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WE KNOW WHAT THEY DID LAST DECADE! Cohen and Herbert are very upset. We can recall what they did: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 24, 2010

Half a loaf of history: Is better than none. Tomorrow, we’ll post the first half of Chapter 4 at our companion site, complete with explanations/excuses.

The triumph of upper-class messaging: We strongly recommend David Leonhardt’s ECONOMIC SCENE column, which the New York Times has had the good sense to put on today’s front page.

As he considers the new health care law, Leonhardt reviews the growing inequality within our society over the past thirty years. Most people who follow politics know that inequality has vastly increased. That said, we were struck—and surprised—by this part of Leonhardt’s column:

LEONHARDT (3/24/10): Finally, the bill will also reduce a different kind of inequality. In the broadest sense, insurance is meant to spread the costs of an individual's misfortune—illness, death, fire, flood—across society. Since the late 1970s, though, the share of Americans with health insurance has shrunk. As a result, the gap between the economic well-being of the sick and the healthy has been growing, at virtually every level of the income distribution.

The health reform bill will reverse that trend. By 2019, 95 percent of people are projected to be covered, up from 85 percent today (and about 90 percent in the late 1970s).

We were very surprised by those figures. Since the late 1970s, we have dropped from 90 percent coverage down to 85 percent? And just imagine! All the storm of the past year will result in getting up to 95 percent—just five points higher than we were when Jimmy Carter was president.

(Elsewhere in his piece, Leonhardt describes other aspects of our decades-long growth in inequality. A chart describes the fate of the very wealthy—the top 0.01 percent of earners. (One person in every ten thousand.) In the past thirty years, the annual income of these lucky duckies has increased by 384 percent. During that same period, their total effective federal tax rate has declined by more than 11 points—from roughly 42 percent to roughly 31.)

Why were we surprised by those coverage figures, even after a year of health care pseudo-discussion? As we read Leonhardt’s piece, we thought of the decades-long triumph of upper-class messaging.

In theory, the past thirty years should have been a golden age of progressive messaging. With vast inequality taking hold, it should have been a progressive messager’s dream—a chance to speak to working people, a chance to explain their plight. But almost every American elite is now composed of the wealthy or their kissing near-cousins. The mainstream press corps is an upper-class institution. So is the “career liberal world.”

Almost everyone you see in our public discourse is an adjunct to the upper-class. They are part of the upper-class, or they are near-cousin lap-dogs. They go on Hardball and kiss Chris Matthews’ ass—then pretend that they are progressives.

In fact, this has been a golden age for upper-class messaging. First, the Jack Welchs bought the Chris Matthewses; then, the Matthewses bought the Joan Walshes. They sit on TV, scratch backs, kiss keisters. Regular folk can go burn.

Again, we’ll recommend that nauseating exchange between Rachel Maddow and Jan Schakowsky. Millions more women will go on Medicaid, where they can get no abortion coverage. But so what? Our Own Rhodes Scholar won’t ask about their situation. What are her concerns? She is afraid that upper-class women may have to write two checks, instead of just one. And she wants to know if her elite political friend was disrespected in some minor manner.

Trust us: This is what Maddow knows. The know-nothing Wolff, who runs her show, is the son of a Budweiser lawyer.

We strongly recommend Leonhardt’s column. How did the era he describes permit the triumph of upper-class messaging? Jack bought Chris, then Chris bought Joan. Below, we consider the posturing of two “career liberal journalists” for whom we can’t have huge respect.

WE KNOW WHAT THEY DID LAST DECADE (permalink): How did we ever get into the current mess? Let’s compare and contrast:

Ken Gormley’s new book, The Death of American Virtue, describes the way the lunacy took hold of our political culture during the early Clinton years (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/23/10).

By way of contrast:

In his column in yesterday’s Washington Post, Richard Cohen didn’t seem to recall that the Clinton years even took place. Cohen is often astoundingly clueless, true to his role as one of the mainstream press corps’ designated “liberals.” But yesterday’s piece was clueless in a standard, instructive way.

Cohen praised the passage of health reform—and mused on the opposition’s fury. The fury of this opposition—and its frequent lunacy—tracks directly from the events described in Gormley’s book, of course. (The lunacy is an obvious part of our history.) But like his older brother Rip, Richard Van Winkle seems to have slept all through that earlier decade. In this passage, he seems to marvel at events which represent a reprise:

COHEN (3/23/10): This battle was never entirely about health care. The fury of the opposition— not a single Republican vote—is as historically significant as the passage of the legislation itself. There is something cleaving this country, something represented by the election of Barack Obama—the change he either promised or threatened, take your pick—and the hyper-exaggeration of the ideological threat the man represented. Caricatured as a socialist, a radical, a hard-left liberal and even an alien, he is actually the very soul of center-left moderation, cautious to a fault.

