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Rachel Maddow's crusade has been a dumb, dishonest mess
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WHO’S HYPOCRITICAL NOW! Rachel Maddow’s crusade has been a dumb, dishonest mess: // link // print // previous // next //

Rovner and Calmes get it right: How does the legislative process called “reconciliation” work? On Tuesday night, Jessica Yellin and Dana Bash made a gruesome mess as they tried to explain the process (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/24/10). Yesterday, over at NPR, Julie Rovner made it look easy:

ROVNER (2/24/10): To reconcile or not to reconcile — when it comes to a health overhaul bill, that seems to be the biggest argument of the moment.

At issue is a process called budget reconciliation. By writing Obama's health care plan as a budget bill, Democrats can prevent a Republican filibuster in the Senate and advance the bill with a simple majority instead of the 60-vote supermajority they no longer have.

Duh. Under the process known as reconciliation, a Senate bill can pass with a simple majority. The process prevents a filibuster. How hard is it to explain these things? For Yellin and Bash, very hard.

In this morning’s New York Times, Jackie Calmes is a bit more writerly. But she was somehow able to offer a simple, clear explanation too:

CALMES (2/25/10): It is tempting to think that the authors of the 1974 federal budget law were feeling mischievously ironic when they chose “reconciliation” as the name for a particularly arcane process the bill established.

Few parliamentary rules are more divisive. But now the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, after declining for that reason to employ reconciliation last year to pass health care legislation, are leaning toward doing so for lack of any other options.

Reconciliation in effect protects bills from filibusters and thus from the requirement for a 60-vote supermajority to end debate, and instead allows legislation with a budgetary impact to pass by a simple majority after limited debate. Minority parties—right now, the Republicans—tend to hate it.

Like Rovner, Calmes was able to state two basic facts: Under reconciliation, a bill can pass the Senate by a simple majority. The process protects a bill against being filibustered.

On CNN, Yellin and Bash seemed determined to assert Republican points about this procedure. Most people don’t know what “reconciliation” is. After Yellin and Bash got through, many still had no idea.

Special report: Watching us clearly explain!

PART 3—WHO’S HYPOCRITICAL NOW (permalink): Anderson Cooper played the fool on CNN this past Monday night. Kucinich is a hypocrite too, he announced on his nightly program, in a report so wondrously dumb it could only be seen on American cable (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/24/10). In so saying, Cooper and his correspondent, Ali Velshi, were riding the latest chic wave—a wave which started on our side as fearless leaders like Rachel Maddow denounced long strings of Republicans for their allegedly hypocritical conduct.

Alas! Velshi’s report made no earthly sense. But then, many of our own side’s claims haven’t made much sense in the past few weeks, as we’ve sent this latest chic wave rushing toward shore. And Cooper’s pitiful Monday night segment helps us see an unfortunate fact: Given the ways of the mainstream press, the claim of hypocrisy can, and will, quickly be turned against key players on our own side. When we clown as Maddow has done, thrills may run up our liberal legs. But the lazy standards we thus enshrine will quickly be turned back against us.

Cooper and Velshi played the fool Monday night. But then, so did Maddow on her own program, as she screeched, howled, clattered and wailed about the hypocrites all around her. Lindsey Graham was one such miscreant, Maddow told us this night.

Introducing an interview with Barney Frank, the lady spilled over with true belief, as she so persistently does. Unfortunately, the lady was also cherry-picking an old, misleading quote:

MADDOW (2/22/10): Today, Bloomberg News added to the long list of Republican elected officials who are only willing to admit the stimulus worked some of the time when they’re trying to get more of that money—even when they’re trashing it as useless, while the TV cameras are rolling. Consider just as one example from today, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

GRAHAM (shown on videotape): Clearly, it has not helped jobs, has added to the debt.

MADDOW: It clearly has not helped jobs. That’s what he says on the TV machine. Ah, but look what he says in a letter describing a stimulus-funded highway project for his state—which he says, quote, “is expected to create 5,789 new jobs in the I-73 corridor region.”

You see that stimulus? It’s magic! It both creates 5,789 jobs in Lindsey Graham’s state and it creates no jobs when Lindsey Graham is on television. It’s magic—magical hypocrisy.

