Please, pundit, might we have more? Good grief! If Gail Collins did this sort of thing every time, our nation might have half a chance. Today, she closes her column with jokes. But not before offering this:
COLLINS (2/26/09): Absent any deep thoughts, the Republicans are going to complain about waste. The high point of Jindals address came when he laced into wasteful spending in the stimulus bill, and used as an example a $140 million appropriation for keeping an eye on the volcanoes in places like Alaska, where one is currently rumbling.
Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C., Jindal claimed.
I dont know about you, but my reaction was: Wow, what a great stimulus plan. The most wasteful thing in it is volcano monitoring.
Louisiana has gotten $130 billion in post-Katrina aid. How is it that the stars of the Republican austerity movement come from the states that suck up the most federal money? Taxpayers in New York send way more to Washington than they get back so more can go to places like Alaska and Louisiana. Which is fine, as long as we dont have to hear their governors bragging about how the folks who elected them want to keep their tax money to themselves. Of course they do! Thats because theyre living off ours.
O.K., Im done.
The Republicans cant try to convince the country their ideas are better because of that intellectual bankruptcy problem. All they can do is make Barack Obamas programs look feckless...
We dont agree with every nuance. But astoundingly, Collins offers readers a significant bit of instruction. We only wish shed taken the mathematical road, noting that the volcano monitoring program involves roughly one-eight thousandth of the stimulus package. (Roughly 0.012 percent of the total money, accepting the figures Jindal used.)
In todays column, Collins does something thats quite unheard of. She warns voters about an effective tricka trick to which theyre routinely exposed. Jindal rummaged among tiny parts of the program, seeking something which could be made to sound silly. In theory, this makes the whole stimulus package sound sillyand, out in the public square, this theory quite often bears fruit. In fact, theres nothing obviously silly about volcano monitoring. But voters react to such things on the fly. This rhetorical trick is effective. Its a widely used distraction in our budget debates.
Theres nothing deep about what Collins says; many others have said the same thing this week. (Krugman, blogging: Basically, the political philosophy of the GOP right now seems to consist of snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny.) But this practice can be quite effective, and voters deserve to be warned against it. That said, its very surprising to see Collins do this. Normally, she spends the bulk of her column aiming jokes at the silly people who try to take part in our political discourse. Why do they listen to boring speeches? Who wants to watch boring debates?
Alas! Voters have struggled with many sophistries down through the years, while people like Collins sat back and watched. Regarding Social Security: The money isnt thereweve already spent it! Regarding taxation: If we lower our tax rates, we get increased revenue! Regarding Medicare: No one is cutting Medicarewere just reducing the rate at which the program will grow! People deserve to be warned against such deceptions. But the Democratic Party rarely bothers, and people like Collins tend to sit things out too. Question: How many liberals know what to say in response to those SS sophistries? (The trust fund is just a pile of worthless IOUs!) These claims have driven the discourse for decades. How many know how to respond?
Today, Collins jokes are pretty good. For once, theyre offered as dessert, after a nutritious main course. Voters deserve to be warned in such ways. Please, Teacher! Might we have more?
SPEAKING OF TREASONOUS CONDUCT: Your nation has been running on dumb a long time. Quick examples:
In October 2007, one of your countrys most famous journalists wrote that a major presidential candidate had given her former pet cat to a friend. This showed the candidates callousness, this major journalist suggested (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/31/07).
In November 2002, a major pol was trying to warn against war with Iraq. But one of your countrys most famous journalists made an absolute joke of his warning. We rarely use the word lie around here, but this was about as close as it gets. The major pol issued sage adviceand the journalist typed an old novel (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/25/02).
Those journalists were Dowd and Rich, two of your countrys most famous columnists. In 1997, they joined to invent a punishing claim: Al Gore said he inspired Love Story. The claim was spectacularly stupidand falsebut it took root and helped move an election. But then, your country has been running on dumb for a very long time now.
What happens when countries run on dumb? Look around at our present situations.
Over most of the past twenty years, the bulk of the dumbness on which we have run has come from 1) the pseudo-conservative world and 2) the mainstream press corps. There was no liberal world at all during most of that miserable period. But now, a liberal world is being formedand its starting to run on dumb too.
To see the liberal brain on dumb, just check out Keith Olbermann.
