The tax trap: Few weeks will show our political cultures inanity as clearly as this week did. In a somewhat related matter, here was Approved Democratic Guest Lawrence ODonnell on last evenings Countdown. ODonnell explained yesterdays vote to take back 90 percent of those bonuses. We dont have the slightest idea if ODonnells views are correct:
ODONNELL (3/19/09): You know, this is, this was a brilliant trapa tax trap set by Nancy Pelosi.
I agree with [previous guest] Howard Fineman that this is unconstitutional. Chris Matthews had said so. I started saying so yesterday morning on MSNBC.
But it was a brilliant trap and here is why. There are 172 House members who take two oaths. They take an oath of office and then they take an oath to Grover Norquist, who is a Washingtona well-heeled Washingtonian fetishist about tax cuts. And they promised to him that they will never, ever vote to raise any taxes of any kind.
And half of them violated that promise, including Eric Cantor, who, it turns out, voted to do something today he said and promised his electorate he would never do, promised Grover Norquist he would never do. He voted for itthe biggest marginal tax rate increase in historyto take the top tax rate, from 35 percent to 90 percent. Weve never seen a vote like it. It will never be passed in the Senate; it will never come up in the Senate. Nancy Pelosi trapped all those Republicans into voting for a huge tax increase.
Is ODonnells assessment accurate? We dont have the slightest idea. But according to ODonnell, Pelosi crafted an unconstitutional bill to trap Republicans into an awkward vote. (She seems to have done this knowing the Senate will never vote on the measure.) With the nations economy melting down, a person could even see this as an unflattering claim about Pelosi. But ODonnell went on to give a silly analysis about what yesterdays vote shows us about Those Unprincipled Republicans. And in the next hour, on the same topic, Rachel Maddow ran us rubes a bit hard.
By the decades-old rules of her networks game, the days events could only reflect poorly on one particular group. (In the 1990s, all events reflected badly on Dems. In this decade, all events reflect badly on Reps.) Here were her first two questions to Greg Sargent, with whom she discussed this vote:
MADDOW (3/19/09): The Democrats are passing this legislation to get the bonus money back. Do you think that the Republicans just dont want to see the Democrats be able to take credit for getting the bonus money back?
MADDOW: I understand, I guess, the [Republican] political goal of wanting to be able to continue to complain about this for a long time. But with the Republicans not actually having a policy to respond to it, a policy that they agree on, it seems very awkward that they would want this to keep going. I mean, eventually, people are going to keep asking them, like Eric Cantor was asked, and stumped, this morning, what are you going do about it?
Wait a minute! One hour earlier, ODonnell had seemed to say that the Democrats dont actually have a policy to respond to itdont know what they are going top do about it. He said their approach was just a ploy, a trap for the other teaman unconstitutional measure on which the Senate would never vote. But so what? By the rules of modern political culture, tribunes like Maddow are forced to parse their heroes and villains Only One Way. And theyre forced to pretend they know everyones motives when, of course, they dont.
(By the way: The actual merits of such proposals are more important than imagined motives.)
ODonnell said this was a Democratic ploy. But he and Maddow knew the rules: On this network, only Republicans can be scored as the phonies. Pelosis trick showed that Cantor has no real beliefs, ODonnell numbnuttedly said.
This is the way a modern nation slides to banana republic status. This is the way we American rubes are consistently handed the news.
Did Pelosi set a trap? Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea; we dont live inside the minds of either Pelosi or Cantor. But like Jon Stewart scolding Jim Cramer, we dont want to pretend to know the things we cant possibly know.
Pelosi was faking, ODonnell said. And then, he slammed the Republicans for it. But so it has gone for the past several decades, with this one network flipping its rules on how it spots heros and villains.
Identity trap: By happenstance, wed just watched large chunks of The Parent Trap again, on Movieplex, last weekend. (For some reason, we get it for free.) Earlier, hoping to flee embarrassment, we had decided it had to be pulled from our list of favorite films. But as we watched certain scenes again, we decided it had to go back.
Of course, its mainly a childrens film, though some of the humor is really quite droll. But weve never seen a remake which breathes so much depth into so inert an original. We always find the remade Trap a weirdly deep study of identityof the ways we learn who we are. We love the scene where the two girls, thrilled to the soul, figure out that theyre actually sisters. (Not just sisters! Twins!) We love the long scene when the California kid flies to London to meet the mother shes dreamed of knowing. We especially love the scene where she fingers her mothers perfume and jewelsstanding at her mothers night stand, listening as she speaks on the phone. Cue the Beatles! (Here comes the sun.) We were struck, as we always are, by the strange depth that remake achieved.
(And the pleasure of an adjustment from Homer. When the London kid flies to California, its the faithful dogand the doting servantwho first figure out who she is.)
Natasha Richardson played the warm, loving mother. We hadnt known until this week that she was considered a fine formal actor. Mother! the California kid cries, as she throws herself into her arms.
Special report: David Brooks believes!
Read each thrilling installment: When it comes to public schools, David Brooks believes. Read each thrilling installment:
Part 1: David Brooks believes in Obamas agenda. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/17/09.
Part 2: David Brooks believes in the power of tests. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/18/09.
Part 3: David Brooks believes in higher standards. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/19/09.
Today, blessed interlude:
INTERLUDEHARD ON BROOKS: When we started this weeks report, we didnt think wed be hard on David Brooks, who simply repeated established cant about public schooling last week. Brooks believes in the power of testsand he believes in higher standards. But then again, what pundit doesnt? These have been Official Established Beliefs for the past twenty-plus years.
That said, its annoying to see these beliefs recited, especially when standard heros and villains get conjured in the process. Brooks wasnt nearly as bad as many scribes are. But he too made the education establishment and liberal orthodoxy stand opposed to heroic reformers. Sorry, it just isnt that simpleunless were just typing up tales.
Weve decided to wait until Monday to post part 4 of our report. Though we did roll our eyes a smidge when we read Brooks new piece this morning:
BROOKS (3/20/09): The president of the United States has decided to address this [world economic] crisis while simultaneously tackling the four most complicated problems facing the nation: health care, energy, immigration and education. Why he has not also decided to spend his evenings mastering quantum mechanics and discovering the origins of consciousness is beyond me.
Wait a minute! Today, Obama gets snarked for tackling education. Last Friday, hed conquered the world!
On Monday, well return to Arne Duncans fascinating statement to Brooks about the way some states lie to parents. In the meantime, well advise Obama not to bother trying to master quantum mechanics or discover the origins of consciousness.
Just a guess: In a thousand years, human beings will look back and snicker at our attempts at cosmology. Our basic concepts will seem like jokes; theyll be embarrassed by their ties to us, their clueless ancestors. Mr. President! We can perhaps improve our schools a bit faster, if we stop telling ourselves fairy tales. But you even got UCLA/VCU wrong! Brooks believes, correctly we think, that you should leave our biggest puzzles to those who will think we were hopeless.