“Not a single Republican vote?” To Cohen, this is “historically significant.” Unfortunately, those who were awake in the Clinton years will recall that Clinton’s initial budget passed with “not a single Republican vote.” The next year, his health plan didn’t get a single Republican vote either; the bill had been crushed so thoroughly by solid GOP opposition that it didn’t even come to a vote. But Cohen somehow seems to think that the fury of the current opposition is new—and is somehow tied to Obama’s election. No one could fail to know where his small brain would go next:

COHEN: Anger comes from fear. What was once a white Protestant nation is changing hue and religion. It is no accident that racial epithets were yelled at black lawmakers on Saturday in Washington and a kind of venom even gets exclaimed from the floor of the Congress: "You lie!" “Baby killer!” The protesters were protesting health-care legislation. But they feared they were losing their country.

For the tiny mind of Cohen, the fury must come down to “hue” and race. But what explains the events in the Gormley book? What explains the years when the lunacy took hold of the culture? Cohen forgets that those events took place. He slept through that previous decade.

In part, we were struck by Cohen’s piece because we had already read Bob Herbert’s column in the New York Times. When it comes to the furious opposition, Herbert focuses even more heavily than Cohen on the least among them. Before he got to the race and gay slurs, he started out with this:

HERBERT (3/23/10): Some of the images from the run-up to Sunday's landmark health care vote in the House of Representatives should be seared into the nation's consciousness. We are so far, in so many ways, from being a class act.

A group of lowlifes at a Tea Party rally in Columbus, Ohio, last week taunted and humiliated a man who was sitting on the ground with a sign that said he had Parkinson's disease. The disgusting behavior was captured on a widely circulated videotape. One of the Tea Party protesters leaned over the man and sneered: ''If you're looking for a handout, you're in the wrong end of town.''

Another threw money at the man, first one bill and then another, and said contemptuously, ''I'll pay for this guy. Here you go. Start a pot.”

Herbert has thoroughly taken the bait. As a nation, “we are so far, in so many ways, from being a class act,” he says. His first piece of evidence? The fact that “a group of lowlifes” behaved in the way he described. And by the way:

When Herbert says “a group of” lowlifes, the gentleman really means: “two.” (You might call it Classic Screeching Pseudo-Liberalism. Two people behave like fallen souls, and it shows that we suck as a nation.)

The two people in question behaved very badly. (Dylan once called them “poor immigrants.”) So did the people Herbert described as he continued, those “opponents of the health care legislation” who “shouted racial slurs” at three congressmen and“taunted” Barney Frank “because he’s gay.” This conduct sent Herbert off on a tear about the Republican Party.

In our view, what he says about the GOP is overstated, but largely true. That said, there’s a reason why we don’t respect Herbert a lot when he goes off on such tears:

HERBERT: For decades the G.O.P. has been the party of fear, ignorance and divisiveness. All you have to do is look around to see what it has done to the country. The greatest economic inequality since the Gilded Age was followed by a near-total collapse of the overall economy. As a country, we have a monumental mess on our hands and still the Republicans have nothing to offer in the way of a remedy except more tax cuts for the rich.

This is the party of trickle down and weapons of mass destruction, the party of birthers and death-panel lunatics. This is the party that genuflects at the altar of right-wing talk radio, with its insane, nauseating, nonstop commitment to hatred and bigotry.

Glenn Beck of Fox News has called President Obama a ''racist'' and asserted that he ''has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.''

Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate, has said of Mr. Obama's economic policies: ''Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.''

The G.O.P. poisons the political atmosphere and then has the gall to complain about an absence of bipartisanship.

The toxic clouds that are the inevitable result of the fear and the bitter conflicts so relentlessly stoked by the Republican Party—think blacks against whites, gays versus straights, and a whole range of folks against immigrants—tend to obscure the tremendous damage that the party's policies have inflicted on the country.

We’d say that is overstated, but largely true. But we’ll admit it: We tend to feel contempt for Herbert when we see him ranting so grandly—when he tells us that we have to “rise up against this kind of garbage, to fight it aggressively wherever it appears.” (Would we have time to do anything else?)

Why do we feel contempt for this man? We know what he did last decade! In the last decade, the decade of Gormley, he gulped every bit of the lunacy’s Kool-Aid. He drank all the GOP’s poisons down, and then he swilled them back out.

Today, Bob Herbert shouts and yells pretty much like a big fracking nut (Confront it everywhere!) Quite correctly, he shouts and yells about the “tremendous damage” the lunacy has created. But we don’t have much respect for Herbert. You see, he has never gotten around to explaining why he helped the lunacy in the past decade. And like Joan Walsh, he continues to lick the boots of Chris Matthews, who did more to cement the lunacy’s hold than any living person.

Herbert gulped the GOP Kool-Aid, first about Clinton, then about Gore. Good God! After the first Bush-Gore debate, he insisted that Bush had tried his best to tell the truth; he complained about the fact that Gore had sighed when Bush kept peddling horse-shit! And Cohen wasn’t far behind in his love for that GOP Kool-Aid. Today, Cohen can’t even remember that decade. But we can recall what he did.

“Tremendous damage inflicted on the country?” Thanks to these two losermen, yes. Today, one rants and the other muses. But we can recall what they did.