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WHERE THE HYPOCRITES ARE! If we only challenge the other tribe’s hypocrisy, are we hypocritical too? // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 2011

Why shouldn’t Dems distinguish themselves by making accurate statements: Tomorrow, a bad thing will happen. The New York Times will thump at your door—and there will be no column by Paul Krugman, or so Krugman seems to have said. (He’s off on a jaunt.)

This is a very bad thing for liberals. Twice a week, liberals can actually expect to learn things by reading Krugman’s columns! It’s amazing how little learning occurs anywhere else in the upper-end press.

Example: Tim Pawlenty has now released the world’s most ludicrous budget plan. Have you seen that plan discussed in your paper’s news pages? Actually, no—so far, you haven’t. Do you think you ever will?

The dumbness of our political discourse is simply astounding. But it isn’t all the fault of the mainstream press. Yesterday, we were struck by the poor analytical work in a piece at TPM.

To understand what was wrong with that piece, let’s start with a news report in today’s New York Times.

Uh-oh! Representative Gerry Connolly sent out a mailer to his constituents—or at least, he tried. Michael Shear explains what happened next:

SHEAR (6/16/11): When Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, tried to send a taxpayer-paid newsletter to his constituents this month, the Republican majority had a few edits first.

Instead of calling the Republican budget proposals a plan to ''eliminate Medicare as we know it and replace it with a privatized system,'' the group that oversees House mailings insisted on making it ''change Medicare and revise a government program with support from private insurance companies.''

Where Mr. Connolly wanted to call the plan, offered by Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, a ''radical plan,'' the committee said no. And when Mr. Connolly tried to characterize it as a ''voucher,'' it was suggested that he refer to the plan as a ''premium support system,'' the term used by House Republicans.

''This is like Soviet censorship. It's intolerable,'' Mr. Connolly said.

Connolly wanted to say that the GOP plan would “eliminate Medicare as we know it.” The Republican leadership of the House wouldn’t let him advance such a claim.

We were struck by the fact that Connolly chose a more accurate, less flamboyant way to describe the Ryan plan. He didn’t say it would “eliminate Medicare” [full stop], a claim which might confuse or mislead some constituents. In our view, he was more responsible. He said the plan would “eliminate Medicare as we know it.” He then went on to explain what he meant by that.

Even that wasn’t good enough for the GOP leadership.

In our view, Connolly was being fair with his constituents. He avoided a locution which might mislead people. By way of contrast, look at this work by TPM, in which Brian Beutler keeps refusing to see the potential problem with the more dramatic, more truncated claim.

Beutler discusses, as per his headline, the “three most common mistakes made by so-called fact checkers when assessing GOP’s Medicare plan.” According to Beutler, “mistake #1” occurs when fact-checkers say this: “The GOP plan doesn’t end Medicare.” According to Beutler, fact-checkers should stop complaining when Democratic Party entities say that the GOP is trying to “kill/end/eliminate Medicare.” This is the start of his argument:

BEUTLER: A widely cited Monday piece by Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler takes Democrats to the mattresses for three different claims they made about the plan in a recent web petition—the biggest being that Republicans want to scrap the current Medicare program. "[T]he DSCC essentially says: The House Republican budget plan would eliminate Medicare."

For this, and other sins which we'll address momentarily, Kessler gives Dems a dreaded Four Pinocchios.

But even if you disagree with the politically charged way partisans talk about the GOP plan—indeed, even if you support the GOP plan on the merits—it's hard to claim that Dems are reaching new frontiers of dishonesty.

Here's Tom Scully—former Bush administration director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services—on the Republican plan, in an interview with me. "It gets rid of—and I would do that—gets rid of the current Medicare program where the government is the insurance company and the government sets the prices."

Scully supports the concept of—in his words—privatizing Medicare. The GOP plan is modeled in many ways after the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, of which Scully was a key architect. He certainly doesn't think it would be the end of the world for current or future seniors. But he acknowledges that it would constitute "a fundamental structural change in the program."

The DSCC uses harsher words: "The radical GOP has not given up on its drive to kill Medicare," the petition reads.

"The radical GOP has not given up on its drive to kill Medicare." Was the DSCC wrong to advance that claim? Actually, yes—sort of. Inevitably, some voters will be misled by this claim—and Connolly’s mailer shows how easy it is to state the facts in a way which will produce less confusion. But then, so does Scully, saying that the GOP would make "a fundamental structural change in the program."

Presumably, the fact-checker Kessler would have accepted language like that. Why not use language that is more accurate rather than less—just as Rep. Connolly did in his constituent mailer?

