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HOW WE GOT HERE! Liberals have done “a crappy job,” Kevin Drum says. Examples leap to mind: // link // print // previous // next //

Ezra Klein’s new clothes: Ezra Klein has grown up—has become a Serious Person—right before our eyes.

This represents a challenge to liberals—a challenge straight out of “The emperor’s new clothes.” Can we liberals bring ourselves to see events for what they are? Can we bring ourselves to reject a celebrity royal who plays us this obvious way?

We refer to Klein’s truly remarkable column in yesterday’s Washington Post. The column appeared on page A13. To see it as it appeared in the wild, just click here. (To read it, perform one more click.)

Klein’s column concerned Paul Ryan’s hugely important budget proposal. Even after a week of thought, Klein starts his piece in the time-honored way—by vouching, or by seeming to vouch, for Ryan’s goodness of character.

Or something. You try to decipher:

KLEIN (4/12/11): Just over a year ago, I wrote a column praising Rep. Paul Ryan's "Roadmap." I called its ambition "welcome, and all too rare." I said its dismissal of the status quo was "a point in its favor." When the inevitable backlash came, I defended Ryan against accusations that he was a fraud, and that technical mistakes in his tax projections should be taken as evidence of dishonesty. I also, for the record, like Ryan personally and appreciate his policy-oriented approach to politics.

So I believe I have some credibility when I say that the budget Ryan released last week is not courageous or serious or significant. It's a joke, and a bad one.

Klein goes on to savage Ryan’s new budget plan:

Klein says that Ryan’s new plan is “a joke.” He says it’s built on "a technical trick”—a trick he says Ryan was forced to use because "I suspect he couldn’t make the numbers add up” without resorting to such deception. He says Ryan’s claim to various savings is “nonsense.” He says Ryan’s plan supports the GOP’s “most inane…fiscal orthodoxies.”

These are truly remarkable charges. In effect, Klein is charging Ryan with a vast public fraud—a vast fraud against the American people. This raises a fairly obvious question:

Why in the world does Klein start his piece in the way he does? If Ryan is conducting a vast public fraud, why on earth does Klein start out saying this: “I…like Ryan personally and appreciate his policy-oriented approach to politics.”

Why on earth would any sane person start such a column that way? In this case, if you can’t at least make a good guess, you’re excused from all further discussions.

By the way, the start to this column is even worse than we have so far described. In paragraph one, Klein says this about events from last year: “When the inevitable backlash came, I defended Ryan against accusations that he was a fraud, and that technical mistakes in his tax projections should be taken as evidence of dishonesty.”

The word “inevitable” implies that liberals were talking that silly old scripted crap when they said Ryan was being dishonest. In his new column, Klein never brings himself to say that Ryan has now been revealed as a fraud. But right at the start, he paints a picture in which Ryan is defended against this charge. Eventually, Klein offers this remarkable portrait, bitch-slapping liberals again:

KLEIN: It's been fashionable for commentators to admit to Ryan's failings and wonder why Democrats haven't proposed anything of their own. The chorus has grown loud enough that Obama is scheduled to give a speech Wednesday outlining his alternative. But unlike Ryan, Democrats not only have a plausible proposal for controlling health-care costs, they have a law.

Ryan has “failings!” That’s the most Klein is willing to say. But not without offering a portrait of Ryan being attacked because it’s “fashionable.”

Yesterday, Paul Krugman recoiled against this column. (“My jaw dropped when I read this.” Click here.) On balance, we think Krugman was a bit too polite—and a tiny bit off-point. Good grief! Even after the deceptions Klein found in Ryan’s plan, he felt he must start a major column by saying how much he likes the big lug! By saying how much he “appreciates his policy-oriented approach!”

When children behave in public this way, their own rather obvious character tendencies become rather hard to miss.

Ezra Klein is a very bad boy; he seems to be running with the wrong crowd. But commenters cheered him on yesterday, defending him against Krugman’s complaint.

Never let it be said that we liberals don’t adore our own celebs—our own authority figures! Good God, but we’re easily taken.

Maybe Rachel will ask him about it the next time he guests on her show.

Special report: Mark Twain’s ineffectual mob!

PART 3—HOW WE GOT HERE (permalink): As we asked in yesterday’s HOWLER: Who lost the public?

