Daily Howler logo
LOSING THE STIM! Voters think The Stim was the pits. How does our side do it? // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2010

History keeps unfolding tomorrow: Barring disaster, we’ll be posting Chapter 3 of How He Got There at our flawless companion site (click here). We’ll offer some thoughts about Ken Gormley’s new book as we do.

Lady Collins—and Mr. Jones—ride to the hounds: Last Thursday morning, just before six o’clock, warning sirens blared throughout our sprawling campus. You see, one of the analysts had been reading Gail Collin’s latest New York Times column. As per instructions, he pulled a lever, thus sounding the alarm, when he encountered the following passage. It appeared midway through Collins’ essentially pointless piece about the upcoming CPAC convention:

COLLINS (2/18/10): Mitt Romney, who won the conference’s presidential straw poll last year after a Herculean lobbying effort, is back with a new book in which he warns that if America doesn’t change its ways it could wind up becoming the “France of the 21st century.”

We all know that Americans would hate to spend the next 90 years enveloped in serious wine and universal health care. But think about how much more threatening Romney’s warning must be for the French. Where are they supposed to go in this new world order? Do you think France would rather be the Latvia of the 21st century or the Finland?

Romney, who is good-looking, wealthy and blessed with a lovely family...

Whenever Romney’s family is mentioned, the analysts are instructed to put down the Times and seek immediate assistance. We have to “spot” them as they keep reading, because of the harm they might do to themselves if they’re forced to read, even once more, about Seamus, Romney’s famous dead dog.

You see, Lady Collins has a jones about Seamus which won’t let her soul go. She mentions the dead dog on endless occasions, destroying her readers’ remaining brain cells as she indulges her own strange obsession. Last Thursday, we let the analysts proceed with their reading, although we carefully watched their progress. And sure enough! A certain high lady’s relentless jones had hijacked her column again:

COLLINS (continuing): Romney, who is good-looking, wealthy and blessed with a lovely family, is, unsurprisingly, not actually very angry. He would like to be president and run the country like a business, but he is not the kind of guy who is in mourning for the Articles of Confederation.

Romney’s most dramatic recent moment came when he was attacked by a fellow passenger on a flight home from the Olympics in Vancouver. A spokesman said Romney, who was not injured, was “physically assaulted” when he asked a man to raise his seat to an upright position before takeoff.

Perhaps the assailant mistook Romney for a flight attendant.

The attacker was taken off the plane but not charged, and Romney’s spokesman said there was no indication he recognized his victim. But maybe he did. Perhaps he was an irritable Democrat. Or maybe he was an animal lover, still seething over the fact that Romney once drove his family to Canada for a vacation with their Irish setter, Seamus, strapped to the roof of the car.

But let’s agree right here and now that this is a bad idea. Not the dog on the roof. Although that, too, is really, really undesirable. But I was thinking of the attack.

“I digress,” Collins said as she continued, stating what was painfully obvious. But even as she fed her obsession, she had burned away about half of her column with this pointless digression about Mitt. A digression which ended with—what else?—thoughts of his now-dead dog

The analysts settled back in their carrels, thankful for the security measures which regulate analytical work all over our sprawling campus. But good God! Theirs is dangerous work! Two days later, Lady Collins was scratching her itch once again:

COLLINS (2/20/10): Romney, who was introduced by [Scott] Brown at the conservative event, had a less-dramatic take on current events. In his speech, he railed about “liberal neo-monarchists” but did not suggest beating them up with a golf club.

As you may remember, Romney’s real big news moment this week occurred when he had an altercation with an unidentified passenger on a flight back from the Winter Olympics. A Romney spokesman said the former governor was attacked when he asked the man to raise his seat before takeoff.

The mystery passenger has apparently now come forward. Sky Blu, a rapper with the group LMFAO, said the encounter began when Romney yelled at him about the seat and put a “condor grip” on his shoulder. “No hard feelings to him. I’m sure he’s a good dude,” said Sky Blu, who was put on a different plane.