Question: Could this big lug spend more twenty minutes preparing for each evenings program? The dumbing-down of the liberal world continues apace on his show every night, as the host keeps giving us rubes a good solid heart-healthy run. It would truly take the labor of Hercules to chronicle all of his programs dumbness. Last night, for example, he burned one segment on names for Obamas doghaving burned an earlier segment on the rise of political Twitters.
In what ways does Olbermann treat you like rubes? Well try to cover a lot of ground. But to start, consider Mondays first segment.
On Monday night, Olbermann started his show with a bit of minor, murky nonsense involving Senator Richard Shelbyminor nonsense concerning which Olbermann didnt (couldnt) know the full facts. By his own admission, Olbermann simply didnt know what Shelby had (and hadnt) said about Barack Obama. But when has knowledge ever played a key role in our devolving culture?
Brief interlude: For us, Shelby has been a figure of fun since he switched parties in 1994more specifically, since he switched parties on November 9, 1994, the day after the GOP took control of the Senate. Thats right! That Tuesday, Shelby was the Democratic senator from Alabamabut twelve hours in the minority tired him, and he became the Republican senator around noon on the very next day. Of course, none of this clownishness helps us know what the gent really said about Obamas birth certificate, the issue with which Olbermann started Monday nights program. How dead-dog dumb will Olbermann be? This is the way he began:
OLBERMANN (2/23/09): Good evening from New York.
Contrary to the popular idiom, some things do not have to be seen to be believed. I have never witnessed nuclear fission but I believe in its capacity for power or destruction. I have never personally met Iranian President Ahmadinejad, yet I believe he exists. Nor I have ever met Senator Richard Shelby, whoin our fifth story on the Countdownhas perpetuated the treasonous, unsubstantiated rumor that President Obama is not actually a citizen of the United States.
On what grounds? Because the Alabama Republican says he has never seen Obamas birth certificate.
Treasonous! Keith was exciting the rubes again, with the kind of stupid claim that used to come from the pseudo-right. But this sort of thing is nothing new for this excitable liberal.
In May 2008, he excitedly insisted that Hillary Clinton had actually invoke[d] the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in 1968 as a reason for her not to drop out of the race with Barack Obama. By the time this program aired, it was clear that Clinton had done no such thingbut Keith ran the rubes all the same. (Why in the name of all that all of us hold dear would anybody ever say anything like this? the big fake thundered. Is her political career at an end?) Clintons career should be at an end, Olbermann was plainly suggesting. And then too, just a few weeks ago, he excitedly took on Dick Cheney. (Flatly, it may be time for Mr. Cheney to leave this country, the excitable fellow now said.) And sure enough! Having ended Clintons career and banished Cheney from the country, Olbermann has now discerned treasonous conduct from Shelby, by way of his mouthalthough, in truth, there was no sign that Olbermann had any idea what Shelby had actually said. You see, Shelbys office had challenged the account of his statement which had appeared in a small local paper (the Cullman, Alabama Times). And Olbermann understood that, of course. The great man explained that fact here:
OLBERMANN: All that apparently not good enough for Senator Shelby, who over the weekend, in response to a question about that rumor that Obama was not a United States citizen, said, quote, "Well, his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven`t seen any birth certificate. You have to be born in America to be president.
A spokesman for Senator Shelby is attempting to put the toothpaste back into the tube, claiming that the senator`s remarks were merely a throw-away line, calling the newspaper report that published them incomplete and a distortion of his comments. The Cullman Times, which reported this story, standing by its reporting as complete and accurate.
Not that the Cullman Times could be wrong! (As it turns out, the Times has no tape of the meeting in question; it seems no one else does either.) And its not like Olbermann doesnt know that journalists sometimes misreport the things a major pol may have said. At this very point, Olbermann presented some quotes from Obama about the stimulus plans unemployment provisionsand he himself misrepresented what Obama had actually said! (Full transcripts below. Dont miss.) Thats right! Olbermann was doctoring up what Obama had saideven as he seemed to insist no one could possibly have misstated Shelby! But then, Olbermannn is a hack among hacks. Hes making your nation quite dumb.
Back to Shelby! Olbermann now called in his favorite stooge, who sang his nightly song for his supper. In what follows, Olbermann reads a statement from Shelbys office, then poses a rather basic question to the aforementioned guest:
OLBERMANN: Time now to call in our own political analyst, Richard Wolffe. Good evening, Richard.