A thrill ran up the lady’s leg as she outed the latest hypocrite. According to Maddow, this is what Graham “says” on TV about the stimulus: Clearly, it has not helped jobs. And yet, he also said that the stimulus would create nearly 600 jobs in his own state! According to Maddow, Graham “trashes the stimulus as useless”—except when he’s trying to get some of the stimulus money.

Maddow was being dumb or dishonest. That same night, Cooper showed you where these silly games lead.

Does Graham parade about on the TV machine saying the stimulus “creates no jobs?” It’s possible, but Maddow’s presentation was essentially bogus, like so much of the work she performs on her nightly show. In fact, Graham’s taped statement came from June 2009, when the stimulus had barely gone into effect. Below, you see his fuller statement on the program in question—the June 28, 2009 Meet the Press.

The background: David Axelrod had already guested on the same program. Given the rising unemployment rate (the rate now stood at 9.4 percent), he had said that additional stimulus might be needed in the fall. In his next segment, David Gregory asked Graham to comment on that idea. Maddow cherry-picked her quote from a longer, more nuanced presentation:

GREGORY (6/28/09): David Axelrod making some news—first on the stimulus, Senator Graham, talking about revisiting, the potential of revisiting a second stimulus come the fall. Do you think that's appropriate?

GRAHAM: Yeah, I think we should revisit it and make sure that it's focused on jobs, not adding to the debt. If you had another vote in the Senator or the House, I think it would be redone, it would be more focused on job creation, because it clearly has not helped jobs, has added to the debt, and I think it just missed its mark. So I'd love to revisit it.

GREGORY: Do you think this thing was oversold?

GRAHAM: Yeah, I think— One, he comes in in a tough time. He does something bold, he does it quick. He picked up three Republicans, lost 11 Democrats in the House. They had a chance to meet between $440 billion and $800 billion and get probably 15 Republicans, but they jammed it through. They went back to the old way of politics, the Karl Rove style of picking off a few Republicans. He missed a chance to have a bipartisan stimulus package that would have created more jobs and helped people who had lost their jobs. I hope they will rethink it and come back again.

Had the stimulus “helped jobs” at that point? We don’t know; we’d assume that it had. But does Graham “say on the TV machine” that the stimulus “creates no jobs/clearly had not helped jobs?” In that eight-month old appearance, Graham said he wanted to revisit the package to make sure it was “more focused on job creation;” he said a different stimulus package “would have created more jobs.”

Overall, it’s hard to claim that Graham was saying the package would produce no jobs. And this was just one statement, made eight months ago. It’s not what he “says” all the time.

In this instance, Maddow did precisely what cable hacks do, cable hacks with names like Hannity. She journeyed back eight months in time and cherry-picked a partial quote. Slipping into the present tense, she paraphrased her partial quote, claiming that Graham “trashes the stimulus bill as useless,” claiming that Graham “says” that it “creates no jobs.” Alas! If a person wants to be honest—Maddow rarely betrays such desires—that just isn’t what Graham said, even at that point in time. And of course, if Maddow wanted to let viewers know what Graham has said this very week, she could have quoted his statement from the Bloomberg report she cited. “No amount of political spin will change the fact the bill created more government than jobs and dramatically increased our national debt,” Graham said, this very week. Sorry. In that statement, he doesn’t claim that the stimulus “creates no jobs.”

Unless you’re a cable hack.

But then, Maddow rarely tells the truth when embellishment, invention, jokes and misstatement will serve her narrative better. In the case of Graham, she cherry-picked an old, partial quote—an old, partial quote which she put to ill use. In a similar way, here’s how Rep. Jean Schmidt became a hypocrite on last Wednesday’s program:

MADDOW (2/17/10): How about you, Jean Schmidt of Ohio? Jean Schmidt of Ohio proclaimed in November, quote, “I did not believe that it would create the jobs that were promised. I take little pleasure in being correct.”

Sometimes she doesn’t even think she is correct. It should be noted for the record, when not denouncing the stimulus as something that can’t create jobs, Congresswoman Schmidt is writing letters, admitting that, say, a project in her district, funded—again, this is in her words—under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, that’s the stimulus—quote, "will not only save jobs but create multiple jobs within southern Ohio."

