Dont ask, dont tell/Moldova edition: Were often struck by the things that dont get explained in news reports. So it was in todays New York Times as we read about Nadejda Damian, a Moldovan college student whos losing money because of the Gulf oil disaster.
Damian is in Alabama on her summer break, working as a condominium cleaner. Thanks to the oil mess, she stands to lose money. John Leland explains the situationbut leaves one question unanswered:
LELAND (6/23/10): When the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, Nadejda Damian had just arrived in Alabama from Moldova, the former Soviet Republic, to spend the summer cleaning beachfront condominiums. But with the spill, there are fewer tourists, which means fewer condominiums to cleanwhich, for Ms. Damian, 21, means a summer of losing money instead of amassing a nice sum to take home.
Unable to find a second job, she predicts that after taxes, her income this summer will fall $1,000 short of her expenses. I thought I would have money for a car, or to go to the discothèque, she said. Now, when I go back to school, I will have to work in the evenings.
At the end of Lelands report, Damian says she would have taken $3000 home if not for the oil disaster. Heres what Leland never explains: Why cant Damian get her money from BPs escrow fund?
BP has pledged $20 billion, a fact which was widely reported last week. Damian seems to be out $4000. Why cant she get her dough from BP?
Leland fails to say.
A bit of background: Moldova is one of the unhappiest nations on earth, according to Eric Weiners book, The Geography of Bliss. According to Weiner, the unhappy former Soviet state is even saddled with its own break-away republic.
Now, Moldova has a college student whos out several grandand its plagued by a Times reporter who wont even say why.
MEET THE NEIGHBORS (permalink): On Monday morning, Paul Krugman wrote a bone-simple column about our fiscal situation. (We should spend now/save later, Krugman said, offering a virtual primer of Keynesian theory.) At the end of this post, quite understandably, Digby voiced a tiny tad of semi-frustration:
DIGBY (6/21/10): Krugmans NYT column on the deficit is also a must read. Why he should have to argue something as elementary as the idea that high unemployment is exploding the deficit and failing to deal with that through stimulus rather than magical thinking will only make matters worse is beyond me. But he does. Once again, we're down the rabbit hole.
Its truecorrectly or otherwise, Krugman was arguing a very elementary point. That said, we had a slightly different reaction to his remedial presentation. Our reaction? Our public conversation is so relentlessly hapless that we were encouraged to see Krugman dumbing things down.
This brings us to Gene Lyons recent piece in Salon about the voters of Arkansas.
Lyons, a New Jersey native, has lived in Arkansas for decades. (His familiarity with Arkansas politics helped him write Fools for scandal: How the media invented Whitewater, in 1996. For our money, its the most important political book of the Clinton-Gore era.) In his recent column, Lyons considered the recent challenge to Senator Blanche Lincoln from state attorney general Bill Halter. (Narrowly, Lincoln won renomination). Lyons offers fightin words about the challenge; well suggest that you ignore these words. Focus instead on the things he said about the voters of Arkansasabout the reasons why the race was viewed very differently inside than outside Arkansas.
According to Lyons, progressives saw this race one waybut Arkansans tended to see it another. His portrait of the states electorate pretty much explains why:
LYONS (6/16/10): Now that the dust and feathers have settled, heres my view: If anybodys acting like Republicans, its progressives determined to purge ideologically impure Democrats from Southern and Midwestern farm states whose views largely reflect their constituents' extremely mixed feelings about the partys agenda. A more self-defeating strategy would be hard to imagine. Nobodys questioning anybodys rights, only their political judgment.
Why did the White House back Blanche Lincoln? Probably because while she opposed the "public option" in President Obamas healthcare bill, when push came to shove, she gave him a politically courageous 60th Senate vote putting the bill over the top. Courageous because "Obamacare" remains widely misunderstood and wildly unpopular in a state where the president earned 39 percent of the vote in 2008.
With that vote, Lincoln put her career on the line. Obama would have been an ingrate had he not supported her during the primary. Thats probably also why Blanche's winning margin came almost entirely from Arkansas most reliably liberal precincts in Little Rock and Fayetteville. Women in particular appeared to think that they owed her too. Many Halter votes came from rural Democrats apt to lean Republican in November.
