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FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 2011

Challenging Vitter’s accusers: In fairness, David Vitter’s fall from grace was somewhat different from Anthony Weiner’s. As far as anyone could tell, Vitter’s conduct had ended a few years earlier. He didn’t produce a week of egregious lying on TV, as Weiner did last week.

That said, Vitter did business with the so-called “D.C. Madam”—and this involved illegal conduct! People who like to fling poo all about certainly could have done so. But on Hardball, the egregious chimp Chris Matthews barely mentioned Vitter’s fall. When he did, he sympathized with “poor David Vitter,” who had been on his show before.

To review Matthews’ refusal to fling his poo all around, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/9/11. That said, guest host Mike Barnicle discussed the Vitter matter at some length on Hardball that week. We thought you might want to see what happened on this cable show when Vitter did get discussed.

Barnicle guest-hosted for Matthews on Thursday, July 12, 2007 and on Friday, July 13; Vitter’s fall had come to light on Monday of that week. Near the end of the Thursday program, Barnicle mentioned Vitter’s fall—but as you can easily see, no one screeched or hollered or yelled about his sexy-time conduct. (To read the full transcript, click here.) In this passage, Barnicle spoke with Jim Matthews (Chris Matthews’ Republican brother) and with Ezra Klein:

BARNICLE (7/12/07): Next up, Vitter missing in action. Since revelations of his patronage to a D.C. escort service, Republican Senator David Vitter has been ducking and covering. His reeling news comes in a week when the Senate is fiercely debating a wide range of proposals on the Iraq war. What would happen in Vitter’s absence [if he] turns out to be a decisive and a key vote on the war?

Will Republicans revolt and show him the door? Jim Matthews, Philadelphia, what are they saying in Philadelphia about David Vitter, if anything? What do Republicans have to say about this guy?

MATTHEWS: I guess you could blame it on Bush. But I would have to say seriously they don’t want to see our position in the Senate at all compromised right now. These are very serious times. And I can’t help it. I’m sorry… This is, to me, a shame, an incident I’m sure everybody wishes did not happen. But it was three years before the gentleman took his seat in the Senate. And I think we have some very serious business that you’ve been talking about for the last 50 minutes that demands full attention and full vote.

BARNICLE: You know, Jim Matthews is absolutely right. When you consider the fact that they’re debating the war in Iraq in both the House and the Senate right now, and this guy missing in action, thus far, this could be crucial to the Republicans.

KLEIN: I assume they can call him back, if it gets to that. But I don’t know, to some degree, I feel like you’re exactly right. What are we doing here? This is going to sound glib, but why does this matter so much? This is a Louisiana politician who we are now accusing of ethical indiscretions. And simply on the list of David Vitter’s harm to the country, this I wouldn’t even put in the top ten.


BARNICLE: Jim, but talk about the obscenity of this. Ezra just mentioned—the idea that the war in Iraq is going on. Funerals are being held across this country on nearly a daily basis, and we’re talking about David Vitter and some hooker?

MATTHEWS: I’ll tell you right now, I will lead the charge nationally against Vitter if Bill Clinton comes out—and he’s my Yoda on this, all right, on this moral question. If Bill Clinton comes out and says he has to go from the Senate, he can’t do his job after that transgression, I will lead the charge. So let’s get serious.

BARNICLE: What is this about this city that it’s so obsessed with sex scandals, as opposed to the war-based reality?

Everyone agreed! In those very serious times, it was “obscene” to be “so obsessed with sex scandals!” And needless to say, this provided a chance to bring in the snide against Bill Clinton. (At this point, Hardball hadn’t yet been repurposed as a basically liberal/Democratic program, as it generally is today, though Matthews was working hard to defeat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.)

For ourselves, we largely agree with the sentiments expressed on that show. But then, we didn’t spend this past week leaping around the monkey cage screeching about Weiner’s fall. If anything, the problems we face today may be larger than the problems faced then. But this week, everyone was willing to blow those problems off for the sake of a good cleansing sex chase.

On Friday, July 13, Barnicle spent a much larger chunk of time on the Vitter matter. But as you can see if you read the full transcript, he basically spent his time challenging Vitter’s accusers. Some background:

Larry Flynt had played the Breitbart role in the outing of Vitter. He had produced the accurate information about Vitter’s naughty-boy conduct. On Friday’s Hardball, Barnicle spoke with the D.C. Madam’s lawyer. Soon, he was waxing indignant:

BARNICLE (7/13/07): You know, there’s something about this, and now especially with the inclusion of Senator Vitter’s name in this whole story, that, you know, you sort of want to take a shower before you even approach the story. I mean, we’re dealing here in Washington and around the country with issues of Iraq and, you know, a war that’s ongoing, people dying. And yet this obsession with sex, this obsession with prominent people, Washington people involved in this thing— You know, did you have anything to do with her linking up with Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine?

No one was flinging the poo around when David Vitter fell from grace. This week, Matthews clowned and attacked in very wild ways, helped by a gang of trained seals.