Asking a slightly different question, how have we liberals permitted so much disinformation to become so widespread, so ingrained?

Just yesterday, Kevin Drum alluded to this problem. He discussed the public’s current reaction to the need to increase the federal debt limit. Refusing to raise the limit would be a catastrophe—but so what? By a wide margin, the public has said, “Bring it on!”

Why has the public responded that way? Kevin gave part of the answer:

DRUM (4/12/11): [L]ike it or not, liberals have long since lost the public opinion battle over the deficit. Poll after poll makes it clear that most people want to cut federal spending and don't want to raise the debt ceiling. Sure, it's a vague sentiment, and it falls apart when you ask them what they want to cut, but the fact remains that the public is largely on the Republican side of this battle right now. I happen to agree with Chait and others that Obama would be better off sticking to his guns and demanding a clean bill, but it's also worth acknowledging that this strategy starts from the bottom of a pretty deep hole. As usual, the liberal community has done a crappy job of selling the public on our perspective. Now we're paying the price.

In this matter, as in so many others, “liberals have long since lost the public opinion battle.” And it gets worse: “As usual,” Kevin says, “the liberal community has done a crappy job of selling the public on our perspective.”

How have we failed to sell the public on our (various) perspectives? Have we spent too much time clowning with millionaire darlings, pleasing ourselves with low-IQ twaddle about what an idiot John Boehner is? In the end, do we even have a perspective? Are we just here for the fun?

To a rational person, it’s tempting to blame the whole hinky thing on the nightly clowning of Maddow. But Rachel Maddow’s nightly nonsense is a recent development in the long, enduring history of progressive/liberal failure. We liberals have been doing that “crappy job” for a very long time. The current political landscape is part of the proof.

Let’s be fair. We the people would have dumb ideas even if liberals had behaved admirably. But “liberals” haven’t behaved that way—and it’s very hard to get modern liberals to see the sources of our failure.

Who lost the public? Let’s mention a few of the basic ways that “crappy job” has come to pass:

Liberal leaders may seem to like money: On Sunday, the New York Times ran a long profile of Peter Peterson, a decades-long leader in the crusades against federal debt and deficits. For ourselves, we wouldn’t demonize Peterson in the way Digby does; more on that sort of thing tomorrow. But we couldn’t help noticing this minor point late in Alan Feuer’s profile:

FEUER (4/10/11): The Peterson Foundation specializes in savvy, if somewhat corny, media campaigns that seek to popularize the issue of the debt…

Its most effective use of its founder’s fortune may be the millions of dollars in grants it has given over the years to think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Center for American Progress, run by John Podesta, Mr. Clinton’s former chief of staff. “Everyone I know in the ‘budget community’ is trying to get Peterson money,” said Stan Collender, a longtime budget expert at the consulting firm Qorvis Communications.

According to Feuer’s piece, “everyone…is trying to get Peterson money.” That “everyone” would seem to include the Center for American Progress, one of the liberal world’s leading think tanks. And wouldn’t you know it? In Diane Ravitch’s recent book about public education, she noted that “everyone” is trying to get Bill Gates money! There too, the CAP and other liberal orgs were cited for their receipt of funds from the “Billionaire Boys Club.”

We have no idea how CAP is funded. We have no idea how it reaches its policy stances. But make no mistake: Massive conservative money is washing all about in the policy world. And career liberal leaders, including your heroes, do seem to love the fancy meals you can buy in the priciest restaurants—the kinds of restaurants you can support if you drag in enough donations.

Big money washed through the Democratic Party long ago. Big Money corrupts large parts of the career left, though this influence isn’t easy to track.

Liberal leaders may seem to like good jobs with “centrist” or “Serious” news orgs: Why is Ezra Klein saying those things? We have no way of knowing, but patterns do tend to emerge. It’s very hard to get career liberals to tell it straight about the big mainstream press. Consider the ridiculous thing Jonathan Chait said last week.

Chait is smart, and he has a good sense of humor. He has been doing good policy work (see below). But good lord! Last week, Paul Ryan received fawning tribute from many key media players (not all). For reasons only he can explain, Chait penned this ginormous howler:

CHAIT (4/8/11): The Paul Ryan Myth

Paul Ryan is a remarkable politician. It is rare in this day and age to find an elected official so carefully craft an image that is distinctly at odds with reality and yet have the media cooperate so thoroughly and willingly in his image making.