You can’t have it both ways, Congresswoman. Which one is it? This isn`t someone asking you if you want Coke or Pepsi and you say yes. You either get Coke or Pepsi, not both. Either you believe the stimulus creates jobs, which you admit in your home district, or you believe the stimulus does not create jobs, which you believe wherever there’s a camera nearby, or a minority whip or both. You can’t simultaneously hold both positions unless you’re a hypocrite.

It is not just liberals like me who find this astounding.

Unfortunately, the only thing “astounding” there is the dumbness, or the dishonesty, of Our Own Rhodes Scholar. Note the instant sleight of hand: Schmidt is quoted saying that the stimulus hasn’t created the jobs that were promised. Instantly, Maddow converts that into a claim that the stimulus hasn’t created any jobs at all. But Maddow has endlessly driven her claims in such childish, low-IQ ways. Sometimes, she creates silly paraphrases of actual statements, as she did in this particular instance. Often, she simply asserts that some Republican has said the stimulus does no good at all, without offering any evidence that such a statement was actually made.

Maddow seems to like making shit up. Consider the semi-howler she emitted on Monday when Barney Frank appeared on her program.

In her second question, Maddow turned to her favorite theme—the overwhelming hypocrisy she currently finds all around her. “More than a hundred members of Congress” have been “found to be trashing the stimulus and saying it doesn’t work while they’re also saying that it does work in their home districts,” she thundered, paraphrasing remarkably broadly. She turned to Frank for his thoughts: “Everybody keeps telling me that hypocrisy doesn’t matter as a charge in Washington, that everybody is too comfortable with hypocrisy for that to be embarrassing anymore,” she lamented. “What do you think?”

In the first part of his answer, Barney made a sensible statement: “If I vote against a program and I think it’s fraud, that doesn’t mean the people I represent who have paid their share of tax money for it should be denied it. So I’m not objecting to someone who votes against a program and says, But you shouldn’t exclude my district from it.” Barney articulated some other complaints about the conduct of some Republicans. But his first observation led Our Own Scholar to offer the following claim:

MADDOW: I’m very glad to hear you explicate essentially that important difference. I have never been complaining about—and I think that people, by and large, aren’t complaining about—people taking the money for their districts.

FRANK: Of course not.

MADDOW: It is that they are making the claim for that money by saying, by talking about how effective the stimulus is. And for me, the real conundrum this creates for Democrats is: how do you negotiate with these people? How do you negotiate with somebody who believes that the sky is both blue and green, about sky color? I mean, if you don`t have any real beliefs about policies, then how can you negotiate on policy?

According to Maddow, she has never complained about Republicans simply taking stimulus money for their districts. If we slice our baloney quite thin, that statement may even be accurate. But the claim is somewhat hard to square with the presentation she made as she continued discussing Schmidt. The following passage continues directly from what was presented above:

MADDOW (2/17/10) (continuing from above): It is not just liberals like me who find this astounding.

And it should probably also be noted for the record that Jean Schmidt doesn’t care what liberals like me think about her; I’m quite sure of it. But look at the hard time that Jean Schmidt is getting about this hypocrisy on Fox News, of all places.

NEIL CAVUTO (videotape): Well, you railed against stimulus spending and dough, and you wanted a chunk of it at the time. So, ultimately, that was rejected. But you still had sought it, right?

SCHMIDT: Yes, it was rejected. And you know, Neil, let me add, when they made that request, I informed them that, as a large critic of the stimulus, that my letter might do them more harm than good.

CAVUTO: Nevertheless, can you understand, Congresswoman, how this raises some hackles, because you had railed against this sort of thing? (end of videotape)

MADDOW: There have been some hackles raised, and not just among the creepy commies like Rachel Maddow.

In that tape, Cavuto criticized Schmidt because she sought stimulus funds even though she had “railed against stimulus spending.” With effort, a person can torture Maddow’s distinction out of that exchange. But she then moved ahead to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, another hypocrite—and even torture, liberally applied, can’t really sustain her distinction here. Also note some typical conduct: Note the way she puts a large, gonzo statement in Chaffetz’s mouth, without offering any evidence that he ever said such a thing:

MADDOW (continuing from above): There have been some hackles raised, and not just among the creepy commies like Rachel Maddow.

On the same program, another Republican congressman, Jason Chaffetz, came to Jean Schmidt`s attempted rescue. Mr. Chaffetz is one of these Republican young guns who gets a lot of TV time. You think he would be a little more savvy about these things.

