We take the Olbermann Challenge: Quite bravely, a $5 Million Man fought back last night against his mewling critics.
We couldnt help admiring his courage. So we poured ourselves a glass of Pepsiand took the Olbermann Challenge.
Background: Olbermann had just finished interviewing his honored colleague, Chris Matthews, perhaps the most consequential cable clown of the past fifteen years. (You rarely hear that, because career liberals simply refuse to discuss it. Career players cant get booked on MSNBC if they tell the truth.)
Back to Keith and Matthews: After the lovin was done, the host played tape of President Obama at yesterdays town hall meeting. Then, he voiced the hurt hes felt in recent weeks:
OLBERMANN (4/29/09): Chris Matthews, who will not only bring you a special news conference edition of Hardball live tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern but also tonight, graces the stage of the Tonight show with Jay Leno on your local NBC station. Safe trip home, my friend.
MATTHEWS: Hey, thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: As senators Specter and Snowe decry those who have radicalized the Republican Party, the president took a chance in Missouri today to reach out to them:
OBAMA (videotape): Those of you who are watching certain news channels on which Im not very popular, and you see folks waving tea bags around, let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation.
OLBERMANN: Hey, you dont like that phrase tea bag? Address your complaints to him, not to me!
Well offer this thought about Olbermanns comment, and about human nature in general: If you pay a newsman five million bucks, youll end up with a clown every time.
For our money, that was an uncharacteristic moment for Obamaand not an especially good one. Its one thing to criticize political leaders who make foolish statementsand such leaders abound in our gong-show political culture. Its another thing to make sarcastic remarks about average citizensaverage citizens who have sensible fears about where the future might lead. On rare occasions, Obama seems to give in to frustration; he gets sarcastic in a way which seems aimed at regular peopleand he did so in yesterdays statement. Our general view? Obama is popularand highly respectedbecause he so rarely does this.
Olbermanns reaction to this event was that of a cable clown.
Poor Olbermann! Along with cable sidekick Rachel Maddow, he recently spent the better part of a week name-calling average peoplereeling off endless strings of dick jokes at their expense. He called them tea-baggers, childishly insisting on a sexual slang meaning of the term; he also turned tea bag into a verb, using this as a brilliant way to extend his sexual insults. Obama did none of this in yesterdays comment. In our view, his comment was ill-advisedbut he didnt do the various things for which Olbermann has been criticized.
(In Olbermanns defense, most of the people he has insulted didnt go to Cornell. Or even to Stanford!)
Sorry. Obama didnt do the things for which Olbermann has been criticized. Presumably, Olbermann understands this. But if you pay a newsman $5 million, youll get a clown every time. A clown who treats viewers like low-IQ fools. A clown who keeps deceiving the demoeven as he stalks it.
Olbermann played the foolagain. We thought his presentation was especially grimy if you consider Obamas larger remarks from yesterdays town hall meeting. The president was in Missouri with Senator Claire McCaskill. His tea bag remark occurred in this larger context:
OBAMA (4/29/09): I know you've been hearing all these arguments about, oh, Obamas just spending crazy, look at these huge trillion-dollar deficits, blah blah blah. Well, let me make a point: Number one, we inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit. (Applause.) That wasn't from mythat wasn't me. That wasn't me. Number two, there is almost uniform consensus among economists that in the middle of the biggest crisis, financial crisis since the Great Depression, we had to take extraordinary steps. So you've got a lot of Republican economists who agree that we had to do a stimulus package and we had to do something about the banks. Those are one-time charges and they're big and they'll make our deficits go up over the next two years, but those aren't the problem that we face long-term.
What we face long-term, the biggest problem we have is that Medicare and Medicaid, health care costs are skyrocketing, and at the same time that the population's getting older, which ismeans we're using more health care. You combine those two things, and if we aren't careful, health care will consume so much of our budget that ultimately we won't be able to do anything else.
We won't be able to provide financial assistance to students. We won't be able to help build green energy. We won't be able to help industry if they get into trouble. We won't have a National Park System. We won't be able to do what wesupposed to do on our veterans. Everything else will be pushed aside because of Medicare and Medicaid. That's the problem that we really confront.
That's why I've said we've got to have health reform this year to drive down costs (applause) and make health care affordable for American families, businesses and for our government.
So, so, you know, when youwhen you see, you know you know, those of you who are watching certain news channels that, on which I'm not very popular, and you see folks waving tea bags around (laughter) let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term, how we're going to stabilize Social Security.
Claire and I are working diligently to do basically a thorough audit of federal spending. But but let's not play games and pretend that the reason is because of the Recovery Act, because that's just a fraction of the overall problem that we've got. We are going to have to tighten our belts, but we're going to have to do it in an intelligent way, and we got to make sure that the people who are helped are working American families and we're not suddenly saying that the way to do this is to eliminate programs that help ordinary people and give more tax cuts to the wealthy. We tried that formula for eight years. It did not work, and I don't intend to go back to it. (Applause.)
We agree with much of what Obama says hereconceivably, with all of it. He did inherit a $1.3 trillion deficit; its abundantly fair when he says that deficit isnt him (isnt his doing). He also inherited the giant downturn/financial collapse which lies behind that massive deficit. In fact, he inherited the worst financial situation of any president since Franklin Roosevelt. That encompasses seventy-six years.
That said, massive deficits persist in years 7-10 under Obama, according to the non-partisan, Democratic-run CBO. A silly tea-bagger named Jeff Greenfield mentioned that situation on last nights Charlie Rose:
ROSE (4/29/09): Im struck byin terms of these speeches and the press conferences, how [Obama] continues to come back to a sort of series of themes that fit together, reflect the kind of mindset and reflect the sense of the way he thinks the countrys potential and the countrys ability to go beyond where it is today.