Senator Shelbys office called this report a distortion. Let me quote him in full again and then what theyre saying tonight. "Well, his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven`t seen any birth certificate. You have to be born in America to be president."
The office responded tonight: The Cullman Times article contains an incomplete account and therefore a distorting of Senator Shelbys comments regarding President Obamas citizenship. At the town hall meeting in Cullman, he laid out the constitutional qualifications of the presidency and said that while he hasnt personally seen the presidents birth certificate, he is confident the matter has been thoroughly examined.
Where do we find the confidence in that quote that we have from him in the Cullman newspaper?
Let me quote [Shelby] in full again, Olbermann saiddespite the fact that he plainly didnt know if he was quoting Shelby in full. Duh! That was the point in dispute! But eventually, Batman asked Robin a basic question: Where do we find the confidence in that quotethe quote which Shelbys office had challenged? Who was right about what Shelby had saidShelbys office, or the newspaper? And rubes, put on your running shoes, and dial your IQ back many points. Heres the way Olbermanns favorite stooge pretended to answer that seminal question. Here you see what you see every nightthe liberal world running on dumb:
OLBERMANN: Where do we find the confidence in that quote that we have from him in the Cullman newspaper?
WOLFFE: Well, let me do it like this. There are a number of constitutional lawyers who are still debating whether or not you need to be sane or even conscious to be a United States senator.
WOLFFE: Now, I personally have not seen the medical records of Senator Shelby, but Im sure they have been thoroughly examined by medically-trained professionals who can testify to his sanity. As far as I know he is sane.
WOLFFE: Look, the truth is that when you see these kinds of weasel words coming from the office of an elected official, you know theyve got something to hide.
Weasel words? Shelbys office had spoken rather bluntlythough we have no idea if their statement is accurate. But then, this was Olbermanns favorite stooge. Offering his own weasel words, Wolffe pretended to answer the question. The truth is, Wolffe had no f*cking idea on the face of the earth whether the Cullman report was correct. But he knew which cable show he was onand he always seems to know whats expected.
Rubes, what did Shelby say at that meeting? Like Olbermann, like Richard Wolffe, we have no freaking idea. Anyone who has followed such matters will know that Shelby might have said something extremely stupidand then again, that he might not have. But we do know what youll hear each evening on Countdown, which has become one of the dumbest programs in the annals of cable news channels.
Lets be honest. Olbermann didnt know what Shelby had said. But Wolffe knew what he was paid to sayand Olbermann made this his opening segment. And lets say it again: Olbermann knows all about doctored quotes. He himself had doctored Obama, right in the middle of this segment. (See below.)
Many readers may dislike Shelbys politics. For us, hes been a figure of fun ever since his party switch, on the morning after. But what weve written here aint about Shelby; its about a country running on dumb. For years, it was Hannity and Drudge and Maureen Dowd who were running your country on dumb. Now, the liberal world is adopting this culture, as you can see (or not) in that segment with Wolffe. But alas! A modern nation cant run on dumb! If the liberal world decides to go dumb, prepare yourselves for more disasters.
No, this isnt about Richard Shelby, even though tribalists want it to be. This is about Olbermann, and his top stooge. They treated their viewers like fools Monday night. But then, such conduct is standard.
A program without any precedent: The rube-running rarely stops with Olbermann. After his segment with Wolffe, the host pretended to try to figure out why some Republican governors may turn down some of the money from the stimulus program. The following question is largely valid, though it basically answered itself through its loaded language:
OLBERMANN (2/23/09): Red states, blue states, Americans in any kind of state are in the state of suffering financially. We have several governors talking about not taking unemployment insurance money out of the stim as a matter of principle. If this is a kind of financial equivalent of 9/11and offering, in Governor Sanfords case, only prayers insteadwhere is the Republican Party in terms of actually leading and actually serving its own constituents?
Thats a valid, if loaded question; absent-mindedly, Olbermann forgot to say that several Democratic governors have said they may turn down that unemployment money too, assuming Joan Walsh has it right. (In Tennessee and Oklahoma. Wed assume Olbermann didnt know this.) But Olbermanns question was basically valid; it was his method of getting it answered that made this segment a typical joke. Heres the start of the answer he got, from his only guest:
GUEST (continuing directly): Well, the Republican Party, led by their governors, continue to show that they are the heartless, insensitive organization that they have been for the last eight to 12 years, which is why the American people ousted them and wanted to put their support behind.
