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CHIMP-ON-CHIMP CRIME! We liberals need to save ourselves. Can Keith Olbermann do it? // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JUNE 24, 2010

A note about snowballs in Hell: According to the Washington Post, the normal high temperature for D.C. is 85 degrees at this time of year. Yesterday’s high was 96. It has been that way for several days. The heat wave is supposed to continue into next week.

Question: Have you seen any stories about the way the heat wave proves that global warming is happening? We ask because of the lunacy that occurred when it snowed in D.C. this year.

As you may recall, Washington’s snowstorms produced a wave of mocking claims about the foolishness of climate change theory. All over talk radio, all over Fox, voters heard a ludicrous claim: The heavy snow means that climate change isn’t really happening! Voters heard this again and again. Many voters believed it.

We can ridicule these people all we want. But many of them are voters.

For our money, our big newspapers did a very poor job responding to this perfect nonsense (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/15/10). There has been no corresponding nonsense about this week’s heat wave.

There has been no nonsense this week—and that, of course, is good. But in these well-twinned weather events, we can’t help seeing the shape of American politics over the past forty years. One tribe has broadcast well-known bits of nonsense: Socialized medicine has failed wherever it’s been tried! The Social Security trust fund has already been spent! If we lower tax rates, we get extra revenue! In the absence of active attempts at rebuttal, such nonsense has been quite effective. Claims of this type have driven American politics, as in the past year’s debate about the Obama health plan.

Many people believed what they heard about that unusual snow in D.C. This week, it’s been very hot in D.C. Thankfully, not a word has been said.

CHIMP-ON-CHIMP CRIME (permalink): How do bands of chimps wage war?

If you’re curious, you can read Nicholas Wade’s intriguing report from Tuesday’s New York Times (click here). Or you can watch your own tribe’s alpha chimp as he blusters each evening on Countdown.

Our chimp can be quite a sight. On Tuesday night, you could have watched his latest “Special Report,” in which he blustered, pronounced and proclaimed, instructing pitiful dumb-ass Obama about why he shouldn’t fire McChrystal. Our head chimp knew exactly what Obama should do. He also knew, with perfect certainty, what the political outcomes would be—and he knew which camera to wheel toward as he thundered about these events.

On Tuesday, you could have watched him doing that. Or you could have seen his pitiful attempt to rebut Sharron Angle. Angle seems to favor some form of privatized Social Security. (We doubt that she’s ever explained in detail.) But Angle seems to know how to talk about this potent issue—and Keith Olbermann pretty much doesn’t. On Tuesday night, after several teases, he named Angle worst person in the world—and he offered this hapless report about this potent issue:

OLBERMANN (6/22/10): But our winner, Nevada Tea Party Senate candidate Sharron Angle. After the profusion of evidence that she was lying when she denied she wanted to gut and privatize Social Security, she has now changed her tune slightly. She did an interview with the Human Events site, the people who brought you that headline "Liberals Hate Sarah Palin Because She’s Beautiful."

ANGLE (videotape): We need to look at personalizing the Social Security and Medicare programs, so that we can keep the government out of the lock box, keep them from raiding our retirement and raiding our health care.

OLBERMANN: Personalizing Social Security does not mean selecting your own screen saver. It means privatizing. Make people invest their Social Security earnings into the stock market, where a chunk will automatically be skimmed off the top by brokers, and the rest could vanish in, you know, the next mortgage crisis or BP Gulf disaster. And if any of that is still unclear, Ms. Angle’s website says, at this moment, that Social Security needs to be, quote, "transitioned out." So when she says she doesn’t want to gut and privatize Social Security, she’s lying. Sharron Angle, Tea Party and “Let’s restore the 19th Century” party candidate for the senate from Nevada, today’s worst person in the world.

Angle is working with talking-points which have been successful for decades. (The Social Security trust fund is just a bunch of IOUs! The money isn’t there—it’s already been spent!) These talking-points have been quite successful, even though they’re misleading, because the right has endlessly worked to promote them—and because the liberal world, sleepwalking through life, has never made any serious attempt to create a coherent rebuttal. For the record, Angle isn’t “lying” when she uses the language of “personal” accounts; going back at least as far as Candidate Bush in 2000, Republicans use the language of “personal” accounts (not “private” accounts) because that language poll-tests better. (Democrats use the language of “privatization” because it poll-tests worse.) But no, Angle’s language isn’t a “lie. Somewhat sadly, that’s the only type of ordure our head chimp knows how to throw.

