleman is aggressively likable. He has a Kemp-like appeal.
This is the way Group Novels start. But was Ryans presentation accuratethe one which garnered so much attention?
In the novelized world of Americas press, questions like that dont arise.
Kemp in the comedy zone: We always thought Kemp was likable too. In the 1990s, for example, he didnt play the aggressively negative, name-calling/scandal-mongering games which had come to dominate anti-Dem politics. That said, we occasionally told a joke about Kemp back in the comedy days. (Well, maybe once or twice.) It turned on a puzzling idea: The smartest guy in the GOP had to leave his previous job because hed suffered too many concussions!
Same idea with Senator Ryan! He made a striking 84 percent allegation. His allegation got lots of attention; conservatives showered him with praise. But was his allegation accurate? Within Americas broken press culture, questions like that dont arise.
PART 2DUMMIES LIKE US (permalink): Just a guess: The bulk of us, the American people, couldnt really explain the terms Keynes or Keynesian. To the extent that weve heard these terms, many of us have heard them in passing, as Keynesianism is met with derision on a conservative talk show. If someone conducted an information survey and asked random people what those terms mean, most of us would end up saying that we pretty much dont rightly know.
That brings us back to Ezra Kleins interesting observation (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/10). Back in the time when pavement could still be seen in this country, Ezra wrote a piece in the Washington Post in which he correctly explained that Obamas stimulus package was Keynesian economics in practice. Then, he described a remarkable situation:
College kids learn about Keynesian economics in the first week of class in September, Ezra said. But in the last year, for all his trying, President Obama couldnt explain it to us:
College kids learn it in the first week. But when delivered to us, the American people, it proved almost impossible to explain
Were not sure wed agree with Ezras portrait of Obamas year-long efforts. For our money, Obama didnt try nearly hard enough, in the past year, to sit down in a fireside setting and explain our remarkable economic circumstances to us, the American people. But almost surely, most people really dont understand the principles of Keynesian counter-cyclical spending. As Ezra noted, the basic idea is counter-intuitive. And can we talk? Most people never took the class which included that helpful first week.
(For the record: Familiarity with Keynesian theory doesnt necessarily compel belief in its tenets.)
Simple story: We the people often come up short in the matter of intellectual capital. Every information survey shows it; we rarely know the basic facts about the biggest public issues. We may not understand the basic theories which drive a great deal of public debate. But then, its very hard to be well informed, even for those of us who try to follow the news very closely. In our polarized political and journalistic cultures, we can always accept the narratives churned out by well-meaning helpmates on our own side. (For our money, Rachel Maddow conducted a three-credit course in over-simplification just last night.) But its hard to know what is actually true; our system doesnt really run on information, facts or pursuit of the truth.
Consider something else Ezra wrote, about health reform, in this recent blog post.
At this point, I don't think it's well understood how many of the GOP's central health-care policy ideas have already been included as compromises in the health-care bill, Ezra wrote. He went on to discuss what his headline called the six Republican ideas already in the health reform bill. He began with a familiar Republican idea: The idea that people should be allowed to buy health insurance across state lines.
This proposition has blanketed conservative talk over the past year. The proposition is widely heard on other news programs, where every Republican instantly states it as a tenet of health reform. (Allegedly, this would lower the cost of insurance.) In what follows, we see Ezras account of the way this idea has been incorporated into the Senate health bill. Though we ourselves have no idea, well assume that what he says here is perfectly accurate:
Well assume Ezras post is accurate. Our point is somewhat different:
As we said, the idea that people should be able to buy health insurance across state lines has been an inescapable mantra during the past long year. Meanwhile, it sounds like a perfectly sensible notion; Republicans proponents of this idea often compare it to auto insurance, which (apparently) can be purchased across state lines. (Though we ourselves have no idea. Call us a dummy when it comes to this point.)
The point has been stated again and again, and it isnt counter-intuitive; it seems to make perfect sense. Many conservatives therefore assume that the point is a solid winnerthat this practice would indeed bring down the cost of insurance. Theyve heard it said a million times. Theyve never heard it challenged.
And one other thing: Theyve never seen this point analyzed or discussed by any major news org. It has been a ubiquitous claim in the past year. Have you ever seen it discussed?
For ourselves, we were surprised by Ezras post; we didnt recall ever hearing that a compromise with th[is] conservative vision for insurance regulation had been incorporated into the Senate bill. Beyond that, we dont think weve ever seen, read or heard a discussion of this ubiquitous proposal, except for one post by dday, months ago, at Digbys blog. Weve heard this proposal advanced a million times. Within our major news organs, weve never seen it analyzed.
This helps explain why we the people are such a gang of dummies.
Many voters really couldnt explain Keynesian economics. But before we start to snicker and laugh, let us ask an alternate question: How many college-educated liberals could really explain the pros and cons of buying health insurance across state lines? For ourselves, we could take a pitiful stab at the topic. That is, we probably know enough to serve as a cable pundit.
But no, we dont understand this topic. Weve heard the proposal a million times. Weve never seen it discussed.
Last night, we thought we saw Rachel playing a bit of the cable fool, speaking with perfect total confidence about this very topic (and others). To our ear, she massively overstated what Ezra said in his post, while speaking with that air of perfect complete absolute confidence. In our view, this is one of the ways we all get dumbed down within our current culture.
Its why we need a different, smarter type of news. Its why we news for dummies.
Whenever we visit big bookstores, we see many books for us dummies. Our culture will flounder until our major news orgs start to think the same way.
Tomorrowpart 3: Global dumbing.
Be sure to act now: Bookstores know that were largely clueless! To purchase Chemistry for Dummies, just click this.
Crotcheting for Dummies? Yes, even that! Go aheadjust click here.