Wow! But this is typical Olbermann. Asking about Republican practices, he contented himself with only one guesta Democratic member of congress! In this case, his guest was Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a very bright and effective pol who lowered herself by taking part in Olbermanns latest gong-show. But this segment highlights a practice which makes Countdown unique among all cable programs. Even on the Fox News Channel, no one has ever run a news program in this mannerwith every single political guest coming from one party (the Dems) and every single pundit guest scripted to agree with the host. But thats the way Olbermanns program now works. With almost no exceptions, he only speaks with Democratic polsand with pundits who recite his narratives. Last night, for example, Margaret Carlson was called aboard to discuss names for Obamas dog. If any program is dumber than this, youll have to say which one it is:
OLBERMANN (2/25/09): Lets turn to Bloomberg News political columnist, the Washington editor of The Week magazine, Margaret Carlson. Good evening, Margaret!
CARLSON: Hello, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So the first lady also acknowledged overwhelming public response on this, which is to put it mildlyshe said it was surprising. She said it was also great and gracious attention. Is this a healthy national sort of national distraction? Is the country going to go through some sort of withdraw when everybody realizes this is not a 787 billion dollars stimulus-solving dog?
CARLSON: Well 787 billion would be an awful lot of Alpo. The dog is shovel-ready, in that Michelle Obama made a point of saying that the girls will be taking care of the dog. They will have their own scoops and will be going around with plastic bags picking up. Theyll be doing the scoop the poopunlike, by the way, Barney. The Bushes had people to go around after Barney.
OLBERMANN: I was just going to sayyou generalized that to the Republican Party, but lets leave that out of this part of the conversation.
CARLSON: This is not a political segment!
You wanna bet? Just that quickly, the rubes had been serviced! Soon, they were serviced again:
OLBERMANN: Of course, the next hurdle here is naming this. The first lady told People magazine she finds some of the her daughters suggestions for names bad, like Frank and Moose. A, does this become the next great debate we can talk about? And B, whats wrong with Frank or Moose?
CARLSON: Well, as we are withdrawing from the debate over the dog, we can obsess over this. It reminds methe Clintons were going to Marthas Vineyard for their vacation. It wasnt going very well, so they had it polled where they should go, and they ended up in Wyoming on horses. Do you remember that year? You could Twitter it.
Good God! By the eternal logic of the palace elite, a question about the name of a dog reminded Carlson of the time the Clintons poll-tested their summer vacation. (Allegedly.) But then, Village Regulars have been serially reminded of this event since the summer of 1995.
At least Carlson wasnt reminded of the way the Clintons gave up their pet cat.
This is a deeply stupid program. Even on Fox, no one has ever run a program this way, with only one party, and one point of view, permitted on the air. Most incredibly, Olbermann employs a string of the very same stooges who led the assaults against Clinton, then Gore. Their targets have changedbut their dumbness lingers. Once again, well offer this thought: A modern nation cant run on dumb. Your nation is put in peril each night as this big hack dumbs liberals down.
Keith plays doctor: Was Shelby quoted in full? Like Olbermann and his favorite Yorkshire, we have no way of knowing. But Olbermann seems to know all about the art of selective quotation! Heres the way he quoted Obama during that segment with Wolffe:
OLBERMANN (2/23/09): Governors like Mark Sanford of South Carolina, still in the threatening stages of not accepting stim money. This morning on C-Span, the governor telling the unemployed South Carolina man who called in to the network that only his prayers would be with him.
President Obama is saying this morning it is time for these politics to stop.
OBAMA (videotape): But I just want us to not lose perspective of the fact that most of the things that have been the topic of argument over the last several days amount to a fraction of the overall stimulus package. I just want to make sure that were having an honest debate and presenting to the American people a fulsome accounting of what is going on in this program.
And so, if we agree on 90 percent of the stuff, and were spending all our time on television arguing about 1 percent, 2 percent, 3 percent of the spending in this thing, and somehow it is being characterized in broad brush as wasteful spendingthat starts sounding more like politics. And thats what, right now, we dont have time to do. Theres going to be ample time for campaigns down the road. Right now, weve got to make sure that were standing up for the American people.