Simply and very broadly put, the race was viewed very differently inside than outside Arkansas. Pragmatism had a lot to do with it. For all the cultural conservatism of its largely rural and small town populace, the state hasnt yet adopted Southern-style Republicanism. At present, Arkansas governor, both U.S. senators, and three of four congressmen are Democrats. Many would prefer keeping it that way.
Arkansas being Arkansas, personal issues also figured strongly in the result. As a retail politician, Blanche is seen as warm and charming, with a disarming smile. Halters neither; hes widely mistrusted by most people in politics. Word got around.
For ourselves, we dont have a problem with the strategy of challenging Lincoln in the primary. (Lyons questions the political judgment involved in the challenge.) The challenge didnt produce a win (this time), but thats neither here nor there. Instead, we suggest that you consider the things Lyons says about this states electorate:
According to Lyons, Arkansas is a southern farm state. Arkansas voters, including its Democrats, hold extremely mixed feelings about the partys agenda. Obama received only 39 percent of the vote in the state in 2008, Lyons notes; his health care plan remains widely misunderstood and wildly unpopular in the state. Lyons refers to the cultural conservatism of [Arkansas] largely rural and small town populace. He suggests that personal issues figure more strongly in Arkansas politics than might be the case somewhere else.
Lyons also makes an intriguing claim about Lincolns senate vote in favor of the Obama health plan. (Without Lincolns vote, the plan would have failed.) With that vote, Lincoln put her career on the line, Lyons says, referring to the unpopularity of the plan in Arkansas. Progressives often regarded Lincoln as a gruesome corporate lackey. Within the context of Arkansas politics, her vote may have been a profile in courage, Lyons seems to imply.
We can argue till the cows need milking about Lincoln and Halter. But few could doubt the general portrait Lyons paints of his state. And make no mistake: Given the groaning political logic of the modern senate, there is no way to assemble a Democratic super-majority without winning seats in such states. Indeed: Under current arrangements, senate math favors Republicans and conservatives, rather dramatically. At present, our small rural states tend to be conservative. But small-population, conservative states like Wyoming get the same two votes in the senate as giant blue states like New York.
(In Campaign 2000, George Bush narrowly lost the popular votebut he won some 28 states. In that breakdown, you see the way senate math favors the GOP.)
Ignore Brother Lyons fightin words, and focus instead on his portrait. In that column, he is describing a pretty good chunk of the American electorate. The people he describes in this piece are your fellow citizens; like it or not, theyre your neighbors. They have the same one vote you have. By the tens of millions, they dont share your politicsand they arent moving away.
We were glad to see Krugman dumb it down because our discussion is endlessly dumber-than-dumb. Thats even true on the upper ends of the spectrumbut its certainly true within our wider electorate. Is Obamas health care plan widely misunderstood by Arkansas voters? Presumably yesthough liberal segments of the electorate are often misinformed too.
This country is full of voters who dont see things the progressive way. How well have liberal elites tended to deal with this problem? In our view, extremely poorly. In the comments to Krugmans column, you see the fruits of pseudo-conservative propagandadeceptions and spins which have been aggressively churned over the course of the past fifty years. (Click here, see comments 20, 25, 28.) How well have liberals dealt with these systematic deceptions?
In our view, very poorly. Over the past few decades, weve been a lazy, rather incompetent lot. As conservatives have churned familiar propaganda points, weve done little to build familiar rebuttals. Nor do we spend much time asking ourselves about the view of those Arkansas votersor about the views of voters in other states where liberals pretty much never win.
In yesterdays column, Bob Herbert said that Obama should have proposed a dramatic new energy policy in his Oval Office address. Last week, Rachel Maddow took to the air, self-adoringly letting us know what she would have said had she given the speech. Her fake address was quite dramatic, in the manner Herbert suggested. It also seemed to ignore basic procedural facts.
Maddow gave a dramatic address, much as Herbert later suggested. But how do you think Americas voters would have reacted to such a drama? In our view, liberals have spent the past fifty years failing to ask this basic question. Progressive politics will never flourish as long as we maintain this stance.
Tomorrow: King and Blow and Cohen and Kaywhy we need a progressive politics.