But when he was asked directly, “Have you committed this same crime, sir? Have you raised these same hackles that Jean Schmidt has raised,” Mr. Chaffetz attempted to squirrel away from his own embarrassing record.

CAVUTO (videotape): Did constituents seek you out and say, “Could you get funding for me for this,” and did you turn them down—yes or no?

CHAFFETZ: Well, in general, yes, I did turn them down. (end of videotape)

MADDOW: In general, that’s out there. Senator Chaffetz’s hometown paper, the Salt Lake Tribune, is nailing him on this, pointing out that he signed on to a letter with Senator Orrin Hatch and Congressman Rob Bishop seeking $95 million in stimulus funds for the Provo River Water Users Association.

Again, Jason Chaffetz probably does not care what liberals like me think about this hypocrisy. In fact, I would bet on it that he really doesn’t care. But I bet that Jason Chaffetz does care what the Salt Lake Tribune cares about, what and he gets nailed for on Fox News. And I would say that both of them have nailed him on this.

I’m guessing also that Jason Chaffetz does care what principled conservatives think about his hypocrisy on an issue like this. Jason Chaffetz is scheduled to speak at the annual CPAC Conference, the Conservative Political Action Committee Conference that starts tomorrow in Washington.

When you go there, Mr. Chaffetz, do you intend to explain to CPAC why you believe that the stimulus is going to do a lot of good in your district, and why you also believe that the stimulus does no good at all? Are you going to make that argument that you simultaneously hold both of those beliefs?

As we noted last week, Maddow was simply inventing the claim that the Salt Lake Tribune “is nailing” Chaffetz about this matter (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/19/10). This claim is false—she made it up. But her account of the paper’s complaint seems fairly clear; in her account, the Tribune was nailing Chaffetz for “seeking $95 million in stimulus funds for the Provo River Water Users Association”—presumably, for seeking such money after voting against the bill. By the way: When did Chaffetz ever say that “the stimulus does no good at all?” This is precisely the type of gong-show paraphrase which litters Maddow’s work on this subject. But did Chaffetz ever say such a thing? As with dozens of alleged hypocrites, Maddow made no attempt to show that the young gun had.

Simple story: Anyone can be a hypocrite or a liar—if we’re allowed to make up silly claims, then pretend that our target has made them. We’re not fans of Jean Schmidt around here—but no, she actually didn’t claim that the stimulus “does not create jobs.” And no, Graham doesn’t seem to “say” that the stimulus “creates no jobs.” These are silly, invented claims; Maddow persistently puts such claims into her targets’ mouths. The mainstream press corps perfected this practice during the Clinton/Gore years. Now, a lazy, wanton former Rhodes Scholar puts the practice to use on our team.

From February 9 on, Maddow’s work on this subject has been a long rolling mess—an intellectual gong-show. (What a joke—to see such work done by our famous Rhodes Scholar!) In the world known as reality, some major Republicans have made over-statements about the worthlessness of the stimulus. (Though just as a political matter, it would be fairly easy for these people to clean these statements up.) Rather than focus on those people, Maddow has instead put wild statements in the mouths of long lists of others, an exceptionally dim-witted form of lying. In that sense, it’s hard to know what’s worse about her work—its consummate dumbness, or its grinding dishonesty. But as a simple matter of politics, two basic problems arise:

First: When liberals adopt such lazy standards, we’re begging for what came next. Sure enough! By this past Monday night, Dennis Kucinich had been outed as a big hypocrite too! Sorry. But this is exactly the way the process will work when liberals adopt and advance the gong-show standards which have driven the right and the mainstream press corps over the past several decades. When we advance these lazy standards, we advance and affirm a system which will, inevitably, by the rules of power, mainly be used against us.

Second: In her dumb, dishonest crusade, Maddow has walked away from a more basic task. She has given up on the attempt to argue the merits of our positions, except in secondary, inferential ways. You’re right: During the last year, Maddow never wasted much time on that project anyway; she was too busy chasing Republican sex scandals all over town. (Good times!) But now, we liberals are arguing our case in a secondary way—by attacking those who oppose it. In advancing this secondary crusade, Maddow makes a simple statement: Our side is too dumb, too lazy, too inept to win these fights on the merits.

Maddow may actually be that inept. But is the liberal world as a whole?

Tomorrow—part 4: But aren’t they truly hypocrites?