Conceivably, this issue could serve Angle well in the coming campaign. She seems to know how to talk about it; major bozos on our side still don’t. As a general matter, Olbermann’s thunder will be pleasing to liberals, unconvincing to everyone else.

Later that evening, preening and wheeling to various cameras, Olbermann loudly instructed dumb Obama why he should keep McChrystal.

But then, our liberal channel is increasingly a joke, a route to long-term disaster. If progressives are ever going to succeed in changing American politics, we need to learn how to persuade voters in Arkansas, the state Gene Lyons discussed last week—and in Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, the states David Brooks named this week. This effort would take a good long time, but there’s no other route to progressive consensus. But at our pseudo-progressive channel, the chimps are inclined to insult such voters. This approach makes for good entertainment TV—and it serves the interests of Power.

(As long as the two bands of chimps keep fighting, Power will stay on top.)

Can liberals build a progressive politics? We’ll certainly have to do it ourselves, if it’s ever going to happen. Just consider what happened this week when several major mainstream columnists tried to stand and fight.

By this time, the dumbness of mainstream press corps culture almost defies belief. Consider what happened when the New York Times’ Charles Blow tried to say that Obama is doing a pretty good job.

Blow thought Obama’s address from the Oval Office was “just fine.” And not only that! “On balance, [Obama] is doing a good job,” the columnist judges—“not perfect, but good.” But you had to hunt through Blow’s piece to ferret these favorable judgments. This was Blow’s picture of the state of American politics—a picture in which he went straight to insulting psychiatric assessments about the guy he defended:

BLOW (6/19/10): On one side is America—fickle and excitable, hotheaded and prone to overreaction, easily frightened and in constant need of reassurance.

On the other side stands Obama—solid and sober, rooted in the belief that his way is the right way and in no need of alteration. He’s the emotionally maimed type who lights up when he’s stroked and adored but shuts down in the face of acrimony. Other people’s anxieties are dismissed as irrational and unworthy of engagement or empathy. He seems quite comfortable with this aspect of his personality, even if few others are, and shows little desire to change it. It’s the height of irony: the presumed transformative president is stymied by his own unwillingness to be transformed. He would rather sacrifice the relationship than be altered by it.

Blow’s portrait of “America” is remarkably dumb. (Is everyone “fickle and excitable, hotheaded and prone to overreaction, easily frightened and in constant need of reassurance?) But his portrait of Obama defines the fallen state of the upper-end press corps. Obama is doing a good job, Blow says. But he’s “the emotionally maimed type,” the pundit confides, making a remarkable judgment—and he goes on to offer a very unflattering portrait of Obama’s psyche, without offering any examples which might help us know why he thinks such things. (When has Obama dismissed “other people’s anxieties…as irrational and unworthy of engagement or empathy?” Blow forgets to say.) But then, this column is a pure example of the species known as Hardening Dowdism; it’s an almost perfect copy of Lady Dowd’s simpering style. (Note especially the pseudo-irony found in Blow’s silly word-play: The presumed transformative president is stymied by his own unwillingness to be transformed! Later: The president must accept the basic fact that he, as the agent of change, must himself be open to change!) Blow is becoming the latest Lord Dowdinpants. You know the formula! He offers dim-witted psychiatric assessments wrapped in silly word-play.

Blow, remember, was praising Obama. Richard Cohen is less impressed with the president—but he too turned to psychiatric assessments in Tuesday’s Washington Post. According to Cohen, Obama “hugely misunderstood what some people were saying when they demanded that he get angry over the gulf oil catastrophe.” In this utterly ludicrous passage, Cohen explained what he meant:

COHEN (6/22/10): What these people were seeking was not an eruption of anger, not a tantrum and not a full-scale denunciation of an oil company. What they wanted instead was a sign that this catastrophe meant something to Obama, that it was not merely another problem that had crossed his desk—and this time just wouldn't budge. He showed not the slightest sign in the idiom that really counts in a media age—body language—that he gave a damn. He could see your pain, he could talk about your pain, but he gave no indication that he felt it.