GREENFIELD: But heres what I cant figure out at all. Maybe its because I was a liberal arts major a hundred years ago. I look at these numbers, and if you take Obama and the administrations numbers, and you assume robust growth next year, and you assume that hes right as opposed to the Congressional Budget Office, which says hes off by $2.3 trillionat the end of this eight years, were still wallowing in an awfully big deficit with an accumulated debt, and the thing that I have yet to hear from any of these people is a real, concrete explanation of why this isnt a recipe for disaster.
Greenfield was willing to use Obamas numbers, not the CBOs gloomier figures. Even then, he said he doesnt know why the numbers arent a recipe for disaster.
In fact, Greenfield isnt a working-class stiffthe kind of person Olbermann and Maddow are paid to mock on your TV machine. Greenfield is a very experienced newsmanmuch more so than either of these overpaid cable progressives. And Greenfield says, when he looks at the figures, he cant see why we arent headed toward a disaster. The thing that I have yet to hear from any of these people is a real, concrete explanation, he says.
You might see that as a request for a serious conversationthe kind of conversation Obama says he also wants to have.
Simple point: Youll never see that conversation on Olbermanns TV program. (We hold out hope for Maddow.) The big lug is paid $5 million per yearand whenever you pay that kind of swag, you end up with a dumb cable clown. (Matthews became our biggest clown in the late 1990s. He was barely pulling one million!) Last night, Olbermann talked down to the rubes again; he pretended Obama had done the things for which he himself has been unfairly criticized. But Obama hadnt done those things. Olbermann surely knew that.
Greenfield wants a serious conversation; so does President Obama. Youll never see it on Olbermanns show. On his TV show, youre a toy. Youre valued as part of the demo.
NOTHING TO LOOK AT: Down with the Post and the Times! We thought the newspapers did equal-but-opposite, rather poor jobs reporting the important test scores which were released this week. (The data were released by the National Assessment of Educational Progressthe NAEP.) In our view, each paper rushed to interpret the data before it had really reported the data. In particular, the papers presented dueling views about the merits of No Child Left Behind. Each papers interpretation was silly, and forced, we incomparably thought (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/29/06).
That said, the Times offered a much more detailed report about these new scoresa report which started above the fold on page one. At one point, reporter Sam Dillon presented an especially large dose of basic, key information. Everything in the following paragraph helps explain the basic thrust of these new datatest scores in a long-term trend assessment which dates to 1971.
Judging from the new NAEP scores, what kind of progress have Americans children shown since the early 1970s? Three or four important points are crammed into this single paragraph:
DILLON (4/29/09): Despite gains that both whites and minorities did make, the overall scores of the United States 17-year-old students, averaged across all groups, were the same as those of teenagers who took the test in the early 1970s. This was largely due to a shift in demographics: there are now far more lower-scoring minorities in relation to whites. In 1971, the proportion of white 17-year-olds who took the reading test was 87 percent, while minorities were 12 percent. Last year, whites had declined to 59 percent while minorities had increased to 40 percent.
In that paragraph, Dillon includes at least three bits of essential information. In the literal sense, hes talking about the 17-year-olds who get tested as part of the long-term trend assessment. But for the most part, these basic facts also obtain for the 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds who get tested in this program:
Theres one more fact which isnt included in that pregnant paragraph: While scores have risen for all three groups, scores have risen more sharply for blacks and Hispanics. For that reason, those achievement gaps have tended to narrow, often substantially, over these thirty-plus years.
Repeat: Test scores from all three groups have improvedfairly substantially, wed have to say. And those famous achievement gaps have tended to shrink in the process. In 1971, for example, white 13-year-olds outscored their black counterparts by a gruesome 39 points in readingon a scale where ten points is sometimes compared, very roughly, to one academic year. (Very roughly. But that gives you a rough frame of reference.) On these new data from 2008, that gap is down to 21 points. You can call that half empty if you prefer. Thinking of the very hard work many people have contributed down through the years, we would be inclined to call that improvement half full.
For the most part, all three groups are doing betterand those gaps have declined. By the normal rules of the game, this should count as good news. But very few people have ever heard this news, and the Post and the Times largely invested their time and energy this week in arguing about No Child Left Behind. (The Post said good; the Times said bad.) Why is the public so poorly informed? Why are these data so rarely discussed? Why did the Post and the Times feel they had to debate No Child Left Behind before fulfilling their basic functionbefore trying to inform the public about these important data?
Well discuss those questions a bit more tomorrow. But lets understand several things:
Tomorrow, well look at the assessments of No Child Left Behind found in Wednesdays Post and Times. In the meantime, well make a suggestion: Look at the new data from the NAEPthe nations report card. To see black 9-year-olds gaining on their white counterparts in reading, click here, then click to page 14. (Both groups are scoring much higher than in 1971. The achievement gap has shrunk from 44 points to its current 24.) To see black 13-year-olds gaining on their white counterparts in math, click to page 35. (A gruesome 46-point gap is down to 28.) Some of you will cry and complain, saying you deserve a world where there are no gaps at all. This will often (not always) be the people who have never dunked their delicate toes inside a low-income school.
Centuries of brutal, benighted history created those ugly, heart-breaking gaps. No one understood in 1965but those achievement gaps wouldnt be wished away just because we no longer wanted them. But forty years later, Americans simply never discuss the important data found in those charts. Whether you call it half-full or half-empty, we never discuss the progress seen there. When our very smart president misstates basic reality, it doesnt produce the slightest reaction. And our biggest newspapers lead their reports with silly, dueling pseudo-assessments of a highly politicized program.
We progressives never discuss urban schools. Todays question: People! Why is that?