OLBERMANN: Time now to call in our own political analyst, Richard Wolffe.
You could see that Obamas remarks had been edited, in three separate spots. Below, well show you what was left out.
In fact, Olbermann had doctored Obamas statement to give the rubes a bogus impression. You might say hed engaged in some treasonous conduct; hed misrepresented what his commander-in-chief had said, deceiving a million voters! Its trueObama challenged those who seize on small parts of the stimulus package as a way of sliming the whole. (We agree with all those comments.) But in the very same statement, he also said that governors like Sanford have some very legitimate concerns...about the sustainability of expanding unemployment insurance. (Like Obama, were inclined to think thats true as well.) He went into more detail on that point, seeming to commiserate with those who are concerned about sustaining a change that increases eligibility for part-time workers. (Later: And you know, if the federal government gives you something now, and then two years later it's gone, and people are looking to you and starting to blame you, I don't want to put you in that position.) But Olbermanns program is pure propaganda; the rubes mustnt know that Obama said that! And they mustnt know that Obama had said, I will always be open to honest disagreements. And I think there are some legitimate concerns that can be raised on a whole host of these issues.
Heres the text of Obamas full statement. Weve highlighted the parts of the statement the rubes were permitted to hear on Countdown. They werent allowed to hear about the healthy debate or the legitimate concerns of the governors. Nor were they allowed to hear that sh*t about cable chatter:
OBAMA (2/23/09): Let me make one last point and then I'm going to bring Joe [Biden] up.
There has been some healthy debate over the last few weeks, the last few days, about this stimulus package, even among the governors. And I think that's a healthy debate. That keeps me on my toes. It keeps our administration on our toes. But I just want us to not lose perspective of the fact that most of the things that have been the topic of argument over the last several days amount to a fraction of the overall stimulus package. This sometimes gets lost in the cable chatter.
For example, I think there are some very legitimate concerns on the part of some about the sustainability of expanding unemployment insurance. What hasn't been noted is, is that that is $7 billion of a $787 billion program. And it's not even the majority of the expansion of unemployment insurance. So it is possible for those who are concerned about sustaining a change that increases eligibility for part-time workers to still see the benefit of 30 billion [dollars] plus that is going, even if you don't make the change.
So the reason I make that point is I just want to make sure that we're having an honest debate and presenting to the American people a fulsome accounting of what is going on in this program. You know, when I hear people say, well, there's a lot of waste in this program, well, from my perspective at least, keeping teachers in the classroom's not wasteful. From my perspective, tax cuts to 95 percent of working families is not wasteful. From my perspective, providing all of you additional resources to rebuild roads and bridges and levees and dams that will enhance the quality of life of your state, but also make it more economically competitive, that's not wasteful.
And so if we agree on 90 percent of the stuff and we're spending all our time on television arguing about 1, 2, 3 percent of the spending in this thing, and somehow it's being characterized in broad brush as wasteful spending, that starts sounding more like politics. And that's what right now we don't have time to do.
So I will always be open to honest disagreements. And I think there are some legitimate concerns that can be raised on a whole host of these issues. And you're responsible at the state level.
And you know, if the federal government gives you something now, and then two years later it's gone, and people are looking to you and starting to blame you, I don't want to put you in that position.
So you need to think about how this money is going to be spent wisely. What I don't want us to do though is to just get caught up in the same old stuff that inhibits us from acting effectively and in concert.
There's going to be ample time for campaigns down the road. Right now we've got to make sure that we're standing up for the American people and putting them back to work. All right.
Cut-cut-cut-cut/snip-snip-snip! Cutting and snipping, the cable host restricted the rubes to certain parts of their presidents statement.
Any chance that Shelby got cut and snipped? A favorite stooge was fairly sure that such things just dont occur.
On Countdown, the rubes didnt need to know that a few Dem governors are balking about that same unemployment provision. They certainly didnt need to hear Obama say words like legitimate, honest.
What I don't want us to do is to just get caught up in the same old stuff, Obama had said. Earning big bucks from the same old stuff, Olbermann sent this treasonous comment straight to the cutting-room floor.
Tomorrow: The New York Times on that provision.