One can understand. Obama's father deserted the family and afterward visited his son only once. He twice was separated from his mother, who lived in Indonesia without him. He was partially raised by his grandparents—an elderly white couple. If the president is what the shrinks call "well-defended," who can blame him? It's ironic that Oprah Winfrey was maybe Obama's most significant early backer when the man himself is so un-Oprah. He cannot emote.

Cohen made a fool of himself before turning to the pseudo-psychiatry of that second paragraph. A sensible person would assume that Cohen must be speaking ironically about body language—but in truth, there’s no sign that he is. Understand what Cohen says here: Obama had just obtained a $20 billion fund to help the victims of this disaster—but because of the president’s failed body language, Cohen couldn’t spot “the slightest sign…that he gave a damn” about them.

Whatever one thinks of Barack Obama, there you see the terminal dumbness of the mainstream press elite.

How hapless is this mainstream press? Consider this column by Colbert King, who tried to defend Obama against an ugly insult—an ugly insult of the type has been quite common in the past week.

After Obama secured that escrow fund, the insults came rolling down. Joe Barton made the “shakedown” insult famous, but Sarah Palin had piped up several weeks before, offering an ugly insult on the June 9 Hannity. (This was the week before the escrow fund was announced.) Obama “needs to call in those around him and kind of broaden his inner circle of confidants because right now it sounds like the inner circle that he has are some Chicago thugs,” Palin sweetly observed. Quite rightly, Colbert King was angered by this remarkable language. Burt good lord! This is what happens when your mainstream press corps tries to create an argument:

KING (6/19/10): [W]hat would a Father's Day discussion of the nuclear family and a moral society be without bringing into the picture Mrs. Family Values herself, Sarah Palin?

The same Palin who last week said of President Obama, “It sounds like the inner circle that he has are some Chicago thugs.” Well, Palin knows lawbreaking, too.

Her sister-in-law, Diana Palin, half sister of the former governor’s husband, got a 15-month sentence this year. Burglarizing the same Alaska house three times for money to satisfy a drug habit is the kind of thing that can get you arrested. Thuggery? How about Sherry Johnston, the mother of Levi Johnston, the high school dropout who fathered Palin’s grandson? She was arrested and charged with selling drugs; after pleading guilty to one count with intent to deliver the drug OxyContin she was sentenced to three years.

Because of her medical condition, the woman who was once Bristol Palin's future mother-in-law was released from prison to home confinement, where she wears an ankle-monitoring device.

And the whereabouts of 19-year-old Levi on this Father's Day weekend? His bonds with the Palins were so tight, he said on TV, that Sarah and her husband, Todd, allowed Levi to live in their house with Bristol while they dated. Conservative family values?

Levi can be found on the cover of Playgirl magazine, his nude body blocked from full exposure by his strategically placed arm.

“Palin knows lawbreaking too,” King wrote. Did he realize that he seemed to be saying that Obama is surrounded by thugs—but that Palin has thugs around too? King went on to present a remarkable string of insults, insulting Palin about the things her distant relations have done.

Just a guess, based on knowledge of people: Many voters in Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio would be inclined to react in negative ways to insults about “thugs” and “shakedowns.” These insults might provide a route to these voters’ minds—a way to help these voters think twice about the people who author these insults. That said, King’s column was a classic example of the best known way to lose an argument. All over the country, his column would tend to build sympathy for Palin. Let’s hope few voters read it.

Last Saturday, Blow explained that Barack Obama is “emotionally maimed.” King seemed to say that Obama is surrounded by thugs—though Palin has thugs around her too. A few days later, Cohen explained why Obama seems to be “what the shrinks call ‘well-defended.’” Translation: Over the course of the past few decades, the dumbness of the mainstream press has hardened and turned into stone.

Will this country ever have a progressive politics? If so, we liberals will have to create it. Do you see that happening on our liberal channel? Silly insults are good solid fun—but will they be enough?