Gack. No, it isn’t the end of the world when Democrats make the “kills Medicare” claim, especially depending on the context. (In some settings, everyone knows what is meant.) But fact-checkers are well within their rights to note that some people will be misled by this claim, especially in a short ad which doesn’t explain things further. As a defense, Beutler says “it's hard to claim that Dems are reaching new frontiers of dishonesty.” The sheer absurdity of that defense pretty much speaks for itself

For decades, we liberals slept in the woods. Reading Beutler’s piece, we were struck by the low skill level we carried with us when we awoke—and by our willingness to slip the surly bonds of accuracy.

The Ryan plan would indeed end Medicare as we know it. Aside from problems with Soviet-style censorship, what’s wrong with just saying that? Why shouldn’t Dems distinguish themselves by making accurate statements?

Special report: Life in the tribal belt!

PART 4—WHERE THE HYPOCRITES ARE (permalink): History question

Paul Revere is famously said to have said, “One if by land and two if by sea.” To what “sea” did this statement refer?

Two weeks ago, we couldn’t have answered that question—and we grew up in the Boston suburbs, right where this great man staged his great ride. Indeed, very few people could tell you much about Revere’s famous gallop. But so what? In recent weeks, we liberals got to enjoy a good laugh at Sarah Palin’s comical, fumbling attempt to bluff her way through an explanation of same.

It was heaven! We got to tell ourselves how smart we are, how dumb “they” are in their tribe.

As liberal politics turns to the tribal, we spend our time on silly diversions; these diversions are quite pleasing but they make us dumb, less effective. We tell ourselves that “those people” are dumb—dumb and morally horrid. And when we want an easy win, we say that “those people” are hypocrites.

They are hypocrites. We are not, we proclaim to the world.

Here at THE HOWLER, we know a few things about the joy of naming the hypocrites. In his later years, our Grandfather Rufus was a fairly well-known moral lecturer. In a New Haven newspaper of the early 1890s, there appeared a lengthy paraphrase of his lecture on the evils of hypocrisy. Grandfather Rufus had gone through the way hypocrisy can affect people in every profession.

Every profession except his own, we couldn’t help but notice. (No disrespect intended.)

It’s a bit like that when Rachel Maddow, from deep in the tribal belt, dumbs the liberal movement down with her incessant reports on the other tribe’s hypocrisy. On June 8, she made poor David Letterman listen to her standard rap on the subject. Anthony Weiner isn’t as bad as the other tribe, she told Dave—you see, he isn’t a hypocrite. To watch the whole session, click this:

MADDOW (6/8/11): Him screwing up his marriage in itself I think is more gossip than news. He was never—this is not a matter of political hypocrisy. He never ran for office by saying, “I, Anthony Weiner, have great sexual morality and other people have bad sexual morality and I’ll legislate against them.” He wasn’t like David Vitter and John Ensign and all these guys who had that problem. Anthony Weiner didn’t have that and so this is, I think it is mostly gossip

LETTERMAN: These other guys you’re saying are hypocritical, it doesn’t apply to this case.

MADDOW: Yes.

If you watch Maddow’s eponymous program, you know how often she plays the hypocrisy card. And you may agree with us on this point: It looks like she truly believes it.

Let’s start with one basic point: In some instances, major Republicans have seemed a bit hypocritical in the recent brouhahas. Reince Preibus, the head of the RNC, has called for Weiner to resign; he never called for Republicans caught in sex scandals to do so. On last Sunday’s Meet the Press, Preibus did a miserable job explaining his conduct—though David Gregory let him escape without a follow-up question. Here’s the good news: On Letterman, Maddow had already reviewed this lesson with her captive host:

MADDOW: I mean David Vitter, senator from Louisiana, is the guy who has admitted to using the services of prostitutes. And nobody in the Republican Party has ever called for him to resign, but yet they are calling for Anthony Weiner to resign. And that to me says a lot more about the Republican Party than it does about Anthony Weiner, that sort of hypocrisy.

[applause]

Have Republicans been hypocritical? Probably, although there are differences between these various cases. But then, it’s amazingly easy, especially in politics, to stamp the other team as hypocrites.

Question: When we only see the other tribe’s “hypocrisy,” are we perhaps being a bit hypocritical ourselves?

Is Maddow perhaps being a bit hypocritical? Let’s consider the case of Weiner, noting that a sensible nation would never have wasted its time on this topic, except on the local level.