If you haven't already, do check out James Downie's piece excerpting some of the media slobbering. The questions Ryan is asked almost never pierce his crafted image, they merely reinforce it— Won't the Democrats attack you for this? Why are you so brave? Etc. It's amazing.

For the record, Downie’s piece was pure crap. But was Chait kidding?

Are you kidding? It’s rare to find the establishment media cooperate in such image campaigns? When it comes to a string of Major Republicans, this sort of fawning character coverage is the well-established norm. For a very long time, John McCain was the world’s most honest man, even when it was clear that he wasn’t. (Chait himself was involved in this nonsense.) George W. Bush was a plain-spoken person, the kind of guy who says what he thinks. Colin Powell was a master of rectitude, even after he wowed the UN with the biggest pile of crap ever gathered on earth. (Rachel Maddow was still kissing Powell’s keister, and that of his top aide, right through last year.) Before that, Bob Dole was scripted as the man of high character in the 1996 White House race. And in most of these dramas, the Republican—the man of high probity—was scripted against a dishonest Dem. Al Gore was well-known as the world’s biggest liar, not unlike Bill Clinton before him. John Kerry was a comically feckless flip-flopper—even though, in mere fact, he was not.

How is it possible that major liberals have failed to establish this obvious theme for the American people? How is it that major liberals have failed to tell the public about this? (Even Krugman is soft in this area—has been soft several times in just the past week.) How is it possible that major liberals can still type such absolute nonsense—can still be surprised when this “slobbering” frame is slipped around Honest Paul’s neck? Can Chait really believe that crap—or was he playing you for career advantage? Prior mystery: In 2007, Chait wrote a book, The Big Con, in which he pretended that the New York Times only turned against Candidate Gore in October 2000.

Chait’s account of the Times’ 2000 coverage may be the most ridiculous account we’ve ever seen of any major public event. And just last week, we noted that Chait was being published by the Times—and no, not for the first time! Is that why Chait has worked so hard to be so clueless about the Times’ conduct? We have no way of knowing. But career liberal players have worked hard, for years, to keep the public barefoot and clueless about the way big mainstream organs have gone after Major Dems, especially Clinton and Gore. Many of these willing idiots have ended up at the Post and the Times—have ended up as players of Hardball, after covering up for Chris Matthews.

You have been played this way, again and again, when it comes to the mainstream press corps’ conduct. This is one of the ways “the liberal community has done a crappy job of selling the public on our perspective”—an amazingly crappy job.

Liberal leaders snooze and snore about major policy matters: Chait has done some good policy work—about the possible advantages of restoring all the Clinton tax rates, to cite one ongoing example. But mainstream career liberal leaders have long tended to hang back, sleeping and snoring the decades away. In this way, they have allowed a deeply ludicrous public discourse to develop down through the years.

How in the world have we managed to do it? How have we allowed so much disinformation to rule our public debates? In one area after another, the public has been disinformed in relentless, well-organized ways. But just as your career liberal leaders have tip-toed around that “Honest Republican/Dishonest Democrat” fetish, they have failed to go to the public and tell them they’re being disinformed.

The failures are overpowering. One example: We are thirty years into a disinformation campaign concerning Social Security. The other side has simple, well-crafted points of disinformation—deceptions everyone has heard. (The money isn’t there—we’ve already spent it! The left hand is borrowing from the right! Look out for that very large pile of worthless IOUs!) To this day, your side has made no real attempt to develop rebuttals the public can follow. We have made no effort whatsoever. Your “intellectual leaders” have slept, dozed, snoozed, burbled, slumbered and snored as this nonsense rules the debate. Non-career liberals have sat around accepting this slovenly conduct.

We liberals simply aren’t very smart—and we just luvv our celebrity leaders! Those leaders have often played us for fools as they build their safe, well-paid careers.

Like the followers of a famous emperor, we tend to sit there blindly and take it. Then again, we’ve found other ways of doing that “crappy job”—the crappy job that leaves Chris Hayes sensibly trembling about tonight’s address.

Tomorrow: Advancing the other side’s vision!