Final point: Rachel Maddow was upset last night about the way the Weiner story got pimped. She bravely challenged the hypocrisy of major Republican players. But why did Matthews behave as he did? In effect, she could have walked down the corporate hallway and asked.

Why do you think she failed to do that? We can think of two million reasons. But why do you think she kept quiet?

Special report: The culture that has no name!

PART 4—WITH LIBERAL CONSENT (permalink): It’s true. The press corps loves to screech and fling poo all about, disturbed by that hot steamy sex.

When no steamy sex can be found, they like to compensate by talking about total trivia. They will finger Newt Gingrich’s jewels. They’ll express their concerns about Mitt Romney’s clothes. Years ago, they were troubled by Candidate Gore’s boots, suits, buttons, jeans, shirts.

Sometimes, these nincompoops even like to pretend that they are concerned with more serious topics. On Monday, Chris Matthews pretended, as he flung poo around, that he wanted to talk about the debt ceiling. In truth, the one time he’d ever tried to do that, he was instantly knocked off-topic by Marsha Blackburn, who rather plainly gets booked on his show because she’s blonde and good-looking (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/9/11).

Chris Matthews doesn’t know how to discuss such an issue. This obvious fact becomes quite clear in the rare instances when he tries.

These are deeply silly people; they enact a deeply silly culture. Last night, on the O’Reilly Factor, we saw one fruit of this culture.

Mr. O had invited Herman Cain to chitter-chat on his program. Herman Cain wants to be the next president. Mr. O asked a good question:

O'REILLY (6/9/11): Now, we would assume if you were elected president that you would, you know, lower taxes dramatically, is that correct? You would lower taxes, right?

CAIN: That is correct. I would lower the top corporate tax rate. I would lower the personal rate. And I would also take the capital gains tax rate to zero.

O'REILLY: O.K. No cap gains, so that would make, you know, capitalists real happy. Right. But how do you get the $14 trillion debt down when your revenue stream is going to drop, particularly with the cap gains? You are not going to get any money from that sector. How are you going to get the debt down?

If elected, Herman Cain would eliminate the tax on capital gains. In response, Mr. O noted that the federal treasury would therefore receive no revenue—none at all!—from this sector.

In a slightly different world, this question would make fairly obvious sense. But here’s the answer O’Reilly got, again and again, in the culture which still has no name:

CAIN (continuing directly): That assumption Bill, assumes static analysis. I'm assuming dynamic analysis which means that if you lower taxes the right way— If you look at the decade of the 60's when Kennedy lowered taxes, if you look at the decade of the 80's when Reagan lowered taxes—for the decade, taxes went up over 50 percent. It will not take revenue out of the Treasury.

Secondly, at the same time you are increasing the growth in the economy. You are taking some hard cuts on spending. You have them going in the right direction.

O'REILLY: All right. Look, look, look. The revenue enhancement came under President Bush, that's the most recent example in the 90's because the capital gains was cut to 15 percent and people invested in the stock market, did well and the revenue came in.

You're saying you wouldn't take a dime from that. So if revenue is going to go down, it's going to go down dramatically if you were president. Now you say O.K., I'm going to cut [spending]. Now, you're going to have to cut unbelievably, unbelievably, down to the bare bones to, you know, to bring that debt down.

CAIN: Right. But, Bill, you have a major— I disagree with you on one of your assumptions. It is not going to bring down revenue. This is the myth that has been planted in the heads of a lot of people.

O'REILLY: I don't know where you going to get revenue from if you don't have cap gains coming in. You're going to— Where is it going to come from?

CAIN: Bill, let's try this. When the capital gains rate is taken to zero, small businesses benefit the most. They put their money into small community banks who loan money to small investors. Big banks are not loaning money to small businesses. This is why this economy is not growing.

O'REILLY: That's good for the folks, it's good for small business. Where is Washington's cut?

CAIN: Washington's cut? Washington doesn't get a cut. Look, Bill—

O'REILLY: I know it doesn't! That's what I'm saying, that your revenue stream is going to drop.

CAIN: No. Bill. It's not going to drop.

O'REILLY: All right. You disagree. I'm just posing the question.

CAIN: Not going to drop. O.K.

On Hardball, Chris Matthews had been flinging poo all around, screeching and retracting his lips and hurling himself up the bars of his cage. By way of contrast, Mr. O asked an obvious policy question; in fact, he asked it several times. In response, he got the type of answer that only could exist in our current culture—the culture which lacks a name:

Cain would cut the tax rate to zero—but the federal revenues would still roll in! “Not going to drop,” the candidate thoughtfully said.

In fairness, Cain could have fashioned a better ridiculous answer. He could have said that all the lending would put lots of people to work, generating oodles of income taxes. But within the culture that has no name, ludicrous answers don’t even have to seem to make sense. Within this culture, you can cut the tax rate to zero and your revenue stream still won’t drop!

Your explanation can stop right there! No further assembly required!

What kind of name might we give to a culture which generates discussions like these—discussions of Weiner’s wee-wee and Gingrich’s jewels along with policy discussions involving Cain’s “magic zero?” For our money, Mike Judge has probably done the best job, employing the term “idiocracy.”