New question: Is Weiner himself a hypocrite? For ourselves, we wouldn’t have wasted our time on the question; Maddow says he isn’t. But in politics, it’s amazingly easy to argue this claim against an individual or a party. On Monday night, Maddow discussed the Weiner flap with Bob Herbert, a genuine progressive in most areas. But uh-oh! In his response to Maddow’s complaints, Herbert raised a few points which don’t seem to have entered Maddow’s tribal mind. We will concentrate on the one point we’ve highlighted:

MADDOW (6/13/11): I have a feeling that we may not agree on this. I feel like, no national Republicans called for John Ensign to resign. It took him years to resign. No elected Republicans that I know of has ever called for David Vitter to resign. He’s still there.

HERBERT: Right.

MADDOW: Why are Democrats turning on Anthony Weiner like this?

HERBERT: Well, I’m not sure why Democrats are turning on Anthony Weiner. But I do think it’s time for Weiner to go. I also don’t think he’s going to survive.

But I think that there’s a lot of reasons he should leave. First and foremost, I don’t think Democrats should be behaving like Republicans. I expect Republicans to be hypocrite—I expect politicians to be hypocritical, and I expect Republicans to be at a heightened state of hypocrisy than most politicians.

But, you know, I think we should have, we should want higher standards in government from our office-holders, Republicans and Democrats alike. And I do believe that Weiner’s behavior has been egregious. In the first place, it’s profoundly disrespectful to women.

And if the photos that he sent, if they were uncensored, he’d be gone now. I mean, he sent some hideous stuff.

Interesting! Maddow loves to make the claim that Vitter and Ensign are hypocrites because they ran for office saying this (see above): “I have great sexual morality and other people have bad sexual morality and I’ll legislate against them.” (Just so you’ll know, this is Maddow’s way of saying they opposed same sex marriage. This became clear in her June 8 discussion with Michael Steele, who misunderstood what she was saying when she made this complaint.) In our mind, this is a fairly tortured route to the claim that they are hypocrites—but Herbert raised an intriguing point about Weiner, a liberal Democrat. Is it perhaps a bit “hypocritical” for Democrats to behave in certain ways when they tend to proclaim their support for women’s rights? In a recent Daily Beast piece, Kirsten Powers made the following claims against Weiner, a long-time personal friend:

POWERS (6/8/11): This has not been my previous position during the scandal, but as I have recovered from the shock of seeing an old friend’s life unravel and have had time to get my mind around the extensive and sociopathic lying in which he engaged, there seems to be no other choice than for him to step aside and stop hurting his family, friends, and the Democratic Party. As more information trickles out about his online behavior with women, it has also become clear that he does not have the character to be in a position of leadership because of his misogynist view of women and predatory behavior.

[…]

But even if I could see past the lying and extreme narcissism that is noteworthy even by Washington standards, there is the issue of his attitude toward women. What has emerged is a picture of a predator trolling the Internet for women—some half his age—with which to engage in cybersex. We know only about the women who were responsive to his overtures. The odds are very high that he struck out with many, and other women were victim to his unsolicited sex talk. Women should be able to “friend” a married—or unmarried—congressman on Facebook or follow him on Twitter without fear of being the recipient of lewd talk or behavior. Just because a woman “likes” your video on Facebook doesn’t mean you can send her a picture of your penis. This is textbook sexual harassment. It may not be illegal, but it’s definitely unethical. He is in a position of influence, and many women—especially a 21-year-old—would be afraid to report a congressman doing that to them because he holds so much power. Also, he claims none of the women he contacted were underage, but how could he possibly know that?

What Powers says is plainly true, except within a pseudo-liberal political world which has almost no sexual politics. Duh. Young women should be able to contact a congressman without receiving sex-based replies; this is a matter of simple respect for their right to be persons, not sex triggers. Question: Is it “hypocritical” to run as a liberal Democrat while behaving this way in your private life? At Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams was also struck by this problem with Weiner’s behavior, a matter which never seems to have penetrated Maddow’s tribal mind:

WILLIAMS (6/10/11): So let's be clear here. A declaration of admiration is not an invitation to worship your glorious dong. If a Democratic representative chooses to engage in a little online wink wink with a woman other than his wife, and said lady is up for it, that might be tacky at best. But if you are sending unsolicited photos of your penis to, say,…a Twitter follower who lightheartedly expresses her fandom, that is not a "joke." A duck walking into a bar is a joke. An unasked-for shot of your erection is harassment. It's an act of sexual aggression. And guys, it's just this simple: If she didn't ask to see your boner, don't show her your boner.