We had wondered if this story had a political tinge, but the rappers, who specialize in songs about shot-drinking, do not seem like neo-monarchists. My niece, Becca, worked with LMFAO on a promotional video this week and reports that Romney’s name never came up. “There was absolutely no political discussion whatsoever,” she said in a tone of deep certainty.

And my sorrow in discovering that the fight did not involve retribution for the day Romney drove his dog to Canada strapped to the roof of the family car was ameliorated by my joy at the vision of Mitt having an argument with a rapper about proper seat positioning for takeoff.

That’s how the lady killed time as she finished this new pointless column. She burned up roughly half her output last week with these side trips into Romney trivia. By a Nexis-assisted count, Saturday’s effort is at least the thirteenth column in which she has cited Mitt Romney’s dead dog.

Here at THE HOWLER, we’re fascinated by the work of the high Lady Collins. We’ve rarely seen a more trivial mind—a mind encumbered by fewer cares, fewer concerns, fewer attachments to actual issues. You can see why we’re forced to “spot” the analysts when they read her maddening work.

Did we mention this lady’s high rank within the walls of Versailles? She peddles this piffle twice a week on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Journalistically, it’s our nation’s most valuable real estate—just the place for a very high lady to chase the joneses around.

LOSING THE STIM (permalink): E. J. Dionne asked the question, not us. But his question was a good one. “If liberals and Obama are so smart,” the scribe asked, “how did [we] allow conservatives to make this argument so effectively?” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/19/10.

Here’s the argument Dionne had in mind—although the question he asked about this argument could be asked about many others:

DIONNE (2/18/10): While liberals were arguing about public plans and this or that, and while Obama was deep into inside dealmaking, the conservatives relentlessly made a straightforward public case based on a syllogism: The economy is a mess. Obama and the Democrats are for big government. Big government is responsible for the mess. Therefore the mess is the fault of Obama and the Big Government Democrats.

Simplistic and misleading? Absolutely. But if liberals and Obama are so smart, how did they—or, if you prefer, “we”—allow conservatives to make this argument so effectively?

If we liberals are so smart, why are we so easy to beat? That was E. J. asking, not us. But when he asked this question, we thought about another argument conservatives seem to have won in the past year. We thought of the way they beat our side blue when it comes to the stimulus package.

Just last week, The Stim turned one. And wouldn’t you know it? Polls were taken about The Stim, and the public’s assessments tended toward gloomy. In a New York Times/CBS poll, for example, the following question was asked (click here, see question 19):

From what you know so far, which comes closest to your own view? 1. the economic stimulus package has already created a substantial number of new jobs in the U.S. OR 2. it will create a substantial number of new jobs but hasn’t done that yet OR 3. it will not create a substantial number of new jobs?

There are several problems with that question—the use of the murky term “substantial;” the reference to jobs which have been “created,” as opposed to “created or saved.” And the New York Times instantly misstated its results, dropping the word “substantial” in the chart with presented the responses; this gift was seized upon by Republicans, then moved through the press corps itself. That said, only six percent of respondents said that the stimulus package has already created a substantial number of jobs; a walloping 48 percent said it never will. This result appeared even as the Times’ David Leonhardt wrote the following in his “Economic Scene” column:

LEONHARDT (2/17/10): Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody'sEconomy.com. They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.

For the record, Leonhardt’s numbers are rosier than the corresponding numbers in Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s news report in the next day’s Times. They’re rosier the numbers presented in PolitiFact’s assessment of the stimulus package—an assessment which said that Obama is overstating a tad when he praises the stimulus program. (Alas! In the process, PolitiFact makes this false statement: “A recent CBS News/New York Times survey found that just 6 percent of the American public believes the stimulus has created jobs.”)