But the most remarkable fact about this culture is the fact that it bears no familiar name, not even within the “liberal” world. For decades, the liberal establishment has sat and stared as this noxious culture has grown, eating progressive interests alive as it mutates and spreads.

How potent has liberal silence been? Consider something Digby said in this recent post. After discussing California’s famous Proposition 13, she offered this further comment:

DIGBY (6/8/11): This was one of many right wing rhetorical victories over common sense. But I have to say that the one that never fails to amaze me is the fatuous supply side fantasy that says the less you tax the more revenue you get! Talk about magical thinking. And yet they continue to drag it out and you will see it even more during the campaign when the Republicans (and sadly, some Democrats) will insist that the deficit will be fixed if only we cut taxes.

If they can do that is it really ridiculous to believe that professional liberal politicians should be able to figure out a way to explain to people that the government needs to spend money in a recession to make up for the lack of spending by the private sector?

“The less you tax, the more revenue you get!” Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve been screeching and flinging poo about that talking-point for the past decade. Before this week, we never knew that this was the right-wing rhetorical device which amazes Digby above all the rest. But then, the liberal world has made little attempt to confront the long string of crackpot points which have increasingly shaped our discourse over the past thirty years.

Powerful interests have spread these points all around. The career liberal world has just stared. With few exceptions, our policy mavens behave like good boys and girls; politely, they tinker around the edges, failing to name or describe the larger culture within which the lunacy spreads. But then, our side has never tried, in the past thirty years, to advance a basic insight. Here’s what we’ve never side:

Our side has never stood up on and said that the public debate is insane and inane. That a modern nation simply can’t be run like an idiocracy. That many of our most powerful media players behave in precisely that way. That this is an obvious function of “liberal” and “mainstream” conduct, not just of Sean and Bill (although they’re deeply culpable).

This past week tested our silence. Last week, the nation was pretty much discussing the Ryan Medicare plan—and as serious discussions will often do, this discussion was advancing progressive interests. Despite the efforts of Potemkin liberals (think of the loathsome Gail Collins), many citizens were coming to see that the Republican Party has been advancing some very unfortunate proposals—proposals which reflect a very strange view of America’s future.

This week, that discussion stopped. The screeching chimps of the mainstream press threw that serious discussion aside; as they often do, they replaced that serious discussion with poo-flinging talk about Weiner’s wee-wee. Here’s the question we ask you to ponder:

Did you see a single career liberal go on your TV machine thingy and say the following things:

It’s insane to waste our time on topics like this as our nation slides into the sea. I refuse to answer your questions about what Weiner did and why he did it. Instead, I challenge you: I challenge you to tell us why we’re having this silly discussion—about one lone member of the House, a body with 435 members.

Did you see a single person make that statement this week? Did you see a single person say this: I didn’t care about David Vitter and I don’t care about Anthony Weiner! (Full stop.) Or did you see your own tribal players flinging their own tribal poo all around? Did you perhaps see them playing the fool inside their own tribal cages?

In our experience, Lawrence O’Donnell came closest to rejecting this week’s discussion on cable—and he didn’t come very close. In print, E. J. Dionne came quite close to rejecting this nonsense in this Washington Post op-ed column. But others were flung the poo all around, including the useless millionaire sold to us as Our Own Rhodes Scholar.

What did Rachel Maddow do? We’ll turn to that topic next week.

For today, let’s consider an important moment in cultural history—a moment when a very large unspoken problem was finally given a name. It was Betty Friedan who stepped forward, in 1963, in the opening chapter of The Feminine Mystique. In that famous chapter, she described a problem which had no name. In that way, the problem Friedan discussed in her book was much like our modern press culture:

FRIEDAN (1963): The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—"Is this all?"

For over fifteen years there was no word of this yearning in the millions of words written about women, for women, in all the columns, books and articles by experts.


For over fifteen years women in America found it harder to talk about the problem than about sex. Even the psychoanalysts had no name for it. When a woman went to a psychiatrist for help, as many women did, she would say, "I'm so ashamed," or "I must be hopelessly neurotic." "I don't know what's wrong with women today," a suburban psychiatrist said uneasily. "I only know something is wrong because most of my patients happen to be women. And their problem isn't sexual." Most women with this problem did not go to see a psychoanalyst, however. "There's nothing wrong really," they kept telling themselves, "There isn't any problem."

But on an April morning in 1959, I heard a mother of four, having coffee with four other mothers in a suburban development fifteen miles from New York, say in a tone of quiet desperation, "the problem." And the others knew, without words, that she was not talking about a problem with her husband, or her children, or her home. Suddenly they realized they all shared the same problem, the problem that has no name. They began, hesitantly, to talk about it.

To read the whole chapter, click this.

Whatever you think of Friedan’s famous book, she described an intriguing, destructive situation. A very serious problem existed, but that problem had no name! For that reason, no one knew how to discuss it.

The problem we face today is different. But thanks to the disgusting conduct of a generation of career liberal hustlers, this problem—our modern political culture—also has no name.

Various career liberal hustlers are doing extremely well in this culture (click this). But your nation is dying beneath it. When do we give it a name?