As we’ve said, we don’t think the Weiner situation should have produced a national discussion, crowding out debate about policy matters which are vastly more important. But then, we don’t spend vast amounts of time screeching about the way John Ensign kept “shtupping” poor Cynthia Hampton. This is a point of obsession with Maddow, as poor Letterman learned:

MADDOW: No, I mean, well, this John Ensign. I still don’t understand why the John Ensign scandal didn’t get more attention.

LETTERMAN: That’s very complicated.

MADDOW: The John Ensign scandal, he’s shtupping someone who works for him who is married to somebody else who works for him. It gets exposed and he decides that in order to cover it up he’s going to have his parents pay them $96,000 and give the husband an illegal lobbying job. And then Tom Coburn, the senator from Oklahoma, helps him work out the financial deal for the settlement. Why is that less of a scandal than “Anthony Weiner has bad manners on Facebook?” I mean, it’s just— I mean yes, there are naked bad manners and he lies about them and all those things. But really? John Ensign is less of a big deal?

For the record, Maddow set her thumb on the scale in various ways as she described the Ensign situation. But note how the tribal mind tends to work: She wants more attention paid to Ensign, less attention paid to Weiner. She explained this point to Herbert when he said Weiner should resign:

MADDOW: But isn’t that just rewarding the disproportionate coverage of him? For example, John Ensign, the John Ensign case was—

HERBERT: I don’t think it’s about the disproportionate coverage of Weiner, I think it’s about what Weiner did. I mean, I look at people like Debbie Wasserman Schultz and I look at Nancy Pelosi, I have a great deal of respect for both of them, and they think that he should, he should be gone.

You know, the coverage is disproportionate. There’s a lot of reasons for that. And the media, we do go overboard on all of these things.

MADDOW: Well, or under-board on some of them. I mean, the John Ensign scandal, it was marginal coverage, a day or two, even the Times deep, entrenched reporting on it, and we had incredible detail to go on, and there was this blistering special council report–it’s gone. It’s gone and in the ether.

For the record, that “blistering special council report” struck us as extremely silly in a lot of respects. But as you’ve noticed if you watch Maddow’s program, she almost always accepts the judgments and representations of prosecutors. She certainly won’t reverse that habit when the special counsel in question is chasing someone from the other tribe all around the town.

For the record, we agree with Maddow regarding the coverage. In our view, the coverage of Weiner has been vastly overblown as compared to the coverage of Ensign and Vitter. (We think the coverage of Ensign and Vitter came closer to being appropriate.) But of course, Maddow could ask about that disproportionate coverage, which has been quite extreme on her own cable channel! She could simply ask Chris Matthews why he screeched and yelled about Weiner after ignoring and pimping for Vitter. She could also ask David Gregory why he let Preibus slither away with an absurdly weak explanation for his own recent conduct.

Maddow could ask about the coverage, the coverage which has her upset. But she will never do such a thing, not in a million years. If Newsweek’s report of her income is accurate, Maddow is paid up to $2 million per year by the lords at NBC. Simple story: She will never challenge the stars at the channel which hands her such massive swag.

If you doubt that, just watch her program.

Is Rachel Maddow a hypocrite? She complains about Republicans by name; she will never name Matthews or Gregory. In this way, she protects her own high station. Who’s “hypocritical” now?

So much self-defeating tribalism and so little time! We didn’t get around to discussing Maddow’s discussion with Michael Steele on her June 8 program. We thought this discussion helped illustrate the drift of the tribal mind—and its ineffectiveness. (One minor point: In this discussion, Maddow complained about the way political parties tend to protect their own. This is precisely what she does at her horrible network.) Nor did we get to her discussion with the very astute Larry Flynt, who said she should consider the fact that Mark Sanford actually fell in love during his ballyhooed scandal. Minor point: John Ensign also seems to have fallen in love with the grown woman he was “shtupping,” to quote Maddow’s love-hating language. Maddow makes a point of keeping her viewers from knowing that fact.

Alas! Maddow’s is a small, unprepared tribal mind. She works from deep inside the land we’ve called the tribal belt. Inside that land of true belief, the other tribe is always hypocritical, dumb stupid dishonest and wrong; The One True Tribe is always better. Reince Preibus is a hypocrite because he didn’t make Ensign step down.

Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel? Deep inside the tribal belt, the question doesn’t arise.

Maddow is making us liberals dumber—and her performance is getting worse. And alas! As we liberals get dumbed down, we also get less effective. If we liberals stick to the issues, we liberals tend to win.

What a shame: That the corporate lords hired a tribal child to serve as Our Own Rhodes Scholar.