People! Whose numbers are actually accurate? As always, there’s no real way to say, absent laborious research. But as he continued, Leonhardt pondered the public’s view of the stimulus program:

LEONHARDT (continuing directly): Yet I'm guessing you don't think of the stimulus bill as a big success. You've read columns (by me, for example) complaining that it should have spent money more quickly. Or you've heard about the phantom ZIP code scandal: the fact that a government Web site mistakenly reported money being spent in nonexistent ZIP codes.

And many of the criticisms are valid. The program has had its flaws. But the attention they have received is wildly disproportionate to their importance. To hark back to another big government program, it's almost as if the lasting image of the lunar space program was Apollo 6, an unmanned 1968 mission that had engine problems, and not Apollo 11, the moon landing.

“Many of the criticisms are valid,” Leonhardt said. “But the attention they have received is wildly disproportionate to their importance.” In this statement, Leonhardt describes the way almost all our public discourse functions. Read this letter to the Washington Post, for example, in which a writer notes the way a few minor mistakes have been transformed into an indictment of the very notion than the world’s climate is warming. Or read this latest groaner by George Will, in which he adopts this same approach.

As Leonhardt continues, he lists “the reasons for the stimulus's middling popularity.” We think he largely shies away from the heart of a widespread problem:

LEONHARDT (continuing directly): The reasons for the stimulus's middling popularity aren't a mystery. The unemployment rate remains near 10 percent, and many families are struggling. Saying that things could have been even worse doesn't exactly inspire. Liberals don't like the stimulus because they wish it were bigger. Republicans don't like it because it's a Democratic program. The Obama administration hurt the bill's popularity by making too rosy an economic forecast upon taking office.

Moreover, the introduction of the most visible parts of the program—spending on roads, buildings and the like—has been a bit sluggish. Aid to states, unemployment benefits and some tax provisions have been more successful and account for far more of the bill. But their successes are not obvious.

Even if the conventional wisdom is understandable, however, it has consequences. Because the economy is still a long way from being healthy, members of Congress are now debating another, smaller stimulus bill. (They're calling it a ''jobs bill,'' seeing stimulus as a dirty word.) The logical thing to do would be to examine what worked and what didn't in last year's bill.

But that's not what is happening. Instead, the debate is largely disconnected from the huge stimulus experiment we just ran. Why? As Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the newest member of Congress, said, in a nice summary of the misperceptions, the stimulus might have saved some jobs, but it “didn't create one new job.”

The Obama Admin made too rosy a forecast. Some of the spending has been a bit sluggish. Only at the end of that passage does hLeonhardt cite a remarkable factor. He quotes a United States senator making a statement which is just baldly absurd.

A few weeks ago, three other Republican senators paraded about, saying that the earth is flat when it comes to global warming (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/18/10). In the ridiculous statement quoted by Leonhardt, Scott Brown made a flat-earth statement about the stimulus program. Our question: Have liberals and Democrats ever gone to the public and offered them an overview of this situation? Have we ever taken the time to say this to the voters: These people keep handing you flat earth statements. They play you for fools all the time.

Much of our progressive clatter tends to be aimed at ourselves. We often seem too grand, too arrogant, to address ourselves to the actual people who get misled by these flat-earth pronouncements. Some such pronouncements flew around last year concerning the stimulus package. One year later, we are suddenly banging and clattering about the alleged “hypocrisy” involved in pursuing such funds.

It’s an easy complaint to bat aside. Why are we so easy to beat? In part, we may not be real smart.

The hypocrisy argument sounds good—to us. For that reason, we love to repeat it. But our cable leaders tend to insult the broader public—the people who get misled by the other side’s flat-earth pronouncements. Those insults are a very good way to lose debates. They’re a very good way to grease the skids for “simplistic and misleading arguments.”

E. J. Dionne asked the question, not us: If liberals and Obama are so smart, how did [we] allow conservatives to make this argument so effectively? The stimulus hasn’t created one job? Why wasn’t Brown laughed off the stage when he made this flat-earth remark?